C: The Color Out of Space (2010)

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“The Colour Out of Space” was my introduction to H.P. Lovecraft, via a thick gray book with the inventive title A Science Fiction Anthology. I was 12 or 13 – reading far beyond my age range – and though I was at first put off by its length, I persevered, and was absolutely terrified. Movie adaptations of Lovecraft are a pretty hard sell for me, with a lot of misses and a few hits (most of those being the obvious ones directed by Stuart Gordon), so The Color Out of Space came as a pleasant surprise.

It’s Arkham, 1975, and Jonathan Davis (Ingo Heise) is looking for his missing father. The investigating officer (conveniently named Ward – Alexander Sebastian Curd Schuster) finds that the man suddenly went to Germany, where he served during the post WWII settlement. Davis hastily flies to the forest region where his father was stationed, to find that the valley is about to be flooded by a new dam, and only the elderly still live in the nearby village. None of them recognize his father – until he literally runs into Armin Pierske (Michael Kausch), who recognizes the photo of his dad in his 1945 uniform.

Armin met the elder Davis when he returned from the Russian front to find the Army appropriating his farmhouse for refugees. He warns the Americans away from the neighboring valley because “It looks like it’s still happening,” which causes the squad to take him along to check it out . Armin is not surprised that his old acquaintance returned to the valley. “Once you see the colour, it is hard to forget.”

The bulk of the movie is Armin’s re-telling of what happened in that valley in the days just before WWII. A meteorite crashes into the Gärtner farm, and the stone’s properties confuse scientists; it radiates constant heat and continually shrinks, despite not producing any gases or ash. All tests are inconclusive, and they continually return for new samples, until they discover an oddly-colored sphere at the center of the bizarre rock, which shatters and disappears once tapped. And so the troubles begin.

Crops on the Gärtner farm begin to grow like crazy, producing huge fruit that is still blighted. Frau Gärtner begins to act oddly, eventually locked up in a room in the attic. One of the boys returns from the well screaming about lights. Trees seem to move on their own, with no apparent wind. The only person who still speaks to the increasingly beleaguered family is Armin, their immediate neighbor – and when he doesn’t hear from them for two weeks, he fearfully walks up to that darkened house.

This is a remarkably faithful adaptation of Lovecraft’s novella. Pre-War rural Germany is a good analog for Lovecraft’s backwoods locale, and the decision to make the movie in black-and-white is effective. I think you can deduce what the only thing in color in the movie is going to be, and it’s perhaps unfortunate that Lovecraft’s protagonists always have to see the indescribable indefinable unknowable, and filmmakers have to show that, and they will never be able to afford what that looks like in our heads.

The only other false note for me is a last-minute attempt to put a twist in the story for those of us familiar with it, which led me to have too many questions, but past that: Good adaptation. Recommended.

V: The Valdemar Legacy II: The Forbidden Shadow (2010)

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Yes, it took me fully four years to figure out how to game this system. This is, of course, the sequel to La Herencia Valdemar, which we visited at the other end of the alphabet; this is simply the English title. Frankly, I prefer the Spanish version: La Sombra Prohibida, but this is the easiest V I’ve ever scored.

Some spoilers follow. You’ve been warned.

There were a ton of storylines left over when chapter one closed. Chapter two finds us firmly in the present day, except for a flashback to the 1890s which finds the tortured Lázaro Valdemar (Daniele Liotti), after the sacrifice of his wife, falling deeper and deeper into books of forbidden lore, much to the dismay of the faithful Jervás (Paul Nachy in his final role). In fact, Jervás begs none other than H.P. Lovecraft (Luis Zahera) to try to convince Lázaro to give up his ultimate acquisition: the Necronomicon. “You don’t own the Necronomicon,” he tells Lázaro, “the Necronomicon owns you.” To no avail.

In the present day, Nicolás (Óscar Jaenada) and Dr. Cervia (Ana Resueño) continue their search for the missing antiques expert, Luisa (Silvia Abascal), who has escaped from the slow-witted Santiago (Santi Prego) and the sociopathic Dámaso (José Luis Torrijo), which results in the capture of Eduardo (Rodolfo Sancho) and Ana (Norma Ruiz), also searching for Luisa, a bit ahead of schedule, we will find.

All four wind up in a room in the deserted Valdemar mansion, wallpapered with polaroids of bloody people screaming and begging. Santiago releases them and leads them through a cavern underneath the mansion, where they are unfortunate enough to encounter the thing that was released in the first movie. Fleeing it, they run right into the arms of the cultists being led by Colvin (Eusubio Poncela), the head of the real estate agency employing all four – and a surprisingly young Lázaro. It is an elaborate scheme to gather enough sacrificial souls for a rite which will undo the botched Dunwich Ritual from the first movie. However, Colvin makes a mistake equally as catastrophic as Crowley’s in that instance, with the results that the cult is suddenly confronted by a very pissed-off Cthulhu.

That synopsis doesn’t convey half the texture and turns the story presents. Santiago has a horrifying yet heart-wrenching monologue about the nastiness at the Valdemar mansion to Luisa while having one of his seizures (and the handful of horse tranquilizers he downs to kill the pain). Luisa runs into an honest-to-God gypsy fortune-teller in a wagon in the woods. Like the earlier appearance of Bram Stoker, this version of H.P. Lovecraft has a lot more going on than the guy we think we knew. What I’m saying is, the two movies considered together form a pretty good Lovecraft pastiche, while still managing to be extremely Spanish in character. As I’ve said before, I’m a sucker for Lovecraft on a budget, and the budget on this one is actually pretty decent, something in the range of 6.5 million Euros. The acting, music, effects and cinematography are all of a very high order. It’s a little too ambitious to completely fulfill all its promises, and bends back on itself a little too often – even then, it’s still admirable in many ways.

I would recommend this to all Lovecraft fans. But.

This sequel/second chapter is hard to find. Amazon lists a PAL DVD for $120 – you can find it on eBay for less – but the most astounding thing is Amazon Video has part one but not part two. Unsuspecting viewers will find themselves hanging, like I did at the end of Sword of Doom. That’s just bad policy, there. It is, however, currently on YouTube for three bucks. Maybe Shudder has access to it – I don’t know, I’m not in a position to afford streaming services at the moment.

But somebody really should remedy that situation. All those situations.

H: La Herencia Valdemar (2010)

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Seems like we were in Spanish horror land just a few letters ago, doesn’t it?

Things are getting a little intense at a real estate firm, as the Valdemar estate is coming up for auction and the agent dispatched to the remote mansion 20 days before has not returned. Desperately the freelance antiques appraiser Luisa (Silvia Abascal) is contracted to pick up where the missing man left off. She finds the house deserted, nothing catalogued, and a nearly empty attic – empty except for the mangled body of the missing man. And something shadowy stalking her.

She barely escapes, aided by the somewhat simple handyman Santiago (Santi Prego) and Domáso (Jose Luis Torrijo), who is rather pissed that Santiago let her go in the mansion. She faints, and awakens hours later in their home. Possibly a prisoner, but certainly trapped there by a storm.

Interesting cane you have there, my friend

But never mind that, as another investigator, Nicolás (Óscar Jaenada) has been hired by Colvin, the head of that real estate firm (Eusubio Poncela) to work with the President of the Valdemar Foundation, Dr. Cervía (Ana Rusueño) to find the missing Luisa. She describes the Valdemar mansion as a classic “shunned house”, and explains why in a lengthy flashback that will be the majority of the movie.

At the fin de siècle of the 19th century, Lázaro and Leonor Valdemar (Daniele Liotti and Laia Marull), though themselves childless, run an orphanage (standard for modern Spanish horror #1). Lázaro is also a devotee of the emerging science of photography, and in his experimentation with double exposures, sets off a small cottage industry in which people come to seances, are startled by a levitating table, and in that instant are photographed; the resulting double exposures of “spirits” are much sought after, and fawning rich patrons are quite free with their donations to the orphanage. Lázaro and Leonor hope to use these proceeds to adopt a child of their own.

An opportunistic journalist, however, threatens blackmail, and when Lázaro refuses, has him arrested for fraud. Things look bleak until Lázaro is visited by an unexpected ally, none other than Aleister Crowley (Francisco Maestre), who devises a campaign to discredit the journalist and free Lázaro.

The price for this: Crowley has examined Lázaro’s spirit photos, and found, apart from the fakery, actual evidence of the supernatural lurking in the corners. He feels that not only is the mansion a spiritual nexus, but Lázaro is unconsciously a spiritual medium. These are two things that are necessary to conduct “The Dunwich Ritual” during an upcoming lunar eclipse. This will unlock secret knowledge for the participants; for Lázaro’s part, an answer to his and Leonor’s childlessness.

Despite his misgivings, Lázaro agrees, and Crowley brings in his fellows, including Bram Stoker (Lino Braxe), Lizzie Borden (Vanessa Suárez) and Belle Gunness (Laura Toledo). Crowley, though, has made a chauvinistic miscalculation, and the ritual releases what he terms “a devourer” into this world. The ritualists run away, leaving Lázaro wounded and the room aflame, and it is only the eventual sacrifice of Leonor that saves him.

The movie wraps up with the end of that story, reminding us of Nicolás, Luisa, and a couple of other folks, in an ending that confused a lot of people, apparently… I guess they ignored the brief snippets from the second part, which ends with a glimpse of something that definitely looks like Cthulhu… but that is something for the other end of the alphabet.

Now, for the good parts: this is a very handsome movie, well-shot and acted. Adding a lot of resonance and production value is Spanish horror icon Paul Naschy, in his final role as the Valdemar’s devoted manservant, Jervás. There is a lot of suitably creepy stuff, and some nicely humanistic moments, as well.

The bad part is this might as well be called Set-up: The Movie. Anyone expecting any resolution to the modern portions of the movie are going to be disappointed, those will all be left to the second part, The Forbidden Shadow, which looks to be a much rougher, more nasty, more… modern movie, perhaps. I look forward to it.

Though I am still puzzled by the fact that when Nicolás arrives, it appears he arrives by blimp… but perhaps that is another mystery which will be solved in the second part. We’ll see. (Spoiler: it won’t be.)

The Valdemar Legacy is available on Amazon Video. Bizarrely, its sequel is not.

D: The Dunwich Horror (2009)

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H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror” is my favorite of his stories; at its heart I feel it’s the closest thing to a solid B-movie he ever wrote. Therefore, there have actually been several filmic versions. And yet each one I’ve seen so far has managed to miss the mark.

In the story, the Whateleys – an outcast New England family, one of Lovecraft’s standard cultists – has worked a ritual, the result of which is twins – Wilbur and his brother, who is never seen, imprisoned in a section of the family house. Wilbur manages to get himself killed trying to get one of the very few extant copies of the forbidden magic book, the Necronomicon, revealing that he is not entirely human. With no one left to feed his rapidly growing brother, it smashes out of the house and starts ravaging the countryside – Wilbur’s brother, you see, favored the father more. And the father was the exiled god, Yog-Sothoth.

The birth of the twins is shown at the beginning (there are tentacles involved), and the next thing we’re going to notice is that the movie is titled Witches: The Darkest Evil. And the changes won’t end there.

The one I bought at Kaybee didn’t do this.

Dr. Henry Armitage (Dean Stockwell, who played Wilbur in the 1970 version, the first instance of stunt casting) attends to the exorcism of a young lady (Natacha Itzel) who sprouts bat wings, among other things, and attacks his assistant Fay (Sarah Lieving). Armitage is even more adept at magic than his literary counterpart, shooting lightning from his fingers. The cause is a “Sumerian Ritual Pyramid” hidden under the floorboards (which I recognize as a knock-off from the Rubik’s Cube craze of the early 80s, re-painted). It’s a pretty good sequence, even with some iffy CGI, but has nothing to do with Lovecraft.

The locale has also been switched to Louisiana, we find. Armitage and Fay (Fay Morgan, incidentally. Cute) call on his old protege, Walter Rice (Griff Furst), Head of Antiquities at some university. The exorcism points to “a portal” being opened, and Armitage wants Rice to find the one page missing from all copies of the Necronomicon – page 751, which involves the rituals for opening and closing said portals. Rice departs to investigate a lead Armitage provides, accompanied by Fay – which is going to cause some problems, as the two are former lovers. Also, Rice may be steeped in the lore, but he does not believe. This will change.

The Whateleys, meantime, are also seeking out that page. Wilbur is played by Jeffrey Coombs, the other instance of stunt casting. He spends most of his time kidnapping hapless travellers to feed to the monster upstairs. All these plot threads will of course come together by the end, but getting there is, um, shall we say interesting.

Rice has a lunch meeting with a colleague, Dr. Ashley (writer-director Leigh Scott), who mentions a similar ritual that took place in Innsmouth (a brief flashback provides us with fairly effective glimpses of a Cthulhu-like figure). Armitage’s clue leads Rice and Fay to Olaius Wormius, a translator of the original Necronomicon, who is somehow still alive, and who directs the two to a house owned by a “Mr. Ward”…

Essentially, what this American/German co-production tries to do is act like a Unified Field Theory for the works of H.P. Lovecraft, and that is a double-edged sword. It’s a fun game for fans, but is going to seem needlessly complicated to the uninitiated. The wisest move the production made was casting Coombs, who gives the otherworldly Wilbur his all. The unwisest move was attempting the apocalyptic ending on a TV movie budget. Given my history, I tend to be forgiving of attempts to do Lovecraft on a budget, but even scrappy little outings like The Void are a more solid attempt.

Not terrible, but diffuse. I’m still looking forward to a movie version that has the power of the original story.