Cthulhu (2007) starring Jason Cottle, Scott Green and Dennis Kleinsmith. Directed by Dan Gildark.
Cthulhu is a loaded title, I mean when you call your movie Cthulhu, people are gonna have certain expectations of what the movie is about, most probably a bunch of 1920’s paranormal investigators slowly turning mad as a giant Old One rises from the sea and demolishes New England in glorious CGI madness a la Cloverfield.
Yeah well, forget all that. When Cthulhu first came out ten years ago, it was met with resounding disappointment from horror fans. Instead of the aforementioned monster spectacular, what we got instead was a slow burn movie that concentrated on a theme central to Lovecraft’s writing, namely man’s horror as he begins to comprehend the workings of a much larger, hostile universe and how he is powerless to stop it.
I have to admit, I fell in love with the movie.
So how did a movie called Cthulhu, that is not actually about Cthulhu, that is set in present day, doesn’t have any monsters in it and was made on a shoestring budget, become my favourite Lovecraft movie? Let’s find out.
As the movie starts out, we are given small tidbits of information (via news reports playing in the background, Night Of The Living Dead style) that the world is ending, sea levels are rising and will eventually consume us all. Not only is the ship sinking, but all the lifeboats left a long time ago.
As the main protagonist, Russell Marsh, drives home to a derelict coastal town, his car rounds a bend and affords us a glimpse of a sign that reads, ‘The Esoteric Order Of Dagon.’ Wait a minute! Coastal town? Russell Marsh? Esoteric Order Of Dagon? Holy crap, it’s based on my absolute favourite Lovecraft tale – The Shadow Over Innsmouth! Only in this movie, the town is called Rivermouth.
In all honesty they should have called the movie Rivermouth. I mean it totally makes sense. After Innsmouth was destroyed by ‘burning and dynamiting’ the descendants of Obed Marsh who managed to escape, upped and went to Rivermouth, where they settled and the worship of the Old Ones and slow degeneration began anew.
Well, calling your movie Rivermouth isn’t going to garner attention the way calling it Cthulhu is, so I kind of understand it but it’s nothing more than a gimmick, and if there’s one thing horror fans hate, it’s a gimmick that exists solely to generate interest but very quickly turns into a big fat waste of time, like Laurence Fishburne in Predators. Man, was he fat.
Russell very quickly discovers there is something off with the town, what with all the missing children and all, and so begins the slow burn brooding menace as things start to unravel. One of the characters from Lovecraft’s original work, Zadok Allen, is present complete with deranged monologue about humans breeding with creatures from under the sea. Russell’s investigations lead to him being drugged and raped by Tori Spelling who is after some Marsh babies, which in all honesty was super hot. I don’t know why Russell was so upset. If I got raped by Tori Spelling, I’d chalk it up as a win, but whatever.
Things come to a head in the third act (don’t they always?), as the news reports shift to all out rioting and collapse of society. Russell attempts to flee the town which is undergoing its own demise but is thwarted and ends up, Wicker Man style, as an unwilling participant in The Esoteric Order Of Dagon’s ritual. The film’s climax shows hordes of Deep Ones walking out of the sea as Russell is left with a choice, accept who he is and join his family or commit one last act of defiance. As Russell screams in frustration and raises the dagger the film cuts abruptly, leaving the viewer to decide Russell’s fate.
Ultimately, Cthulhu is a success because of the very thing horror fans didn’t like about it, there’s no monster. The movie understands that Lovecraft was a Tell Don’t Show kind of guy, his monsters were in the background, in dusty tomes and fevered dreams. They very rarely took centre stage. It was the red pill moment that malevolent entities, older than time itself were out there and would one day return and the inevitable madness brought about by this enlightenment that was the real horror.
Anyone with more than a passing interest in Lovecraft should give this movie a go, or maybe a second chance because I believe the filmmakers got it right.
Steve Barnard lurks in the Stygian swamps of South America. He divides his time between scouring ancient jungles for the lost City of the Monkey Children and watching horror movies. Literally any horror movie he can get his hands on. Especially Japanese ones.