Monday, May 14, 2012

Jason goes to the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival--Day 3

And it's only a 3 day festival, so that would make it closing night as well. Honestly, I'm a little surprised there's enough material for a three day HPL Film Festival. What's more surprising is this is (if I recall correctly) the 17th annual festival? It appears they created a HPL film industry by creating this festival. And now it's adding a new location, in Southern California in late September. Pretty impressive.

So the first things I saw on Sunday were the results of "Lovecraft Under the Gun," a 72-hour film project. This was the first year they've done this, and it hasn't quite taken off like wildfire yet. There were only two entries...and one missed the deadline. So at least judging was easy. The winner was a dream/nightmare poem entry based on Nightgaunts. The entry that was disqualified was also shown, and was in a way more interesting. A stop-motion journey through a nightmarish world. Very cool.

Well, then I stuck around for the documentary BARBARIAN DAYS. Not exactly Lovecraft, but about some kindred spirits following another pulp writer and contemporary of Lovecraft--Robert E. Howard. Howard created, among other characters, Conan the Barbarian. And he came from the small town of Cross Plains, Texas. And every year they celebrate him with a "Howard Days" festival, featuring the small group of Robert E. Howard scholars. Now I have to confess I've never actually read his work, so for me this movie is more about watching fans--some of whom get so obsessed they become scholars--come together and celebrate their shared passion for a few days. And what could be wrong about that? Well, nothing really. Although there's a little push-back from a few locals, and there's one incident between a pair of scholars that nobody really wants to talk about (and it's the reason one scholar who is referred to repeatedly doesn't show up for Howard Days or get interviewed for the movie.) I think my favorite part is near the end (sorry for the spoiler, but I don't think it's that important) where all the scholars reveal what their day jobs are and introduce their significant others. Nobody makes a living as a Robert E. Howard scholar (even if they've written a widely respected biography) and everyone has a pretty normal, happy life outside of Howard Days. It's just that Howard is always with them.

Then I had to race upstairs to a different theater and got in just in time to see the beginning of the Hammer Horror film THE SKULL (1965.) In fact, I'm not sure how much I missed, when I came in Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee were at an auction bidding over a set of grotesque statues. It seems they are both collectors of such odd items. In fact, Peter Cushing plays Dr. Maitland, a professor of such oddities. Later that night, he is visited by a seller who is a frequent source for his collection--Anthony Marco (Patrick Wymark.) Marco has an interesting artifact--a book bound in human flesh. But not the Necronomicon, rather a volume by and about the Marquis De Sade. They make a sale, and then Marco tantalizingly promises an even greater prize. That prize turns out to be the Marquis' skull. And that skull turns out to be haunted by an evil spirit that takes over whoever owns it. The whole second half is practically dialogue free, and often Cushing alone with the skull. Often from the skull's point of view (which moves to follow him) as it manipulates Maitland into doing horrific things. Pretty remarkably experimental for a Hammer film, but it totally works.

Then after a dinner break, I was back for the last two films.

First up, IT'S IN THE BLOOD (which won the award for best feature.) It's a father and son in the woods story, with the father played by Lance Henriksen. The son is played by Sean Elliot, but who cares, it's got Lance freakin' Henriksen! Anyway, the son has a photographic memory and is back home after being away for a long time. The father is the local sheriff and kind of a cold-hearted bastard. They go off into the woods for some not fully explained reason, and there they run into some sort of monster that causes the father to fall off a cliff and break his leg. So it's up to the son to take care of him and try to get them out of there, but the monster (who is excellent at camouflaging himself in the trees) won't let them out. Through flashbacks we learn a lot more about the family, including the adopted sister and a horrific encounter. It becomes a lot more psychological, as the monster represents the past they must face in order to escape and have a future. Well done.

And finally, I ended the night and the festival with MONSTERS (2010, which I guess stretches the meaning of "retrospective," but it did play in theaters before. I just missed it.) Sometime in the near future, aliens have invaded earth in the area of northern Mexico, up to the U.S. border. Trying to get from Mexico to the U.S. is even harder now, since you have to pass through the "infected zone" (that is, unless you get on the very expensive ferry that will take you around.) So a pair of Americans stranded in Mexico just south of the infected zone decide to make that journey, and it's more than a bit eye-opening. I'll just say that the biggest complaint I heard afterwards was that there weren't enough monsters. I'd say there were plenty of monsters--they were just all human.

And that's the end of the 2012 HPLFF (at least the Portland edition, as I mentioned there's a Southern California version coming up in September.) Oh, and one final note, I'm not looking to uproot myself from the SF Bay Area, but Portland seems like a really cool town. I even managed to get to Voodoo Donuts for a maple bacon bar before I left.

Total Running Time: 356 minutes
My Total Minutes: 284,702
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