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By Mark Bell | September 13, 2008

“Cthulhu” is one of those rare mindfucks of a film; the kind that mix genres so well that, when all is said and done, I don’t know if I was watching a drama with thriller elements, a thriller with dramatic elements or a horror film. The film is creepy, I’ll give it that, but it also has that smalltown, dramatic bend to it and… somewhere in there is a tribute to H.P. Lovecraft’s works (hence the title).

“Cthulhu” starts off with Russell (Jason Cottle), a recently chaired college professor, finding his way back to Oregon for his mother’s funeral and subsequent estate sale. Russell really has no interest in returning home, especially considering his Reverend father (Dennis Kleinsmith) is one step away from Jim Jones cult leader status, but he does so anyway to try and help put things right for his sister (Cara Buono), before he can then head out (hopefully, by his count, within 24 hours). Of course, nothing goes as planned.

For one, driving into town for the funeral, Russell is harassed by a young kid in an SUV who not only ominously informs Russell that he “knew he’d be back,” but then speeds ahead, flips his vehicle and dies in Russell’s arms. Then there’s the insistence of his Reverend father that he give the family an heir, a problem considering Russell fled the town, and his father, due to their intolerance over his being homosexual (a subplot that makes the film more than just a creepfest, but also a statement on smalltown ideals and prejudices). Oh, and let’s not forget the crazy guy at the bar spouting about Dagon and weird fish babies, Russell’s grandmother’s house with all the names of missing persons written on the floor and the weird radio broadcasts that seem to be setting the stage for the world to end, coincidentally right about when Russell returns home and becomes cut-off from the rest of the world.

Now, I’m one of those people that still believes the best cinematic treatment H.P. Lovecraft ever got was in a film not even based on any of his stories but instead inspired by the ideas, John Carpenter’s “In the Mouth of Madness.” In fact, a sequence where Russell finds himself incarcerated near the end of “Cthulhu” bares a strong similarity to “In the Mouth of Madness” when the world goes to Hell while John Trent is incarcerated in a mental hospital. Enough so that I made a mental note of it. This, however, is not a bad thing. It worked in “… Madness” and it works in “Cthulhu.”

That said, while I have read a lot of H.P. Lovecraft’s work, I am oddly not familiar enough with the “Cthulhu Mythos,” “Dagon” or “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” which is what this film appears to be most interested in doing justice (I was always a “Music of Erich Zann” fan). I say “oddly,” because the “Cthulhu Mythos” is easily the most famous of Lovecraft’s work and you would think, if I’d have read anything, I’d have read that. Not so. Therefore, I can’t give you the in-depth thumbs up or downs based on how faithful the film is to Lovecraft’s work, I can only say that the film really nails the tone and feel of Lovecraft’s stories brilliantly. Between the smalltown mystery, the one man stuck in the end times and the emergence of Old Gods come home to roost, “Cthulhu” gives the proper respect to Lovecraft without shitting in his bed.

The film does stumble over itself a bit, mainly in that it tries to present so many ideas in such a short time that, while many of them work, it just comes off as too much. I still do not know why Russell was so important to events, what major part he was supposed to play in the supposedly end of times (and yet, they explicitly state his importance at least twice and… I still don’t get it). Whereas the plot was a bit too convoluted for my tastes, however, because the tone was so spot-on… it didn’t matter too much. I liked the mystery, I liked the impending doom (even if I, you know, didn’t understand what was going on part of the time).

Fans of Lovecraft’s work should find this film to be a welcome interpretation of the famed author’s works, and those just looking for a good, old-fashioned, creepy thriller shouldn’t be disappointed either. Some of you may even understand everything that went on. Again, while I confess to being lost quite a bit, it didn’t ruin the experience for me, and hopefully won’t for you either.

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