A second punch of REH

ghostapril1929Further to yesterday’s post regards the Bob Howard boxing story “The Spirit of Tom Molyneaux”, I’ve since discovered online -its always amazing what you can dig up with a search or two- this image of the cover of the Ghost Stories pulp in which that story first appeared (as The Apparition in the Prize-Ring”). There’s no indication on the cover of why so many REH fans are aware of that particular issue (more because it was REHs first sale to a pulp magazine that wasn’t Weird Tales than any high quality in Howards story). I often get startled by those old pulp covers that were contemporary of REH, the old style of them proving sobering reminder of just how long ago REH lived, and how different those times were.

I often wonder what it would be like to have sat down with him over a beer. When I first read all those paperbacks of his stories my somewhat isolated, socially uncool teenage-self recognised much of my own awkwardness in descriptions of Bob Howard in Cross Plains, who was something of an outcast and considered rather peculiar by his neighbours/fellow townsfolk. But Bob Howard was such a product of his time, and that time is so alien to mine, to the atitudes and beliefs of today. Would we get along as much as I would have hoped?

Answers via a Time Machine, Mr Wells. Anyway, today I followed up that story with another boxing yarn; “Double Cross”, which was another Ace Jessel story- Bob Howard had a habit of writing series of tales featuring the same character seeing that it was a way of securing more sales; if the first sold, then surely readers (and editors) would be interested in further tales? Unfortunately for Howard, his first Ace Jessel story didn’t sell to the market it was originally intended for (Fight Stories) and only eventually sold to Ghost Stories because of its supernatural bent. This second Ace Jessel tale, a more traditional boxing yarn minus any supernatural undertones, would obviously lack any appeal to the Ghost Stories crowd, so “Double Cross” remained unsold after Fight Stories rejected it, and was Ace Jessel’s last adventure, Howard moving on….

“The Spirit of Tom Molyneaux” by Robert E. Howard

fists1While he’s most popularly known for his fantasy creations of Conan, King Kull and Solomon Kane, Bob Howard’s love of boxing is well documented-both a fervent admirer of the sport of his time, deeply knowledgeable of its history, and also as an amateur pugilist in his own right, taking part in bouts behind the ice-house at Cross Plains, and his passion for boxing is clearly evidenced by the number of boxing yarns he wrote during his short-lived writing career. The Robert E Howard Foundation’s Fists of Iron series, ensuring all his boxing stories, drafts. poems and ephemera are in print, is spread across four substantial volumes of material. My copies have sat on the shelf waiting my attention for far too long- the shipping note and customs declaration for my copy of the first volume, complete with that magical Cross Plains Post Office stamp, is dated June 2013. Other than picking a volume up to browse through or read an isolated story or two, these collections of his Boxing stories have been waiting. And waiting. But 2013? Yikes. And I thought some of my DVDs/Blu-rays had it bad.

So I have decided to strike out and try work my way through these Fists of Iron volumes (albeit I’m sure to become distracted by the pull of some of his other yarns before long, such as his Westerns or Fantasy works, because I suspect constant boxing stories may become wearing, in time, no matter how enjoyable they are). Many of the boxing stories contained in these books are familiar to me, having read most of them at least once before over the decades that I’ve been reading Howard’s fiction, but nonetheless I am certain there are many gathered here that I haven’t read at all, certainly in the pure ‘original text’ versions that the REH Foundation prides itself upon. In the case of this story, there are two different versions, one had featured in Bison Books’ Boxing Stories collection and the other Del Rey’s The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard collection, and both feature in this first Fists of Iron volume. Seems double and triple-dipping isn’t just reserved for home video formats…

The Spirit of Tom Molyneaux” is a lesser tale of Howards that is perfectly fine, and which has a particular fame for being Howards first professional sale outside of Weird Tales.  As one might suspect from it being sold to Ghost Stories (following rejections from the Fight Stories and Argosy pulps), this is a boxing short with a supernatural bent. Its less pronounced in the version here, from one of Howard’s own carbon copies- likely the version Fight Stories rejected.  The ghostly stuff features more prominently in the published version- possibly at the request of the Ghost Stories editor or perhaps more an example of Howard tailoring his stories to a particular market, adjusting its tone to more likely get a sale (he even retitled it to “The Apparition in the Prize-Ring”).

Its the story about Ace Jessel and his epic bout with Mankiller Gomez, a brutal, almost primordial fighter who has swept all before him, taking the title from a fighter who Ace had been in line to fight. Ace is clearly outmatched but seems to take courage from a painting of his lifelong hero and inspiration, the boxer Tom Molyneaux, a black boxer who died a hundred years prior. Unbeknownst to Ace, his concerned manager John Taverel is compelled to bring the painting to ringside, and when Ace is bloodied and near-beaten, Taveral unfurls it so that Ace can see it, and the ghost of Molyneaux comes to Ace’s aid.

Which is a lousy summary of a simple story which, while it doesn’t really at all surprise, nonetheless proves to be a perfect example of just how great a storyteller Bob Howard was. I haven’t read any other author who can capture action like Howard could- his description of the bout is riveting and exciting and its impossible not to get caught up in it. I can’t say I have any particular interest in boxing at all, but I really enjoy Howards boxing yarns (the humorous ones are the best, as they demonstrate Howard’s surprising grasp of comedy) and the supernatural element gives this one a particular flavour worthy of a Twilight Zone segment. Its really pretty good.

Raider of the hidden book collection

bolland2 (2)I’ve been having a clean-up; an early Spring Clean, if you will, albeit one probably a year late (“two years late” according to Claire). My backroom den, which has been my Covid-enforced office space for close on two years now, is currently the subject of a clear-out and tidy-up and its been a sobering experience. I’ve too many books, too many  CDs, too many DVDs and Blu-rays. More on the latter perhaps in a post tomorrow.

But I’ve been unearthing lots of books that were hidden behind the towers of life-debris; some old favourites I know so well, and some surprises, half-forgotten. The odd one or two I’d totally forgotten.

The scary thing is when I have picked up the odd book and found either a receipt tucked away in the back of it, or have made a curious query on my Amazon account and discovered with a yelp of incredulous horror how long ago I bought it. For instance, one of the books that caught my eye was The Art of Brian Bolland– its a fantastic book, by the way, absolutely essential for anyone remotely familiar with his art- and I found that I bought it in 2013. Years have a way of sneaking past you, I know, but I have had that book approaching nine years now, and for the last few years its been out of sight, almost forgotten.

bolland1Mind, on the subject of years getting past you, alongside The Art of Brian Bolland were a few gorgeous hardbacks of artist-themed collections of Judge Dredd strips which IDW publishing released around the time I bought that Bolland book. One collects Bollands Dredd work, while another collects some of the best of the late Carlos Ezquerra‘s work (including his complete Apocalypse War epic) and another two volumes contain the best of Cam Kennedy’s Dredd work – which I remarked upon in this blog back in the day. Why I mention these books in particular, is that browsing through them yesterday (really, its  a wonder I got anything done, how much stopping to read stuff I was doing), I was looking at the dates the stories were originally published in 2000AD. Bolland’s mostly dated back to 1978, 1979… Ezquerra’s Apocalypse War ran for 26 deliriously exciting weeks in 1982, and Kennedy’s sublime work from around 1984 onwards. Some of this stuff is 40+years old or awfully close to it, and I can recall reading most of it like it was yesterday. Those early days of 2000AD; there’s never been anything like it since. I still recall meeting my mate Andy in school every week to discuss the latest events as that Apocalypse War unfolded. Drokk it, as if I didn’t feel ancient enough the way the world is going lately, I have to have my head spinning with memories of the Apocalypse War, role-playing games and Blade Runner: 1982 was like some very fine wine, I just didn’t really appreciate it at the time (does anyone, when so young?).

I keep returning to that Art of Brian Bolland book; I can’t keep away from it, its exquisite. Its a large-format book printed on heavy-stock paper, with all of Bolland’s elaborate, detailed inks perfectly reproduced. Every page is a new marvel to linger over.

Unfortunately, and much to Claire’s annoyance, my backroom clear-out is taking much longer than expected….

Brainquake by Samuel Fuller

brainquakeSamuel Fuller was of course a writer before he became a director, writing books and screenplays following an early career as a New York crime reporter, and I’ve found his deliriously pulp novel Brainquake a fascinating insight into his films- while at the same time, having seen a few of his films now (both written and also those directed) those films also provide an insight into this book. Certainly, there’s elements of Underworld U.S.A. clearly on display here in how it describes the machinations of the criminal underworld which the novel’s chief protagonist, Paul Page works for as a bagman. The woman that Paul betrays his criminal overlords for, Michelle, has clear precedents in some of the strong but desperate women that are seen in the films.

Brainquake was written when his Hollywood career was over, and published (in English, at least), posthumously. My ‘education’ regards Fuller’s filmography  is obviously incomplete but I can easily see how this book could be seen as a ‘Greatest Hits’ for Fuller, and parts of this book’s charm is imagining it as one of those brash, larger-than-life black & white noir adventures that I have been watching on Blu-ray of late. That being said, its also clear that while its got many Fuller tropes (for want of a better word) its also a cheeky self-indulgence, Fuller writing things he knew he could never get away with in a film. Even Tarantino would struggle to get away with some of this, but it would be marvellous, now that I consider it, to see him try. Mostly this regards Father Flanagan, a hit man for the Mob who is always dressed as a Catholic priest who nails his victims to walls in the manner of crucifixion, and who mentally pictures all the women he meets as naked. Imagining his scenes in a film with all the actresses alternatively dressed and undressed depending upon us ‘seeing’ the scenes through Flanagan’s eyes, was a major part of the fun of the book.

Its wild, its crazy, its quite intoxicating; but its absolutely a rollercoaster ride and quite a page-turner. Its definitely a Samuel Fuller book- nobody else could have written it.

See you never again, Space Cowboy, etc

Anyone else get excited to see that Denis Villeneuve has apparently signed-on to direct a film adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama? I think I’m actually more intrigued by this than I am Dune Part Two. Curious timing though; any such Rama film would have to be some four to five years away, and Villeneuve has been talking about a Dune Messiah movie. You need the patience of a Jedi these days, and I have to say, none of us are getting any younger.

arrival bookWhilst mentioning Villeneuve, I spotted a book coming out next February, a very belated tie-in for his film Arrival. The Art and Science of Arrival seems to be in the same vein as Tanya Lapointe’s previous Blade Runner 2049 and Dune books, and since its currently due out in my birthday month…  

Lapointe seems to be chasing after the film tie-in crown of the late J.W.Rinzler (damn you, 2021) and she’s gradually taking over the real estate of my bookshelf.  I’ll always think that the passing of Rinzler robbed us of the definitive’ making of’ Blade Runner book; it probably would never have happened, but one could dream of a Rinzler Making of Blade Runner as easily as dreaming of Electric Sheep, and it would surely have been something truly special.

The news that Netflix has already -already! after just THREE weeks!- cancelled its live-action Cowboy Bebop, which I actually quite enjoyed… well I suppose that’s either definitive proof that I’m way off the cultural zeitgeist -someone will be telling me that Disney’s Star Wars films are film classics next- or I’m smarter than everyone else (okay, okay, yes I’m utterly irrelevant, stop reading this now). While the show was clearly not perfect, I suspect its production in the midst of a full-blown pandemic could mark it as a Covid Casualty. I still think for all its flaws it had some promise, was pleasantly different to most other genre stuff we see lately (usually dark, serious and overblown, as if everything has to be Game of Thrones written from a JJ Abrams typewriter), and might have found its proper footing in a second season. I don’t get it with Netflix- they don’t seem so occupied with viewing figures/ratings like ordinary networks are, so if its worth investing in a ‘new’ property (I’m using the term ‘new’ loosely in these reboot/remake days) surely its worth backing that up with a second season? Bad enough I’m going to be waiting forever for a Mindhunter season three. Maybe I should cool down my expectations for the Netflix Conan.

Coming full circle to all things Villeneuve, Amazon Italy put my 4K copies of Dune and The Last Duel (hey, Ridley gets a mention, and hopefully a film review here, before the end of 2021!) through the letterbox so I know what I’ll be watching this weekend, and with the 4K disc of No Time to Die hopefully arriving Monday, crikey, Christmas has indeed come early. Hopefully the next lockdown won’t follow suit…

Later by Stephen King

laterHaven’t read a Stephen King book for awhile, but this one was recommended by my brother and hey, by Stephen King standards this thing is practically a short story, running just under 250 pages which absolutely fly by. It has none of the padding and excess that weakens so much of Kings work- he’s always been a great writer in desperate need of a good editor in my opinion but there’s no such problems here; this book is tight and concise and pretty much has all Kings good points and few of the bad.

It also finds King on very familiar ground, with shades of his own The Dead Zone and The Shining and, as commented upon in the story itself, the Brice Willis film The Sixth Sense (I suppose one could describe this as King’s own spin on the latter). The main character is a child who realises he can see and speak to the recently dead, a ghoulish talent that finds surprising exploits as he grows up. Its probably assisted by being published as part of the Hard Case Crime imprint, which is dedicated to pulpish crime potboilers and therefore the book is not being essentially sold as a standard Stephen King horror yarn. I actually kept on expecting the crime element to come more to the fore when it really doesn’t; its there but not as much as the cover painting might suggest.

As a piece of pulp horror in the guise of a crime potboiler its really, really good, and as I have noted its brevity is perhaps its best asset. Its so easy when reading this to imagine King going off on a tangent or two and spreading the same storyline over 600 pages or more but thankfully he doesn’t, although perhaps the endearing main character and the clever premise might have some of Kings hardcore fans wishing it was indeed a 600-page opus.

My chief concern with the paperback edition I read was some bad proof-reading, as there are some pretty glaring typos that really should be unforgivable in this day and age- or is it rather indicative of how books are electronic files these days and such things are somehow easier to creep in (when I would have thought the opposite was true)? I just find them very irritating- there’s a few instances of sentences missing words, breaking the syntax although when reading it your brain will likely fill in the blank, hardly noticing (I grimaced at one and asked Claire to read the paragraph and she didn’t even notice it until I showed her- which is an interesting point perhaps regards how our brains work when reading).

I’ll not go into the plot or its twists/developments as they are the rewards of reading the story. Suffice to say this is a great little read that doesn’t out-stay its welcome, I really quite enjoyed it. Wouldn’t surprise me though if it turned out to be the start of a series…

Blade Runner 2049: The Storyboards

br2049storybAnother Blade Runner 2049 artbook. The irony doesn’t escape me- if any film ever deserved an ‘art-of’ book it was Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner; even its fiercest critics would admire its visual strengths and production design (whilst also damning it for it, usually). Back in 1982 a strange publishing deal had some weirdly-fashioned tie-in books for sale, paperbacks of the screenplay with accompanying storyboards, and a sketchbook, but each was fairly lacklustre compared to the ‘art-of’ books that the Star Wars films were getting. By the time Blade Runner recovered from its dismal release and was reappraised as a classic with a sizeable audience, the rights issues with the Blade Runner Partnership and the creatives involved (Syd Mead etc) had grown so complicated that attempts to publish a genuine ‘Art of Blade Runner’ always hit a licensing brick wall, or so I’ve been led to believe.

But here we are, just over four years after that unlikeliest of sequels, BR2049 was released and we have a third BR2049 art book. Following on from ‘The Art and Soul of Blade Runner 2049’ and last year’s ‘Blade Runner 2049 Interlinked – The Art’ we get ‘Blade Runner 2049: The Storyboards’ which is a pretty much self-explanatory title. All three books are handsomely sized and presented hardbacks; BR2049 has certainly gotten plenty of love from the publishing side. Indeed, my one major issue with this storyboards book is that it really is missing  the films screenplay, if not part of the storyboard presentation then certainly as an appendices at the rear of the book, so my natural suspicion is that a ‘Blade Runner 2049: The Screenplay’ book is almost inevitable. Titan Books, I’m leaving room on my shelf.

On the one hand, I am reassured that there is still interest in BR2049 sufficient enough to warrant these books, various comic tie-ins and an anime series, so that while a third film in the franchise is unlikely in the extreme there is still yet some life in it. As someone who well remembers that post-1982 wilderness when I used to name Blade Runner as my favourite film and always get puzzled blanks in response, it still feels like I’m now in some alternate reality worthy of Philip K Dick (The Man in the Blade Runner Castle, anyone?). The very existence of BR2049 alone has me sometimes reacting with a ‘pinch me, I must be dreaming.’

So forgive me for just going with the fact that we now have three artbooks for BR2049 and that we dare not discount more books in the future (we already have a few collections of essays etc). Maybe before physical media shuffles off this world we might get a BR2049 SE on disc with documentaries and commentaries: hey Charles de Lauzirika are you busy these days I have a project for you (well, one can dream, but as I’m possibly living in a Blade Runner Castle-alternate reality lets go with it).

Chesley Bonestell: A Brush with the Future (2018)

saturnbonestellA very welcome surprise to find this excellent documentary currently available on Amazon Prime. Anybody with a passing interest with art and science fiction and access to Prime would be advised to give this film a watch; its really quite amazing. It features the likes of Douglas Trumbull, Don Davis, Ben Burtt (and others like Ray Bradbury in archive interview footage), commenting upon Bonestell’s genius and visionary impact, and many examples of his remarkable paintings. 

Bonestell lived a quite extraordinary life, one which will always be quite unique simply because of what he lived through and saw during a long life (born in January 1888, died June 1986). He experienced the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and lived through two World Wars and all the technological advances of the 20th Century, from the Orville Wright first powered flight of 1903 to a manned landing on the moon and the first landers on Mars. The latter events, and the post WWII advances in rocketry that got us there, were obviously keenly important to him as he became known as the pioneer of what is generally called ‘Space Art’. Even people not too interested in art would have seen his work in film (matte paintings for films like Citizen Kane, no less, and design work etc for Destination Moon, When Worlds Collide and an indirect influence on Kubrick’s depiction of the moon in 2001: A Space Odyssey). When Bonestell’s usually surprisingly accurate guesswork and depictions of other worlds proved wide of the mark, as in his wonderful lunar landscapes, there is always a feeling that its reality’s fault for not measuring up to Bonestell’s art, not the other way around.

moonbonetsellBonestell’s paintings instead remain quite timeless and wonderfully evocative. I have a copy of Ron Miller’s excellent retrospective The Art of Chesley Bonestell but not at hand- alas I think its boxed up in the loft like so many other books.  I shall have to make a point of digging it out sometime soon, it would be fascinating to read again having seen this documentary.

 

Conan the Barbarian by Jason Aaron

conan jason aaronA very welcome oversized hardback collection of writer Jason Aaron’s twelve-issue run of Conan the Barbarian. The arc is titled ‘The Life and Death of Conan’ and is a pretty interesting take on the character for his return to Marvel: I suspect it was a deliberately introductory arc intended for new readers unfamiliar with the character, as it sweeps forwards and backwards in time referencing various parts of Conan’s life and adventures. It may also be a case of Aaron referencing REH’s habit of non-chronological stories, Howard depicting Conan as a King and then in his next story depicting Conan as a young thief, or later in his life as a pirate, writing stories at various stages of Conan’s life as if on a whim. It would be left for two fans to later write a probable chronological outline of Conan’s life piecing the REH stories into some kind of order (“A Probable Outline of Conan’s Career” by P Miller and J D Clark first published in a fanzine in 1938). 

One of the ways to judge how good a new Conan story is, is perhaps inevitably to compare it to the mood and spirit of REH’s original tales. This is something of a double-edged sword because there is no way for any writer to really create something that rings wholly true of Howard. Conan’s creator may have been a pulp writer quickly turning out the stories to pay the bills (and at the time of the Conan shorts were written this would include paying for, or contributing to, his mother’s medical expenses as her health failed) but their quality has ensured his work has been in print for close on a century now. Indeed, it can be argued that Howard’s best stories are those not involving Conan at all, but it can’t be denied that the best of the Conan yarns are really something special. 

So how does Aaron fair with such an unfair comparison? Pretty well I think. I’m not really convinced that he manages to capture Conan’s character; there is something a little too civilized regards Aaron’s Conan for all his narrative commentary otherwise, lacking some of the dark barbarian of Howard. There’s a literal fixation on Conan’s wanderlust, Conan’s drive to see over the next hill, an ambition to experience all the Hyborian Age’s wonders that I don’t think was such a character trait in the Cimmerian at all. It feels a little too on the nose, too modern a point of view. I rather thought Howard’s Conan lived more aimlessly, subject to his own physical whim and excess, whether it be wine, women or loot. Aaron further features a rather unwelcome explanation for Conan’s success, attributing it to a witches curse and the protection from a Dark God that needed the Cimmerians blood at the end of a long life in order for that Dark God to return. Hey, I’d prefer to attribute Conan’s length of survival to his own efforts.

The art and colours (chiefly by Mahmud Asrar and Matthew Wilson respectively) are beautiful; modern comic art is on this evidence rather more sophisticated than much of the 1970s art that featured in Marvel’s original Conan books, although I still think John Buscema’s Conan is the definitive one. This edition certainly benefits from the larger size- I initially bought this run in two softcover collections but really struggled with the small print, my eyes not what they were: no such problems here. Aaron left the title after issue twelve but I definitely hope that the successive issues with a new creative team can also be reprinted in OHC format eventually. While I am really enjoying Marvel’s omnibus reprints of both the colour and black & white Conan titles from the 1970s – 1980s, I would be fascinated to see where Marvel goes with this new generation of Conan titles.    

The Color Out of Space is so bright, you’ve got to wear shades

colorWell ain’t that weird, this one’s a tricky one- I actually quite liked Richard Stanley’s The Color Out of Space a wee teeny bit, but I’m hard pressed to explain why. Maybe its the fairly poor track record for films based on H P Lovecraft’s horror fiction; its highly likely that the best Lovecraft films are not actually based on any of his stories at all- thinking of Alien and Annihilation here- and its pretty clear that when film-makers try to bring actual HPL stories to the screen it never really ends well. Ironically, while HPL’s own prose is very serious and thoughtful archaically elegant, most films seem to swap tension for laughs, as if the tales are just so ridiculous you have to wink at the audience rather than yell “boo!” which is something that has endlessly irritated me, a trend set way back by 1985’s Re-Animator. If I had to name my favourite ‘proper’ Lovecraft film, it would probably be the late Stuart Gordon’s Dagon from 2001, and that was far from perfect. Or maybe the 2005 Call of Cthulhu produced by H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society, although I’d contend that was more a ‘fan film’ than a genuine full-fledged motion picture. What I’m saying is, as far as Lovecraft films are concerned, the bar’s set pretty low. 

Maybe if Guillermo del Toro had managed to shoot his At the Mountains of Madness film ten years ago, things would be much different. That film possibly ranks among the great films never made, one of those lingering ‘what-ifs’ that film buffs can wax lyrical over whilst sharing drinks on a cold and stormy night. By all accounts, that film might finally have been Lovecraft done right, with a huge budget, visionary director and a great cast. 

Lets get the elephant out of the room straight away- I’m no fan at all of Nicolas Cage and he is perfectly hideous in this. Although one can argue the slippery slope his career has been on has been a long and steep one (if Hollywood had a Mariana Trench, you’d find Nic halfway down it), in recent years particularly he has essentially become a parody of himself. Here in The Color Out of Space he is absolutely, horrifyingly, mind-bogglingly terrible- I’ve seen him phone in some nonsense before, but he seems to think he can justify his casting in this film by having a wild tantrum in the kitchen. Maybe there is some level of meta-horror here in his casting that escapes me, some level of terror that his performance graces this film with that elevates it to some other subconscious territory of horror – God knows when I think back upon his performance it evokes something of a shudder.  

Its clear that  The Color Out of Space suffers by being made after the fantastic Annihilation, a film that, sharing so many of the themes and ideas of Lovecraft’s original story,  visually pre-empted many of the visual flourishes that Richard Stanley uses here- the twisted, richly-coloured vegetation and strange alien creatures used to express the sense of unknowable, alien nature. Indeed some viewers could be forgiven, in fact, for mistakenly thinking its based on the same source material or is indeed a sequel, both films after all concerned with an alien rock falling to Earth and transforming the land around its crash site, and ultimately warping reality. The world within the Shimmer of Annihilation has a profound strangeness, of normality slipping into alien nightmare, and Stanley uses similar art direction to same effect with this film. But Alex Garland’s film is far, far superior, with a better cast and script, and Stanley of course sadly has to contend with dear Nic. In any case, with the nagging feel of the familiar hanging so obviously over Stanley’s film, it loses any sense of originality that might have otherwise excited attention. 

But all that being said, how bad Cage is and how much the film suffers in comparison to Alex Garland’s film, I have to admit I still found it worthwhile. Maybe it was just refreshing to see someone trying to make something decent while at the same time making a HPL film: its heart was in the right place, you know? You gotta love a trier, especially if you’re a fan of this Lovecraft stuff, as I am.

Yet again though, here’s a horror film that makes the unforgivable sin of not really being scary, but that’s something I can say of most horror films of late so its perhaps not fair to slap the film with that one. Perhaps its the limitations of the budget, or the cast (the lack of chemistry between Cage and his onscreen wife Theresa, played by Joely Richardson, is deplorable, albeit quite funny in their awkward romantic moments, which had me wondering if it was a clever reference to Lovecraft’s real-life antipathy towards women, as if Stanley was weaving some complex meta-story). One of my chief issues turned out to be that perennial favourite of HPL movies:  with it showing flower-child daughter Lavinia (Madeline Arthur) messing around with amateur black magic at the start, the film establishes a silly fairy-tale-like milieu from the start that undermines any attempt to make anything afterwards feel as real or involving as the events, of, say, Annihilation.  And that’s before the pattern of nuttiness that rolls in when Nic appears, leaving Stanley nowhere to go but a kookier colour Purple than even Prince could have ever imagined. This, in a film which I’ve praised for being a serious take on Lovecraft. If nothing else, that surely indicates how low the bar has fallen with all these Lovecraft adaptations.