The second of my expanded cinema events to take place at Inspace Gallery as part of an ongoing series entitled Atmosphere during the Edinburgh International Film Festival, I presented stylised monster movie The Call of Cthulhu by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society. Filmed in ‘Mythoscope’ it uses a mix of vintage and modern techniques in the form of a silent feature suffused with a 1920s sensibility accompanied by an original score and plenty of period trimmings.
A dutiful nephew attempts to finalise the estate of his deceased Uncle, an esteemed professor, but stumbles across knowledge of an ancient and horrifying deity. Spanning three awful narratives, from a police inspector and what he finds in the depths of a New Orleans swamp, to the hair-whitening diary of a seaman and sole survivor following his ship’s discovery of an uncharted island, we share in the realisation that some knowledge – once discovered – cannot be unlearned… ba-ba-BAH!
Narrated by a character who appears to be hospitalized for an unknown condition, I chose to respond to the ultra-white, almost clinical setting of Inspace by dressing it as Arkham Sanitarium for the the screening, not retro in approach as per the film but purposely modern and sanitized. Using projections and live performance, the audience were treated as patients and were individually processed, medicated and err lubricated as such.
Watching over proceedings from its stately plinth was the cult statue and squid-like entity of Cthulhu, modeled upon one of three idols that appear within the film. Crafted from stone not of this planet and imbued with a misted nimbus of psychic menace, it was actually created by prop maker Kev Thornton using modelling clay and spray paint despite the authentic antique appearance. People were actually queuing to have their photos taken with it by the end of the night!
If you don’t know your Lovecraft – and why would you – a quick lesson: an American author (1890 – 1937) of weird fiction, his curious and distinct blend of sci-fi and fantasy is frequently lumped together under the term ‘cosmic horror’. He conjured a terrifying inter-dimensional pantheon of gods and monsters, the fictional university city of Arkham (since appropriated by the Batman universe) and the black magic drenched grimoire that is the Necronomicon – now a familiar touchstone of many writers and film directors.
With the help of Kev Thornton and make-up artist Jak Morgan, both co-conspirators for Blood Tea And Red String, I added artist Simon Misra and designer Pete Adlington to our creative centrefold. Simon made a series of Rorschach-inspired ink blots featuring monstrous creatures from another dimension as part of our patient consultation plan, projected upon both walls but also upon banks of Apple Macs lined up in a row in our triage assessment area.
Simon is a favourite moll, having designed posters for the Scratch ‘n Sniff outings of The Company of Wolves and My Beautiful Laundrette, while Pete – winner of the the Penguin Design Award 2009 – whipped up some nifty pharmaceutical packaging designs based upon The Cthulhu Mythos, eye charts that spelt out dire warnings and Arkham Sanitarium-branded Certificates of Insanity that our doctors used to select a combination from dozens of baffling ailments for each patient.
Joining us for the evening were The Dungeonettes (Kat, Lauren and Kerriemary), plus friend and honorary member Rebecca Guest. Complementing them with hitherto unrealised acting skills was Mark Daniels of Inspace, as he and Dr Lauren guided patients through the diagnosis process before passing them to the make-under table and finally to Pharmacy. With the support of Jelly Belly Gourmet Jelly Beans and MacCorns Popcorn, medication was prescribed with liberal abandon, fluorescent green ooze shots consumed, Blood Bag energy drinks tapped and urine sample pots returned to owners… which if they were crazy enough to sip from would discover they contained orange marmalade vodka. Yum!
Kat and Kerriemary took the role of patients, Kat rolling around in her straight jacket with Kerriemary clutching her baby, the spawn of an astral union with an Elder God inside a pickle jar which looked to all like the biggest mo-fo spider you ever saw, bobbing about a bed of severed testicles. Again, thanks Kev. I mean that as a compliment. In a world riddled with unmentionable foulness (have you seen Loose Women?), you put the cherry on the cake.
Prior to the main feature, shorter than most at 47 minutes, I selected a programme of shorts that I felt best embodied Lovecraftian themes. The first, Elder Sign (Dir. Joseph Nanni) is a direct reference in the form of a batty infomercial promoting a product designed to ward off Flying Polyps (from caverns beneath the Earth, of course). But I was stunned to discover on making contact with the creators of the second and third shorts that both were influenced by Lovecraft and thrilled to be included in the line-up. Serendipity, or something more sinister? I’d like to think it the latter, unconsciously communicated to me via a hellish Morse code scratched out by claws from behind the chimney breast as I slept.
A scientist falls foul of a siren’s call in Eel Girl (Dir. Paul Campion), about as far removed from Disney’s interpretation of a mermaid as you can get and pin-up poster resident for Lovecraft’s coastal town of Innsmouth. Reminiscent of Warp Films or Chris Cunningham, this raised both chuckles and eeews aplenty. But with the exception of myself, no one present was prepared for the seat-leaping shock during the European Premiere of Sinkhole by director/writer/editor Eric Scherbarth.
A salesman approaches a mysterious landowner with an offer to buy the man’s smouldering abandoned coal mines but finds that there is more at stake than the land. Winner of Best Short Film at the NYC Horror Film Festival 2009. I actually considered pulling this when I saw a heavily pregnant woman walk in, not wanting to induce labour, but she was probably one of the few present who didn’t spot their underwear with terror. If you enjoy screaming out loud, track this one down.
We set the bar so high with Blood Tea… that I wasn’t sure we could match it – at least not in volume of free-flowing alcoholic juju – but we did. Our photographer for the night Linda Matthew did us proud with the brilliant shots you see here, but calls herself an amateur. That’s like Tina Turner saying she dabbles in music. Such modesty! We had a blast. Thanks for capturing us as the grown-ups played dress-up and act daft.