The H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival, 2019: An Innkeeper's tale
The H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival and Cthulhucon takes place in Portland, Oregon every year on the first weekend of October. Founded by Andrew Migliore (co-creator of the fan-made Arkham Horror LCG scenario “The Lurker in the Lobby” along with Nathan Early of the Great Old Ones) and directed by Gwen and Brian Callahan, the festival has become more of a convention than a mere film festival. This year, the festival celebrates its 24th anniversary. I have had the privilege of attending the film festival for each of the past 5 years, and this year was an exceptionally good one for attendees.
The event kicked off Friday late afternoon with “Innsmouth”, a life-size “replica” of notable locations within Lovecraft’s story “Shadow Over Innsmouth”. Entering the town, our first encounter was with Joe Sargent, a bus driver who clearly has some strange genes. Something fishy was going on. We entered the Gilman House, where we saw a family portrait depicting the family’s inhuman lineage. We continued on, seeing the wall of masks and then entered the temple. There, the High Priest of the Esoteric Order of Dagon greeted us with a very peculiar idol. We then experienced the true nature of Innsmouth and its inhabitants, coming face to face with life-sized sculptures of “Deep Ones” created by Chris Walas, creator of the Gremlins.
After Innsmouth, we entered the EOD Center, a hub for vendors, Lovecraft games, and the place where the many panels and discussions took place throughout the weekend. From there, we went across the street to the Theatre proper. For those unfamiliar, the Hollywood Theatre is a fully restored 1920s style theatre. It is a non-profit that features Indie [no, not Indiana Jones, sadly…] films year-round. Concessions are sold at a very fair price, and the theatre does have many beers available, in bottles and on tap. They also have a partnership with Sizzle Pie, the pizza place next door. You can order a pizza at the concessions stand and pick up your slice at the little window connecting the theatre and the restaurant. As we entered the theatre, we were greeted by Pickman’s model, a huge sculpture of the disturbingly horrific creature from Lovecraft’s tale. Because the Hollywood Theatre has 3 screens, the festival runs a schedule simultaneously for all 3 screens, rotating some popular films throughout the weekend. I highly recommend you map out your desired schedule ahead of time, and know which screen to go to within each 2-hour block. If you don’t plan ahead, you risk the show filling to capacity and you may not catch a movie or block you may have deeply desired to experience. The best way to do this is to pick up a free copy of the “Daily Lurker”, a newspaper distributed every year for the festival. It has a complete schedule of everything happening over the weekend and a description of all panels and movies being presented.
We decided to start our journey with a short film block. I must confess that this year overwhelmingly surprised me with the quality of the films. The block was filled with gems: The Music of Eric Zann, Corpse, Night Crawl, Ens Rationis, Tome Alone, and Aurora, all exceeded expectations. Zann was a very stylistic film depicting the Lovecraft story of the same name. Corpse was a creepy tale of a couple who come to visit an old friend and find he has aligned himself with hyper-religious people who may have some sinister secrets. Night Crawl weaved a tale of two inmates in a prison who have been digging an escape tunnel every night for years, only to realize their tunnel has unleashed a horrifying secret buried deep below the prison. Ens Rationis, a melancholy tale about getting a second chance at life, but at a tremendous cost. Tome Alone was a tongue in cheek film about two brothers left alone for an hour by their father, who warns them not to read his book. Of course the boys immediately do so, to hilarious repricussions. Finally, Aurora told the story of the leaders of an 1800s western American town, who have found the body of an extraterrestial humanoid, the implications it creates about their existence, and the decisions they have to make about their discovery.
After the shorts block on Friday night, we decided to catch the second showing of Richard Stanley’s “Color Out of Space”, starring Nicholas Cage. The movie felt like a roller-coaster ride. The pacing was good and the acting was top notch. Nick Cage was clearly having a lot of fun in the role and put on a performance that showcased his strengths as an actor. The special effects and direction of the story exceeded my expectations, and the climax was so enthralling I couldn’t even blink. When we walked out of the theatre, my wife and I looked at each other in disbelief of what we had just watched. The only criticism I had with the movie was the ending (which I won’t spoil here), as I felt it took away quite a bit from the original story and minimized the implications of the arrival of the Colour.
Saturday Morning the festival held its annual “Prayer Breakfast”, which I have yet to attend, and it’s more casual “Carbload for Cthulhu”. At the EOD Center, a panel with Victoria Price, Vincent Price’s daughter, and director Roger Corman was taking place alongside the annual artist challenge aptly called “Pickman’s Apprentice”. Four artists are given a type of art and a theme, and the pieces they create are sold for charity via auction. This year, the artists were asked to make a sculpture, and the theme was “Shoggoth Romance”. Afterward, we watched a short feature called “Lost Island”, a Russian-language film about a journalist who is sent to an island that has yet to be discovered but is somehow inhabited by twelve people. The film was decent, but I think it lacked a more compelling climax. From there, we attended the live radio theatre performance of “The Lurking Fear”, put on by the fine folks at the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society. They do a live radio theatre performance every year at the festival, and it’s always a highlight. This year was no exception.
We followed lunch with a one-man show presentation of M.R. James’s “A Warning to the Curious”, performed by Robert Lloyd Parry. This was one of the highlights of the entire weekend. His other performance on Sunday was even better, but more on that later. The one man show presentations by Mr. Parry are a very highly praised event every year, I had never had a chance to catch one. Last year, he did Lovecraft’s “Rats in the Walls”, but I missed it due to a scheduling conflict. Now I know what all the hubub has been about. If you ever get a chance to catch one of his performances, I highly recommend you make every effort to do so.
We then went to another short film block. This time, the films weren’t as impactful as the block from the night before, but the films were still mostly good. The night ended with a bang, as we met Adam Scott Glancy (of Delta Green and Pagan Publishing fame) for some whiskey and stories. A small group of about 10 people sat around a table and we listened to the master storyteller weave true tales of his crazy life, including the insanity at the “Pagan House”, a wrapped gift that chased him (which he almost shot), and a roommate who peeled her face off. If you every find yourself in the same room as Scott Glancy, ask him about these stories. You won’t be disappointed.
The inevitable end loomed over us all day on Sunday, and we did our best to stay gleeful despite knowing that in a few short hours another year would have to pass before we got to do it all again. But Sunday would not be a disappointment. We started with another fantastic block of short films. This time, we would be treated to Z-Goat (first bleat), Neris, Exhibit Man, Hide and Seek, The Cultist Next Door, and In a Foreign Town. This block rivaled the short block from Friday night in film quality. Z-Goat was a story of a woman trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. After being lured by a chained goat trap, she would be stalked by something hideous and deadly. Neris was a story of a man who finds a beautiful woman in his house, and her desires show their true form once it’s clear that he is the one she chose. Exhibit Man was slightly longer than the rest, and was a definitely one of the standouts in the block. A forensic photographer in a small town begins to suspect supernatural forces are at work when several bodies begin to turn up with strange injuries. Hide and Seek was a very creepy film about a smartphone game that may be more than just a game. The Cultist Next Door was a 1950s style educational video about what to do if you suspect that someone you know is a cultist. I was laughing so hard during this film that I could hardly breathe for a minute. It was probably my favorite film of all the short films we watched. Finally, In a Foreign Town, was a very creepy story of a man trying to remember a childhood experience in a strange town. This one definitely gets my vote for the most chilling of all. The short film block we enjoyed another one-man performance by Robert Lloyd Parry. This time it was M.R. James’s “Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad”. A ghost story to chill the bones and a top notch performance to go with it. Afterward, we were treated to an eye-opening documentary by Mr. Parry about the tale and its possible inspirations, and it was followed by a Q and A session by Mr. Parry. Without any doubt, this was another highlight for this year’s festival.
After Lunch, we watched an animated feature called “The Ikon”. The film told the interweaving tales of two men from different time periods, and their experiences with a mysterious Russian Ikon. The film was surreal and very good, but the best part was the name of one of the characters. The filmmakers truly went far beyond expectations in giving the character the most memorable, inspired, and beautiful name ever conceived by man: Vasily. Ahem. The last film we caught on Sunday night was a German feature film adaptation of Lovecraft’s “The Picture in the House”. This film was a great way to finish the weekend. It was a down-to-earth, well-told version of the story that expanded on some elements and was still its own tale of horror and the insignificance of man.
The weekend was full of surprises and the festival provided a great mix of feature films, short films, guests, panels, performances, and vendors. Oh yes, the vendors. Let’s just say this innkeeper is going to be putting in some overtime hours to help pay for all great swag acquired over the weekend. If you ever come to Portland, Oregon on the first weekend of Octhulhu, I highly recommend spending the weekend at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival. You’ll thank me.