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1 Mar 2013

A night of creeping horror – I’m not feeling too spectacular today, as I’m struggling with a throat cold that refuses to die, so all I really want to do is just sit and stare at something that doesn’t require too much brain power. At the same time, though, I really want to write about the very cool event I went to last night. So, as a compromise between my enthusiastic brain and completely uncooperative body, I am going to write in brief about this event. (Keep in mind that this is me, so “brief” will mean roughly a thousand words.)

“If there is a second Cthulu Festival of Film (and I hope there is), you will find me there.”

If you are also a reader of the blog of one Gord Sellar, you will know that last night was the “Cthulu Festival of Film.” I told Gord that I was interested in going, and would probably just show up and pay the 15,000 won at the door instead of 13,000 in advance by bank transfer. But then Gord informed me that 72 out of the 80 tickets had already been sold, so it would probably be a good idea to purchase my ticket in advance. I did, and it was a good thing because the festival ended up being sold out.

If you are not familiar with Cthulu, I will just say that he is a deity in a mythology created by the science fiction and horror writer H. P. Lovecraft, and the three films shown at the festival were based on his (Lovecraft’s, that is, not Cthulu’s) works. Things kicked off roughly at 20:00 with a short (26 minutes) adaptation of “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” called “Return to Innsmouth,” by an American director named Aaron Vanek. I happen to have read the original story on which it was based, so I had that advantage going in. It was enjoyable, but it definitely leaned toward the “camp” end of the spectrum as opposed to the “horror” end. Highlights for me were the crazy old villager (who must have been really hungry, because he sure chewed a lot of the scenery) and the old-school monster suits that made appearances toward the end.

The next short (21 minutes), a Korean film entitled “The Music of Jo Hyeja” (Johyejaui eumak), was directed by Gord’s lovely wife (she who goes by the moniker “Mrs. Jiwaku” on Gord’s blog), with music and sound design by Gord himself. This film swung the pendulum in the opposite direction from “Return to Innsmouth,” in that it was quite realistic and quite horrifying, without the slightest trace of campiness. It was easily the creepiest and spookiest film of the festival, and—though of course I may be a bit biased—my favorite of the night. All of the actors gave excellent performances, the cinematography was fantastic, and the music and sound were spine-tingling.

After the first two shorts there was a brief intermission, and outside I talked with Gord and Josh (a director who works with Bloated Cat Productions; he also happens to be quite a cool guy, and we hung out most of the night). Neither Josh nor I had read the short story on which “The Music of Jo Hyeja” had been based (“The Music of Erich Zann”), and we both mentioned that we wanted to read it now. Gord said that he had heard other people saying the same thing, which I suppose is what this is all about—not just making good films, but about getting people interested in Lovecraft.

The final film of the evening was a longer German production entitled Die Farbe (“The Color”), and it was based on “The Colour Out of Space.” Again, I had not read the original story (Josh informed me that another film, Die, Monster, Die!, was also based on this story), so I was going into it blind. The film was done very well, I thought—perhaps the most interesting cinematographic choice was having the entire film in black and white with the sole exception of the eponymous color. It was very effective indeed. Because the film was a lot longer than the other two (at 86 minutes), I suppose it is only natural that it did seem a bit slow in spots, especially at the beginning, but once it started barreling toward the conclusion it was quite good. If I have any criticism (other than the slow start), it would be that the main story is told to another character years after the fact, so we know that the narrator in these flashbacks is not going to die. The technique of having one character tell another character a story is often effective, but it does have the disadvantage of ruining some of the tension. (Another minor quibble would be that the protagonist is supposed to be an American who does not speak German well, but it is fairly obvious he is a German actor who is speaking how he thinks a non-native speaker would speak. But I will grant that pretending to be a non-native speaker when you are in fact a native speaker is a hard thing to do.)

All in all, even though I wasn’t feeling too great last night, I am very glad I went. This was, as far as I know (and as far as the organizers know), the first Lovecraftian film festival in Korea. It went off without a hitch (at least from my perspective), and at the end they even gave out Korean translations of Lovecraft (including two copies of a complete works collection) by pulling seat numbers out of a bag, which I thought was a very nice touch.

By way of wrapping up this quick little review, I wanted to say a bit about horror. I’ve never been a big fan of horror films like Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, or any of the other blood-and-gore franchises that were popular when I was growing up (I would probably put Aliens in this category as well). And when I say, “not a big fan,” of course I mean that I hate this sort of film. So I always thought that I just didn’t like “horror.” But that’s not quite true—I like the creepy, spooky sort of horror, like the horror in “The Music of Jo Hyeja.” I first realized this when I accidentally watched 1408 on cable one day... and loved it. This got me into the writing of Stephen King, and it was pretty much all downhill from there. So, while you will never catch me watching splatter flicks or torture porn (like the Saw films), I do very much like ghost stories and creeping horror. If there is a second Cthulu Festival of Film (and I hope there is), you will find me there.

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