Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown
Starring: John Carpenter, Guillermo Del Toro
Director: Frank H. Woodward
Rating: Not Rated
DVD Release Date: October 27, 2009
Runtime: 90 min.
Produced by: Cinevolve Studios
Where to Buy:
Amazon and other fine DVD/Horror retailers
Hello Ghouls and Boils,
When I asked Frank Woodward for a screener copy of his H.P. Lovecraft documentary, I suspected that there would be a person or two who I knew in the film. I guess I didn’t realize quite how many. After viewing Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown, I decided that I was way too close to this piece to review it objectively. This movie was filled with a mix of people I know and love – and people I admire a good deal.That’s when the idea struck me. How about a guest review – someone who isn’t as well-versed in horror, someone with a cursory knowledge of Lovecraft? So without further ado, I present guest minion Shane Nitzsche and his unbiased thoughts on Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown. Enjoy my fiends!
Sarah L. Gerhardt
An Outsider’s Objectivity, by Shane Nitzsche
Here are my thoughts on the 90 minute biographical documentary detailing the life and works of one of the most well regarded modern authors of horror and strange tales, Howard Phillips (H.P.) Lovecraft…but there’s a hook – I don’t come from within, but from a place largely unfamiliar with his bibliography. My exposure to the Cthulhu Mythos (and there has been some) can be said to be ancillary at best. I have worked with and met a handful of the people featured in this program, and have created artwork for the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival held here in Portland, OR every October. This is why I can claim (mostly) complete objectivity, and I expect that’s of some interest to you!
What I watched was a screener copy so I can’t comment on menus or special features as there were none, but if the production of the program itself is any indication, I can easily imagine a quality final product.
The row of heads is impressive indeed – including the likes of Neil Gaiman, John Carpenter, and Guillermo Del Toro – and they are clearly the right ones to be hearing from, each being experts or scholars in their own way. More importantly, all of them without exception were interesting to listen to and were edited together with minimal “information overlap”. Something else I found refreshing about the interviewees was their own willingness to be objective, calling Lovecraft out from time to time on some of the dubious aspects of his life and his words. Too often a documentary degrades into a constant loop of back-patting…not so here.
I am not sure I can intelligently comment on how comprehensive the overview was given my inexperience, but I can tell you that the run-time of 90 minutes was over before I knew it. The structure was fairly standard, starting where it ought to, in Lovecraft’s troubled youth; then moving through his works in mostly chronological order, and ending with his untimely death at age 46. The narration, the reenactments (kept to a minimum and thankfully devoid of groan-worthy “acting”), and the reading of Lovecraft’s passages were all used to good effect. Also intercut was a steady stream of artwork from an impressive array of talents. As an artist myself, I appreciated how much attention was paid to that aspect and how much care was taken to credit the artists wherever possible. Incidentally, pay attention to the end credits for contact information on the artists.
Depressing in tone, the story of H.P. Lovecraft’s life is not by any stretch a hopeful one. Uninitiated viewers may look at his hard childhood, his staunchly xenophobic world view, and his frequent battles with depression leading to a death-before-fame cliche’ (all talked about quite bluntly) and be turned completely off from ever picking up one of his books. That would be a terrible shame. For one, that isn’t the fault of the film – it just reports the facts – and for another, they would be missing out on some of the most exquisite prose ever printed. I found the quoted passages compelling enough to make me want to pause the show and go read the rest of the story! I also found Lovecraft’s staggered attempts at professional writing somewhat encouraging and comforting, as I myself have had a lot of false starts to my career.
I had a few minor gripes of course – it wouldn’t be much of an objective review without them – but they are minor, bordering on picking nits. A few times it is mentioned what Lovecraft was paid for his publications in terms of the early 1900’s economy. The suggestion was made that he was paid very little, but I would have liked to know what that translates to in today’s market. At one point Julius Schwartz was mentioned as an early agent of Lovecraft’s and my ears perked right up. Those of us with an interest in comic book history will recognize “Julie” as a long-time editor at DC Comics. During the ubiquitous “influence on future literature” segment of the program, I wanted that and other connections to modern comic books to be discussed. Lastly, while the music did its job admirably most of the time, the very dated guitar-rock outro and credit music was completely inappropriate and unfortunately brought the whole venture to a hamfisted, inglorious end.
I’m not sure how much a die hard is going to take away from this documentary; but the unwashed masses (what’s that smell?!), if they have even a passing interest in the subject matter, will find it at the very least informative and at best entertaining. Fans of tragedy will certainly get something out of it as well. I’m telling you it’s not a happy story, but from the outside looking in, I’m going to give it 4 rightly-aligned stars out of 5, then go do some reading…