Macabre Fantasy Radio Theater performs David Milano's adaptation of "The Temple".
The Spirit of The Outsider Lurks at H.P.
Lovecraft Film Festival in Los Angeles
Article, Photos and Video by: Scott Feinblatt
Are You There Cthulhu? It's Me, Scott.
Unhappy is he to whom the thoughts of Hollywood
bring only fear and sadness. Alas, artists who work
within and around Tinseltown's periphery know it to
have all the magic of a meat packing factory. It is a
world of veneers. It is a world of exploitation. It is a
world where smiles are sharp enough to cut throats.
This is the world in which I live. But recently I took a
trip to another world.
The H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival attracts a crowd
that is distinct from those of the usual fests and
conventions around L.A. (notwithstanding the fact
that it is held in the port district of San Pedro, about
25 miles from Central Los Angeles). Writer /
Director / Producer Brian Yuzna, one of the
celebrity guests, surmised that this distinction might
be due to the fact that the festival principally
attracts literary rather than film fans. Furthermore,
the fact that the Library of America considers
Howard Philips Lovecraft to be a canonical
American writer should grant additional distinction
to the fans.
Indeed, with no disrespect intended toward Wes Craven, there was not a single Freddy shirt in the house.
As horror fans go, Lovecraftian enthusiasts are an eclectic bunch. During the opening night address, prior
to the first block of films, festival organizer Aaron Vanek took a poll of the various means by which the
attendees had come to discover Lovecraft's work. Many of them had learned of the author via games; there
are role-playing games, video games and card games based on the author's Cthulhu Mythos – a hugely
influential and widely shared fictional universe based on a pantheon of ancient gods including Cthulhu, who
currently sleeps in the Pacific Ocean, in the sunken city of R'lyeh (and whose return shall herald the end of
mankind). Others had learned of Lovecraft directly through literature – perhaps by reading that his work
has influenced numerous famous writers such as Stephen King, Clive Barker and Neil Gaiman. Others still,
such as myself, first learned of Lovecraft through film adaptations of his work – notably those of the
production team of Stuart Gordon, Brian Yuzna and Dennis Paoli (Gordon was also a guest of the festival).
In addition to the fans, the diverse atmosphere of the event was enhanced by the fact that this was not a
mere film festival; it was a CthulhuCon! The spirit of Lovecraft's work manifested through Vanek's
multifarious programming and apt selection of vendors. Whereas the vendors at typical festivals include
merchants who sell miscellaneous horror memorabilia, this CthulhuCon featured a number of artisans and
merchants whose wares were essentially Lovecraftian. As for the programming, the screenings were
complimented with performances by artists ranging from poets and musicians to an old-school radio theater
troupe -- as well as themed activities, such as a “Cthulhu prayer breakfast” and a trolley ride to a local
Lovecraft art exhibit. In short, the environment was as rich, culturally, as Lovecraft's prose is rich,
Shawn Crosby, one of Macabre Fantasy Radio Theater's performers, attested to the spirit of this festival by
contrasting it with typical Los Angeles genre conventions. He appreciated the fact that Vanek's programming was
rich in substance and that the celebrity guests were not in attendance to sell their signatures to fans. Furthermore,
he rued the fact that younger fans have no frame of reference to understand the disparity between genre
champions such as legendary Famous Monsters of Filmland editor Forrest J. Ackerman and any horror promoter
or editor that attempts to captivate fans with gratuitous gore and provocative images of women. Both Crosby and
Macabre Fantasy creator David Milano spoke passionately about their work and explained that they produce their
shows because they genuinely care about the legacy and art of the neglected form – a form which has essentially
become an anachronism but, as their performance demonstrated, remains a powerful and emotionally engaging
medium for storytelling.
After hours parties at the nearby Whale & Ale Pub enabled the
further commingling of fans with vendors, artists and guests. And the
fact that some of the film programs were available exclusively online
extended the festival's communal spirit beyond the confines of the
city. There was also online streaming of event footage, but this was
exclusively available to people whose donations had made the
It's fairly exhausting to think of all the logistical facets of this festival
and the lengths to which Vanek went to foster its friendly
atmosphere. Thus, it was disappointing to learn that, after four years
of running the Los Angeles branch (the festival additionally operates
in Portland, OR, where it was founded by Andrew Migliore in 1995),
he will not return as its organizer. His announcement, printed as an
article in the festival's newspaper program, The Daily Lurker,
reveals that despite all of the effort and energy he invests to make
the festival possible, his personal and business obligations have
increased to the point that he can no longer dedicate the resources
necessary to run the festival as effectively as it should be run.
Artist/Deisgner/Illustrator Natalie Ewert poses with
some of her devilish creations. Check out her site:
Watching Vanek in action was a testament to
the success of the event. He is a natural
showman whose moderation of Q&A
sessions demonstrated his knowledge about
/ fascination with Lovecraftian work. He
fervently acknowledged the donors,
volunteers, organizations and everyone
behind-the-scenes who had contributed to
making the festival into a reality. Moreover, it
is people like Aaron Vanek who are the
strongest champions for a Genuine horror
community in a world that is otherwise
principally market driven.
Aaron Vanek and Jenna Pitman conduct a raffle prior to the screening of a block
of short films.
On the subject of markets, there is a great disparity between film as commodity versus art. In a billion dollar industry,
the corporations with the dollars to dominate advertising essentially control what viewers see. It is only through the
burgeoning power of social media that a shift in this dynamic may occur. Short of that, select film festivals provide
the last bastion for audiences to view decent collections of home-grown art and experience the culture and
language that film is capable of conveying beyond the standard, paint-by-numbers dreck. Add the inspiration of
Lovecraft's other-worldly and ultimately nihilistic motifs, and you've got yourself a recipe for a jolly good line-up of
The line-up demonstrated yet another facet of the festival's variety. There were feature length films as well as
shorts, music videos and trailers for Lovecraft-inspired projects that are currently in various stages of development.
Here is a cross-section of the program:
Cthulhu's Witnesses: In Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos,
there are plenty of cult fundamentalists who, usually
inspired by overwhelming and unconscious forces, serve
the great elder god in some capacity. This charming little
faux-documentary showed the enthusiasm of a local
group of Cthulhu's Witnesses (obviously a parody of
Jehova's Witnesses) and the occasional obstacles they
face in their ongoing quest to convert people to their
beliefs. There's a great moment when one of the
Cthulhu's Witnesses reveals something to the effect of: “I
used to be depressed and apathetic, and I had no idea
why. Well, now I know why; now I have a reason to be
depressed and apathetic!”
Cthulhu's Witnesses was directed by John Hidalgo and
can now be seen in its entirety on YouTube.
The Ratking: This film also focused on the cult aspect of the
mythos. Two filmmakers research a mysterious mark that is
showing up all over the city. Conspiratorial tones and sinister
implications abound. The film's look screams, “Art House”. The
amateur documentary shooting style complimented by stylized
footage textures and surreal editing weave a narrative that
suggests the naiveté of the youthful protagonists while
establishing and maintaining a surreptitious, creeping
Upon contacting the filmmakers, who operate under the cryptic
names “The Amelus” and “Monseiur Soeur”, I discovered that
the story behind the making of this film and the director's
statement regarding the narrative itself are as complex and
intriguing as the final product. Alas, I can say no more...
Corporate Occult: While we're in Art House territory, Cédric
Blaisbois's music video for the song by Huoratron begins by
warning viewers about the video's violent content, but it fails
to mention the raunchiness (possibly owing to the fact that
Blaisbois is based in France, which has been playing an
active role in stripping away our American Puritanical bent
since post-World War II). Regardless, the film is a perfect
compliment for the intense Electro House music: a horny guy
chases a minx up some stairs, there's some cat and mouse,
they go at it...and then everything changes. Grainy,
monochromatic, night-vision video and frenetic editing enable
a fairly smooth transition from casual Euro-rave bacchanalia
to cultish cephalopod mayhem.
This video is available on Vimeo (warning adult content)
Miskatonic University: Formalism and a gorgeous New
England setting provide the landscape for this tale of a
professor who has come to work at Miskatonic University. He
has a secret past which involves becoming entangled with
dark, mysterious forces, and his personal agenda at the
university entails locating a copy of The Necronomicon, which
he believes could hold his salvation. The film is shot as a
period piece, and the production design (location, costumes,
props) was quite beautiful. Ironically, there is no individual who
bore the title of Production Designer for the film.
Miskatonic University was produced by a collective of
producers and cinematographers under the moniker of Black
Bag Pictures, and it was directed by James Bentley.
The Tell-Tale Heart: What's that you say?
“It's not a Lovecraft story; it's by that one
other guy...” Yeah, well, what are you
gonna do? It's still a short film based on
classic horror literature, so what say we
overlook the impertinence? In this version,
the narrator is a former nurse who recalls,
to a fellow sanatorium patient, how she
murdered an aged Hollywood starlet. This
film gets points for being a clever
adaptation, for lush production design and
for loony bin zaniness – featuring a
cackling, lobotomized, straightjacket-
wearing fellow called Fritz.
Bart Mastronardi's short will be joined by several others in next year's release of the anthology
Tales of Poe.
Fantasy: Another entry from the block of music videos, Jérémie Périn's animation for the DyE
song is reminiscent of the work of Katsuji Morishita and Kazuto Nakazawa (anime sequence
from Kill Bill: Vol. I). The story consists of several teens breaking into a local swimming pool and
partaking in some teenage mischief, but then things get otherworldly. Tentacles, demonic
possession, genital mutilation, portals to other dimensions and exploding eyeballs are a few of
the goodies that are used to illustrate the catchy tune.
This video is available on YouTube (warning: adult content)
Reset: The winner of both the Audience Choice and the
Judges Award, Marcus Kryler and Fredrik Åkerström's film
was a sublime meditation on parental abandonment. What
starts off as a simple pastoral tale of a woman reading her
husband's monthly letters to their daughter turns into a
surreal nightmare of betrayal, disillusionment and
machination. To say that it demonstrated storytelling mastery
is to concede that it was an artistic success on every level,
and the fact that it succeeds in doing this within a world of
Lovecraftian proportions should prove to any viewer that
when used in exacting measures, the strange, the weird and
the surreal can be used to affect as profound an experience
as we are capable of knowing.
Here is a link to the film's official page.
Cult feature presentations headlined the film programming on Friday and Saturday. And though the films had
received varying levels of distribution – and the screenings were accompanied by Q&A with celebrity guests – their
content exonerates them from the stigma typically associated with the Hollywood machine. Additionally, while
discussing with Brian Yuzna the very definition of “independent film”, he demystified the distinction by saying that it's
all a matter of degrees.
Friday night's feature selection, The Unnamable, is a
nostalgic piece of 80's horror with a tendency to charm.
Based on Lovecraft's short story of the same name, The
Unnamable is a good 'ol castle-dwelling monster story. The
film possesses a cult value that has appreciated owing to
its never having received an official DVD release (die hard
fans can find VHS transfers). Champions maintain that the
film's camp narrative and memorable monster make it more
endearing than many contemporary horror film releases.
Actor Mark Kinsey Stephenson was in attendance for the
post-screening Q&A. Stephenson's performance is
universally recognized, by both the film's fans and its
critics, to be the strongest aspect of the production.
On Saturday night, the film screenings concluded in grand
style with a double bill of Lovecraftian faves. The first was
the quintessential, and tragically underrated,
Gordon/Yuzna/Paoli Lovecraft production Dagon. Basically,
it is the story of a vacationing couple who become stranded
in an isolated Spanish fishing town wherein the inhabitants
have been commandeered and mutated by an aquatic
deity. The screenplay is an amalgam of the short stories
“Dagon” and “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”; the
production's atmospheric spectrum ranges from cringe-
inducing spectacle to ethereal, other-worldly beauty.
Conservative nods to fans, such as the protagonist's
Miskatonic University sweatshirt, and some camp moments
compliment this otherwise dark thrill-ride through a distinctly
Lovecraftian landscape. Gordon, Yuzna and storyboard
artist D.H. Covey delighted fans during the film's Q&A
John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness held the
distinction of being the final film of the festival. Though not
actually based on any particular story, writer Michael De
Luca's themes and atmosphere are unmistakeably derived
from Lovecraft's work. Sam Neill stars as cynical insurance
claim investigator John Trent, whom is hired by a publisher
to track down a missing best-selling horror writer. The
writer's work is known to cause mania in its readers, and
the closer Trent comes to finding the writer, the more he
comes to understand that his entire world is illusory.
Producer Sandy King, who has produced a number of
Carpenter's films – and is also his wife – represented the
film during the pre-screening Q&A session. In addition to
discussing the film's Lovecraftian influences, she further
demystified the distinction between the independent film
world and the “untouchable” veneer of Hollywood.
Specifically, when one fan inquired about how she was able
to get legendary actor Charlton Heston to portray the
publisher, she responded, “We paid him.”
Events like The H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival & CthulhuCon are a rarity. Although there is no serious deficit of
genre conventions, the venues that allow fans to congregate do not typically provide a cultural experience of any
substance. However, not unlike the distinction of the festival's venue, the historic Warner Grand Theater, this
weekend's guests, artists and films demonstrated that one can sometimes find quality amongst the abundant
ranks of mediocrity – you just have to know how to look.
To see additional H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival & CthulhuCon photos,
visit the Horror Works Facebook page.