Hello Ghouls and Boils,
My apologies for getting this riveting report to you in such an untimely manner. When my computer went offline I had no access to the photos (Thanks to Nick “the hat” Gucker and his lovely wife Denise for the photos!). But trust me, this is well worth the wait. Now it is time to turn things over to Jenna M. Pitman, Guest Minion and strange fiction author. Enjoy my fiends!
Sarah L. Covert
We should have our HPLFF Portland report sometime next week, so stay tuned!
For fifteen years Andrew Migliore maintained the mecca of Lovecraftian media in Portland, Oregon but it wasn’t until 2010 that his vision of bringing Lovecraft film and pop culture to other parts of the world finally started to find itself completed. That was the year that Aaron Vanek, the man behind a few awesome weird horror films we’ve seen over the years like The Yellow Sign and Return to Innsmouth, stepped forward and really pushed to bring the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival to the people of Southern California. And he did. Last year he organized a test run at the Warner Grand Theatre in San Pedro, California. In honor of its runaway success a new chapter in weird horror began!
This year was the first full-fledged version of LA’s HPLFF. Once again Aaron Vanek managed to coerce the Warner Grand Theater into hosting this wonderful event and, it has to be said but bears repeating, there could not be a better location. The theater opened its doors in 1931 so this year it celebrated its 80th anniversary and as we all know, the 1930s holds a special place in the hearts of all mythos fanatics.
The weekend kicked off with a VIP party on Friday September 16th at the Grand Vision Annex, half a block away from the theater. Guests and vendors and attendees mingled, drinking the specialty cocktails provided by Bowen’s Spirits in a sneak peak at their up-and-coming whiskey (it’s awesome, smoky and smooth, go get some) and admiring props the HPLHS had on display. They all came from The Whisperer in Darkness, of course, and severed their purpose – to whet our appetites in anticipation.
I was told that the backroom was the official “make out” room (though I can assure you that no one made good on that name!) and an art show. Rather than playing the art between the films, as those of us Portland alumni are used to, the art was looped through here instead, giving attendees a chance to catch their breath on a ridiculously comfy couch and admire the visions talented individuals have labored over to bring the stories of horror to life. Back in the realm of 3D art, Russ Lukich provided an elaborately crafted, life-sized visage of Howard Phillips himself, standing near a broken lamppost as tentacles twine about both man and metal that became a central point in many a photo that evening!
But the best was yet to come…
At 7 the doors to the festival proper opened and vendors ran to their booths. Attendees were welcomed in to peruse the wears for several minutes before the first offering began to play.
HPLFF showcased was an episode of Whistle and I’ll Come to You – a British television show from the late 1960s. It struck that eerie and suspenseful note that so many modern films seem to miss.
After a short break we were back and it was time to deliver the “Howie.” Or rather watch Roger Corman’s taped acceptance of the Howie award. In honor of his lifetime achievement we settled in to watch The Haunted Palace, the undisputed first example of Lovecraftian cinema ever. Despite the Poe name, it is an adaption of “Charles Dexter Ward” with plenty of other Lovecraft instances dropped in for good measure.
We ended the night’s film selections with Berkeley Square, a 1933 gem that hasn’t been seen (legally) in years. Lost for several decades it has only recently restored and this was the first public screening of the new edition. There is something breathtaking about watching an early-30s film in a theater built only two years before its release, this feeling was made even more impactful by the film’s time traveling theme. It was not and is not a horror movie so its place in the festival exists because it was an influential piece on HPL himself. Despite his aversion to the medium, Lovecraft saw this four times and as a fan you can see precisely where he drew his inspiration from it. It was an excellent note to pause the festivities on.
Well sort of…
After that wrapped up, many headed two blocks down and one block over to The Whale and Ale, a wonderful neighborhood English pub. The food is scrumptious though I only know that because I went back Sunday, I don’t think anyone ate that night… Then it was off to the Dreamlands until Saturday afternoon.
The following day the fest started back up with the convention portion of the weekend. A wonderful bookstore celebrating its own centennial (Williams Book Store) opened its doors to 6 writers to share their work and speak on the” State of the Mythos Today”. The first hour all participants read or discussed their work.
Denise Dumars initiated the proceedings with a chapter from the forthcoming reprint of her non-fiction novel – she discussed the possible real-life inspirations of Lovecraft’s fictional deities. I went second and read a short story inspired by cosmic horror and film noir that I am hoping to place in the next few weeks. Michael Tice had written the day’s second non-fiction work, a short exploration of the identity of Charles Dexter Ward’s great- great-grandmother (who, if his research is correct, was a real woman executed in the Salem Witch Trials). Once he’d finished that he read a number of his fabulous limericks. He has one for each of Lovecraft’s own stories and all are collected in a chapbook called The Eldritch Quintuplets. Next came Ted-Grau-played-by-his-fabulous-wife-Ivy. While I am confident that Ted would have been just as capable at entertaining us, Ivy did an amazing reading of “Low Hanging Clouds” and I probably would have asked my wife to do the same in his place (if I had one in the first place and if she were as charismatic in the second). I don’t think I’m going to be as eager to see fog when I get home after hearing that… The first hour was completed with Cody Goodfellow’s delightful tale about religion and time travel gone wrong that left us all grateful for the presence of noodley appendages. We humans need to stop meddling. Just stop meddling!
The next hour we were joined by Ted E. Grau himself and the talented C. Courtney Joyner. A lively discussion ensued, complete with audience participation. The only thing I would have changed would have been giving the audience more room and making the world quiet down but I love bookstores and I love nerds and I love talking to nerds about Lovecraft so it was a great mix either way.
At 4:15 we all filed back to the theater and settled in to watch Cast a Deadly Spell, a very fun cheesy tale from a time when HBO made movies without boobs in them. This particular well-loved creation takes place in a 1948 Los Angeles where everyone used magic. In a flash of déjà vu it had a lotta bit film noir and a lotta bit B movie cosmic horror but this one was very funny. The writer and one of the actors were in attendance for a Q&A following and then it was time for dinner.
When we returned it was to the subtitled Spanish flick La Sombra Prohibida. This too contained a private detective (which was starting to feel like the theme of the evening). To be fair I didn’t get a chance to watch all of this one due to dinner running a little long. But what I did see was exciting and expertly executed. I liked it so much I will be looking this up as soon as it is available to rubes like myself.
Then? Yes then! It was time for the short films! (My favorite part of any film festival) The selections this year were wonderfully strong. It felt like every single one outdid their predecessor, leaving you hopped full of adrenaline and excited for the next selection.
The first was a micro-mini animated affair called The Call of Cthulhu Nature. It was a fun laugh that gave us all a chance to get all our chuckles out before the fear started… The Ritual came next and it was a satisfyingly creepy little snippet of a summoning gone wrong. Then we had a two minute glimpse into artistic madness in Pickman’s Model.
Black Goat was the runner up to the Brown Jenkin this year and I had a perfect little summation of how it made me feel but since Guillermo del Toro used that analogy himself when announcing the winners (and I don’t want to come off as too much of a sycophantic fan girl) I’ll just say it’s like a Jack London story if he wrote horror and you’ll figure the rest out on your own.
Now the Brown Jenkin this year was actually a tie and the first winner was Static Aeons. It was a fabulously eerie animated film over-layed with hauntingly poetic narration. It certainly sent chills down my spine and the artwork was astounding though I wish there had been no character models whatsoever. I tend to find them the weakest parts of most games and short animations and this was no exception. But that is a small quibble. It was brilliant, I am not going to lie.
The next animated selection was Idle Worship. It was cute, it was spooky, it had a moral to the story. Certainly worth watching.
The Curse of Yig, was a word for word retelling of this snake god story that had some masterful makeup and a good showcase for the lead actress Amy Schweickhardt, a lovely woman. (Read the SNS review >>here<< and Joe Pulver‘s thoughts >>here<<)
The last in the shorts was another adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s poem The Raven. I was actually sitting next to Andrew Migliore and when the previous film was ending he told me it was coming up. I snickered and thought “Oh great, another one of those.” I was completely prepared to be underwhelmed.
Well. I wasn’t. This was far and away my favorite film of the entire festival. It brings the story to the 1950s, it was full of colors, it was tragic and compelling and it was dazzling. As someone who loves everything by Poe but that over-worked poem, this actually made me completely rethink the whole thing and I doubt I will ever look at the original work the same. I was blown away. Spoiler alert: This was del Toro’s second pick for the Brown Jenkin. It tied for first place and it was very much deserved.
Well then! We were apparently behind schedule so after the shortest break imaginable the theater was suddenly packed in anticipation of the weekend’s biggest feature. That’s right, folks! It was finally time for the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society’s latest offering, The Whisperer in Darkness. This was a highly anticipated showing and certainly the best attended. Did it live up to expectations? I’d say yes. There were more modern effects than I had expected but they weren’t glaringly obvious and it fit in seamlessly. All in all, I would say that this deserves the excitement and the hype it’s received and if you haven’t had a chance to watch it yet then get thee self to a site and find out when it’s coming to your region! Final spoiler alert: This was the film that won best in show this year. I know you’re all shocked. Really. I can feel it.
Winners were announced, we got to see a video from del Toro who told us who those were. The script contest was a tight competition but The Old Man and the Box by Bill Barnett won for best script with a close close close runner up of the equally well written Death Wind by Jim Pinto and Travis Heermann. I was a judge for this and feel both of those were top tier choices.
With that the only thing we had left was the after-party mixer back at the Grand Vision Annex. Sadly the drinks were not free this time but it was still fun and now we all had films to babble excitedly about. The two hours between the close of the festival and the state-regulated closing time went far too quickly. And just like that it was over.
Luckily for those of in the Pacific Northwest we have the mini-fest in Portland in two weeks so not too much waiting for another one of these! For everyone else? Fly yourself out to Portland this spring or down to LA next fall!
Thank you so much to Aaron Vanek and all of the amazing volunteers who made this possible! I had such a good time!
Jenna M. Pitman – Guest Minion (Reporter)