Had viewers little or no frames of reference for the art of the extra demands the making of a silent movie exhibits upon actors, The Call of Cthulhu provides an excellent starting point on which to earn them. Surprisingly this film fetches a number of actors from the scene of today’s world who return us splendidly to this lost art form and do it resounding justice. What must now be said predominantly with the face instead of dialogue and/or monologue, places limited choice and renewed emphasis on the strengths of presentation, camera work, set originality and film choice. The Call of Cthulhu serves all these expectations splendidly, finding, as well, similar successes in its choices of casting and directing. Never does the viewer come to feel that the elements of budget concerns and stringent time requirements played out as dominant factors.
All that aside, the H. P. Lovecraft fan must surely appreciate the tone this specific genre enhances as it better nears the contemporary setting of the times for which the author wrote. For what has been ascribed The Cthulhu Mythos was bred out of a tradition of Lovecraft’s own feel for what mankind deserted on the road to any definitive history of our past and for unspoken traditions among the most bizarre of cults towards self-fulfilling prophecy. So intense the scenes can become, while probing into such darkness, words come to lose value…but the facial expressions do not.
If one presupposes that such demands upon actors of the silents was simplistic or in any way less demanding, then person(s) might refer to the many published accounts Lillian Gish left of her trials and tribulations with the great D. W. Griffith. He placed her in peril more than once in order to provide his audiences with realism. And still she loved, admired and respected both him and his work.
Even so, this reviewer seriously doubts the study of such men as Griffith and the genre of the silent has left this movie’s director, Andrew Leman, lacking in much. His creation of the horror orgy in the swamp by Cthulhu cultists observes the Lovecraft imagery and the author’s constant adjectival use of words like, unspeakable, blasphemous and indescribable as just that. Obviously in ways words can’t.
John Klemantaski, as Professor Bell, Noah Wagner, as Captain Collins and Patrick O’Day, as
Johansen provide excellent performances, meeting the unique requirements of silent film acting
surprisingly well. The artwork in producing a Cthulhu idol and the set design for a portal produced
Cthulhu city (wherein rests the ominous Old One) are extraordinary.
In reviewing the history of Lovecraft’s stories and how his Cthulhu legends developed, from the
famed, Rats in the Walls, Pickman’s Model, to the Thing on the Doorstep, one finds a man well
versed in archeology and with a rich knowledge of both the occult and the study of the many
anomaly upon the earth (found throughout.) The collective consciousness, a metaphysical precept, comes strangely to life as any avid reader finds pursuing such matters further. The strange predilections we find of those among us, from time to time, lend another element to deepening that strange abyss of which we are warned not to peer into.
Like a canvas upon which a master might paint, the setting is already lain for such tales as this and their display before us. What is already locked inside, sometimes touched upon in dreamscape, are the paints with which cinematic mastery might work. Leman has obviously discovered this.
This is a movie lover’s prize.