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LovecraCked! The Movie   C


Year Released: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Directors: Elias, Tomas Almgren, Brian Barnes, Brian Bernhard, Justin Powers, Jane Rose, Simon Ruben, Doug Sakmann, Ashley Thorpe, Grady Granros
Writers: Elias, Tomas Almgren, Brian Barnes, Brian Bernhard, Rebecca Finley, Gillian MacGregor, Jane Rose, Simon Ruben, Doug Sakmann, Robbie Simons, Tom Wontner (inspired by H.P. Lovecraft)
Cast: Elias, Chad Bernhard, John Seamn, Jeffrey Vleazquez, Anna Ganster, Matt Renicks, Nick Basile, Mike Withstandley, Peter Bramhill, Tom Wontner, Gillian MacGregor, Nick Ewans, Nina Kwok, Adam Armstrong, Beau Dearden.

Review by Rob Vaux

Beyond-indie moviemakers have always had a special place in their hearts for author H.P. Lovecraft. His cult appeal has never quite grabbed the mainstream, and the existential horrors he wrote about just don't fit in at the multiplex. But down in the bowels of cinemadom, where things are a little funkier, his vision has taken root. This is a place where Brian Yuzna represents the pinnacle of budgetary decadence -- a strange and eclectic niche that nonetheless has a loyal core of adherents. Here, fandom and filmmaking merge into one, as enthusiastic Lovecraft followers try their hand at emulating the author's work. Sometimes, it can be very successful. Other times, it's clunky and embarrassing. But even the worst of it displays an enthusiasm and devotion to purpose that few in Hollywood ever display -- the kind of filmmaking that thrives on just how many credit cards you can max out before burly guys with tire irons show up at your door.

LovecraCked! is a decidedly bizarre anthology demonstrating both the best and the worst of this several-levels-below-underground trend. It collects nine short films inspired by Lovecraft's weird ethos, bound together with a tongue-in-cheek mockumentary featuring a wacky investigative journalist searching for the secret to the author's appeal. The results... well, they're certainly different, I'll give you that. But success comes fitfully at best, and is entirely contingent upon how much you're willing to tolerate to get it.

Part of the difficulty lies in a supremely uneven tone, caused by trying to tie so many different pieces together. The framing device is overtly comedic, as the unnamed journalist (played by the project's progenitor, who goes by the handle "Elias") doggedly seeks out the "true" story of Lovecraft's life. Much of it is quite silly, reminiscent of an eager college kid playing with his dad's digital camera. Moments of inspiration periodically crop up, however, such as a cute riff on Lovecraft's story "The Outsider" (involving a first-person POV camera), and one point at which the desperate journalist is reduced to interviewing his own mother for leads. They're not overwhelming, but they have a nice giggly ring to them (and frankly, even the worst moments still rank above some SNL sketches I've had the misfortune to view).

No, the principle trouble comes when the light, juvenile tone of the framing device crashes into the short films themselves, most of which are markedly more serious in nature. Each is a small vignette, no longer than 15 minutes, divided by the mockumentary that interposes a new sketch or comedy routine between them. Considering that most of them strive earnestly for Lovecraft's unique mixture of horror, alienation, and dread, they don't play well with Elias's antics. You can imagine how jarring it is to finish a piece of creepy existentialism, only to be whiplashed back to another round of grinning laughs... regardless of how similar the ostensible subject of both may be. The shorts are announced with proper cues and occur after the preceding scene has more or less run its course, but it still takes time to realize that they are separate entities and not really a part of the journalist's narrative. Without more consistency, the film struggles to settle on a proper mood.

As for the shorts themselves, they're just as mixed as the surrounding material -- ranging from the effectively ghoulish to the merely pedestrian to the flat-out awful. Most of them have the earnest rawness of student films, but the best brim with undeniable potential. Some rely on silent-movie aesthetics (notably "Chaos of Flesh," about a young man trying to save a girl from a killer's ax, which is easily the cream of the crop). Others focus on squicky revulsion (the slime-coated "BugBoy," gruesomely riffing on Lovecraft's insectoid fascination), or embrace such disparate topics as the perils of Internet dating ("Witch's Spring") and mad musicians ("Alecto," performed sans dialogue like "Chaos"). Sadly, the worthwhile entries number too few and far between, matched by a number of others that never escape the limitations of their budget. (There is also at least one piece of flat-out pornography in the mix -- sensitive souls beware.)

Collecting all of them as a single feature certainly makes marketing sense; they can be packaged as a unit and thus receive attention which they might not garner as shorts. Indeed, a number are at least five or six years old, suggesting that they've waited for some time before finding a decent platform to appear. Yet considering how tough it is to make them gel, one suspects that an anthology DVD -- presenting each film as a separate entity -- might have served them better than trying to join them together. Elias's harmless goofiness could have stood on its own, and the remaining shorts are better appreciated (or ignored, depending on one's opinion) solely on their own merits. Unfortunately, they prove supremely difficult to absorb as a single feature: the weaker entries simply crowd out the best bits for our attention. Hardcore Lovecraft fans may find it worthwhile to sift through everything, but the going is hard at times, and the film's treasures take some real patience to unearth. That's how things work in cinema's underbelly, where the zeal and devotion of filmmaker and fan alike are often the only reward. So is it here. A cameo appearance midway through by Troma guru Lloyd Kaufman can tell you exactly where LovecraCked's sensibilities lie. Only those who truly share them need venture any further.

Review published 04.03.2007.

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