Book Review: ‘The Cthulhu Stories of Robert E. Howard’

I’ve always loved that H.P. Lovecraft never really gave a shit that other writers would tap into his Cthulhu mythos. In the case of Robert E. Howard, the two had become good friends whose work influenced each other. So, naturally Howard wrote some Lovecraftian tales and even merged some of his most famous characters with those existing in Lovecraft’s literary universe.

The first story in this anthology collection sees Howard’s Kull of Atlantis crossover into Lovecraftian horror. Granted, this also happened in some works featuring Conan the Cimmerian, as well.

My favorite story in the collection was the second one, which was originally a novella. The story is called “Skull-Face”. The story is about a British man who smokes opium, has weird visions and then discovers that there’s something real and sinister afoot.

As I was reading “Skull-Face”, I kept envisioning Peter Cushing as the main character and it read like something that could’ve been adapted greatly by Hammer Films in the 1960s.

The rest of the stories were also pretty solid but my mind kept drifting back to “Skull-Face”.

All in all, this was really neat to read as it merged two of my favorite fantasy authors’ worlds together. Sure, Lovecraft influenced Howard’s sword and sorcery tales but this thick volume went beyond just the stuff I’ve read involving Conan, Kull and Solomon Kane.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other works by Robert E. Howard, as well as the literary work of H.P. Lovecraft.

Film Review: The Dunwich Horror (1970)

Also known as: Scarlet Friday (working title), Voodoo Child (Germany)
Release Date: January 14th, 1970
Directed by: Daniel Haller
Written by: Curtis Hanson, Henry Rosenbaum, Ronald Silkosky
Based on: The Dunwich Horror by H.P. Lovecraft
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Sandra Dee, Dean Stockwell, Ed Begley, Talia Shire (as Talia Coppola)

Alta Vista Films, American International Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Come back, Old Ones… Princes of Darkness… and repossess the earth.” – Wilbur Whateley

Over Halloween weekend, I wanted to watch some Lovecraftian horror. So I figured, why not watch an actual adaptation of Lovecraft’s work. An adaptation that I both love and haven’t seen in a really long time.

So that thought brought me to The Dunwich Horror, a film put out by American International Pictures, which feels very close to their Edgar Allan Poe adaptations of the ’60s.

While this sadly doesn’t feature Vincent Price, I love Dean Stockwell and he made a great villain in this. Plus, he’s so damn young that it’s just cool seeing him this youthful.

The film also stars Sandra Dee, Ed Begley Sr. in one of his last roles, as well as a very young Talia Shire when she was still going by Talia Coppola.

The film has a tremendous atmosphere that feels like those Poe films but even more evolved and refined. I’m nowhere near as versed in director Daniel Haller’s work, as I am in Roger Corman’s, but he borrowed from Corman’s style while at AIP and gave us something that looked a little more pristine and as if he really took his time and didn’t rush through the production as quickly as Corman typically did.

The sets and the town in this look lived-in and genuine and even the stuff made on sets just fit well within the total presentation and came across as authentic locations.

I loved the lighting and how it almost has a giallo type feel in the more fantastical moments.

While this is far from perfect, it’s pretty well acted for a low budget horror movie and it tells an enthralling story that at least feels consistent with the tone of Lovecraft’s literary work.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the Edgar Allan Poe adaptations by Roger Corman for American International Pictures.

Book Review: ‘Flame and Crimson: A History of Sword-and-Sorcery’ by Brian Murphy

As a lifelong, hardcore fan of sword and sorcery fiction, this was a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Brian Murphy did his research and it showed, as this great book is probably the best thing I’ve ever read on the history of sword and sorcery fantasy, as a whole.

It’s part biographical when it covers specific writers in the genre but it also gets really deep into the history of the sword and sorcery style and how it was established and grew into quite the phenomenon that still creeps in and out of mainstream pop culture.

While this spent a good amount of time on the legendary writer, Robert E. Howard, and his most famous creations Conan and Kull, it also went way beyond that exploring other writers and their work, which helped propel sword and sorcery forward and into the hearts and minds of literary fantasy fans around the world.

The book also shows how sword and sorcery grew beyond just words on a page and how it sort of fell out of popularity but also had a resurgence, later on.

If you love sword and sorcery and you haven’t picked this book up, you definitely should. It’s something I will probably go back to and reference for years to come.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other books about sword and sorcery literature, comics and film. Especially, the books put out by Pulp Hero Press.

Comic Review: Doctor Strange – Epic Collection: A Separate Reality

Published: October 19th, 2016
Written by: various
Art by: various

Marvel Comics, 480 Pages

Review:

I’ve been going back and picking up a lot of ’70s Doctor Strange floppy issues, lately. Mainly, I love Marvel’s art style with their fantasy and horror titles from the decade and Doctor Strange had some of the best covers from that time. But after reading a few of the singles issues, I wanted to delve into a much larger chunk, so I gave this huge Epic Collection release a read.

This actually focuses on the end of Doctor Strange’s first solo series, his complete run in Marvel Premiere and then the first handful of issues of his second solo series.

This also features a ton of great artists and writers, as well as adapting some of H.P. Lovecraft’s characters and concepts into the Marvel Universe, beyond what was done in just the Conan titles.

Furthermore, this collection features just about all of the major Doctor Strange villains of the era with a lot of emphasis on Nightmare.

This was, hands down, one of the best Doctor Strange trade paperbacks I have ever read and it only solidified my love for the character from this era. It also kind of made me wish they’d have done something with Strange and Conan back in the ’70s due to the Lovecraftian flavor of this book.

I’ll be in search of other hefty collections of Doctor Strange from the ’70s and early ’80s because this was just damn cool and featured so much imagination and stupendous art. I wish people didn’t sleep on old school Doctor Strange, it’s really, really great stuff.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other old school Doctor Strange collections, as well as ’70s Marvel fantasy and horror comics.

Documentary Review: Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown (2008)

Release Date: July 24th, 2008 (Comic-Con International Independent Film Festival)
Directed by: Frank H. Woodward
Cast: Ramsey Campbell, John Carpenter, Guillermo del Toro, Neil Gaiman, Stuart Gordon, S. T. Joshi, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Andrew Migliore, Robert M. Price, Peter Straub

Wyrd, 24 Frames, BintFilm, 90 Minutes

Review:

I didn’t know if there was a good documentary on H.P. Lovecraft but I felt like I wanted to watch one, so I found this. Luckily enough for all those who are interested, it is streaming for free on YouTube. Granted, that could change at any moment.

What’s great about this is that it is a pretty legit and well produced documentary. It features several notable people between Neil Gaiman, Guillermo del Toro, John Carpenter, Stuart Gordon, Peter Straub and others.

This goes through all the motions like you’d expect it to, as it discusses Lovecraft’s childhood, the things that shaped him and then it delves deep into his work and what it meant to people, primarily those being interviewed.

Overall, this is pretty standard, even though it definitely doesn’t feel like some hastily thrown together extra for a random horror box set. It’s a documentary created to stand on its own and it does quite well.

All of the interviewees did a good job providing stories, context and discussing how Lovecraft has influenced their creations.

It’s definitely worth checking out for fans of Lovecraft’s work, the stories he’s inspired or even just his film adaptations like Re-Animator, From Beyond, Dagon and more.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: H.P. Lovecraft film adaptations, as well as other documentaries about great literary figures.

Film Review: Dagon (2001)

Also known as: H.P. Lovecraft’s Dagon (US complete title), Dagon: Sect of the Sea (alternative), The Lost Island (Philippines)
Release Date: October 12th, 2001 (Spain – Sitges Film Festival)
Directed by: Stuart Gordon
Written by: Dennis Paoli
Based on: The Shadow Over Innsmouth by H.P. Lovecraft
Music by: Carles Cases
Cast: Ezra Godden, Francisco Rabal, Raquel Merono, Macarena Gomez, Brendan Price

ICCA, Generalitat de Catalunya, Institut Català de Finances, Televisió de Catalunya, Televisión de Galicia S.A., Vía Digital, Xunta de Galicia, Castelao Producciones, Estudios Picasso, Fantastic Factory (Filmax), Lionsgate, 95 Minutes

Review:

“You cannot care for her. You do not dream of her! You will go soon to a beautiful place. You will forget your world and your friends. There will be no time, no end, no today, no yesterday, no tomorrow – only the forever and forever, and forever without end. It is your fate. It is your destiny.” – Uxia Cambarro

Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna are no strangers to Lovecraftian horror but this film is the closest thing to the source material that they have ever produced. And while this isn’t better than their earlier films: Re-Animator and From Beyond, it is still a solid, good effort that is better than most of their films after the 1980s.

While Dagon is the title of a short story from H.P. Lovecraft, this film is actually an adaptation of Lovecraft’s novella, The Shadow Over Innsmouth.

The two major difference is that the setting was shifted to a Spanish fishing village called “Imboca”, as opposed to “Innsmouth”, Massachusetts. Also, the aquatic deity Dagon takes on more of a Cthulhu appearance, whereas in the originally story his was humanoid with fish-like features.

I like this film for the most part. In all honesty, my only real complaint were the digital effects. They looked cheap, horribly cheap. They looked worse than what the standard was in Sci-Fi Channel movies circa 2000. However, the practical effects really make up for it, as the gore that was created physically, comes off as pretty damn good. But the problem with this is that there is so much variance in quality between the great practical effects and the abysmal digital effects that it breaks the movie for me. It’s, at times, pretty jarring. Especially, when both are utilized in moments that run so close together.

Also, the acting is pretty shitty but its not so bad that it goes to lower depths than one would expect from this sort of picture. It’s just nothing to write home about and so much of it comes off as really hokey. This could also be due to the quality of the dubbing, as this is a Spanish film and a lot of the dialogue needed to be dubbed over for the American video release. Usually dubbing from Spanish language films isn’t too much of a distraction but there are some scenes that look very out of sync.

The story is pretty compelling though. But this doesn’t do anything to surprise you other than some shocks with the amount of gore towards the end. But, if I’m being honest, none of the gory stuff exceeds what Gordon and Yuzna have done with their earlier movies. The infamous face peeling scene here is also just a rehash of the infamous face peeling scene that Tobe Hooper gave us in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.

What I dig most about this film is that regardless of its flaws, it is one of the best adaptations of Lovecraft’s work. It’s not “Lovecraftian horror” it is Lovecraft.

Also, the scenes with mutated people slowly walking through the dark streets of the village reminds me of one of my favorite scenes from the Vincent Price starring The Haunted Palace. That was another film that adapted Lovecraft and featured some similar plot points to this film.

Dagon is a pretty cool film to watch, if you are into Lovecraft. It probably won’t resonate for those who aren’t already fans but it does have some solid gross out moments and it’s strange, surreal and unique.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Lovecraftian horror films: The Call of Cthulhu, From Beyond, Re-Animator, The Haunted Palace and The Dunwich Horror.

Film Review: Castle Freak (1995)

Also known as: Stuart Gordon’s Castle Freak
Release Date: November 14th, 1995
Directed by: Stuart Gordon
Written by: Dennis Paoli, Stuart Gordon
Based on: The Outsider by H.P. Lovecraft
Music by: Richard Band
Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Jessica Dollarhide, Jonathan Fuller

Full Moon Entertainment, 95 Minutes

Review:

“I didn’t kill her, I fucked her, Okay?” – John Reilly

Anything that brings the Re-Animator team back together, usually ends with pretty good results. This is the one and only time that it didn’t. I loved the three Re-Animator films and From Beyond but this was pretty friggin’ awful.

Even the acting of Jeffrey Combs, who I usually love in everything, was just off the mark and a bit over the top. Barbara Crampton was fairly decent but not as good as she was in those other films. Jessica Dollarhide, who was only in this movie and had a few TV credits, was actually the high point on the acting side.

The plot, like the other films featuring this director and his cast, was taken from an H.P. Lovecraft story. The film is missing that insane otherworldly feel of the other films though. This is also missing the comedy. Essentially, what we have here is a serious attempt at creating a horror film from a crew that were maestros of really dark comedy movies. It just didn’t work on any level.

The score was exceptionally bad, which was surprising since the man behind the music, Richard Band, worked with this troupe before with fantastic results.

I’m not sure what was wrong with this movie. It was the one time that these people didn’t create magic. It is just so out of tune with their other work that it’s baffling. Maybe it has to do with Full Moon putting out the film, as they’ve made mostly schlock for decades.

Castle Freak unlike this group’s other films, is completely forgettable.

The makeup was decent though.

Rating: 4.25/10

Film Review: From Beyond (1986)

Also known as: H.P. Lovecraft’s From Beyond
Release Date: October 24th, 1986
Directed by: Stuart Gordon
Written by: Dennis Paoli, Brian Yuzna, Stuart Gordon
Based on: From Beyond by H.P. Lovecraft
Music by: Richard Band
Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Ken Foree, Ted Sorel, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon

Empire Pictures, 80 Minutes, 85 Minutes (unrated cut)

Review:

“Humans are such easy prey.” – Dr. Edward Pretorius

From Beyond might not be as well-known as Re-Animator but maybe it should be. It is made by the same creative team and even features two of the stars of Re-Animator. Plus, this is also a modern adaptation of another H.P. Lovecraft story. Stuart Gordon made his career off of adapting Lovecraft and this film, may be the most bizarre of all those stories.

To be honest, I like this slightly better than the original Re-Animator but not quite as much as Bride of Re-Animator, my favorite from the series. It is insane in the same way those other films were but this one is different. Where Re-Animator was more like a Lovecraftian version of a Frankenstein story, this is more like Lovecraft mixed with David Cronenberg’s body horror style. Think films like VideodromeThe FlyScanners or The Brood.

Jeffrey Combs is a scientist in this film too but he isn’t like Dr. Herbert West from Re-Animator. He is a good guy that got pulled into some really bad stuff and has been horribly effected by it.

Ted Sorel plays the evil doctor in this. His insane and disfigured Dr. Pretorius (named as an homage to the mad scientist from Bride of Frankenstein) is very similar to David Gale’s villainous Dr. Carl Hill from the first two Re-Animator films.

Barbara Crampton reunites with Combs, as the sexy doctor that is interested in the weird experiments in this story but also gets in way over her head. Horror icon Ken Foree gets some good moments in this film and looked like he was fully invested in his part, especially the more physical demands of this picture.

The special effects in this are friggin’ impressive and eclipse what Gordon and Brian Yuzna did in Re-Animator, a year prior. This is such a colorful film with great lighting, mostly employing a lot of high intensity reds and blues at different levels of depth in the shots. While the visual style probably disguised issues with some of the practical special effects, it actually makes them look even better, as the vivid colors just add to the otherworldly feel.

From Beyond is highly underrated and underappreciated. It is sort of lost to time. When I come across fans of the Re-Animator films, I always ask them what they think about this picture. Often times, I discover that they have never even heard of this movie.

This film is bizarre and unique and a hell of a lot of fun. It is disturbing and uncomfortable but has a charm about it. If you like Re-Animator, I don’t know why you wouldn’t like this.

Rating: 8.25/10

Film Review: Beyond Re-Animator (2003)

Release Date: April 4th, 2003
Directed by: Brian Yuzna
Written by: Miguel Tejada-Flores, Jose Manuel Gomez, Brian Yuzna (uncredited)
Based on: Herbert West – Reanimator by H.P. Lovecraft
Music by: Xavier Capellas
Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Tommy Dean Musset, Jason Barry, Barbara Elorrieta, Elsa Pataky, Santiago Segura, Simon Andreu

Castelao Producciones, Fantastic Factory, Filmax International, Lions Gate Entertainment, 95 Minutes

Review:

“She’s not getting any fresher.” – Herbert West

I really like the Re-Animator film series but this was the weakest chapter out of the three. I’m not sure why, as taking things into a prison setting should have provided some interesting developments and new territory. I think it may have fallen short because there was so much time between the second film and this one, the third and final.

That being said, this is still pretty fun and I do like the film. Re-Animator is a horror film franchise where every movie does a good job and brings something fresh without simply being a retread. Then again, the series stopped at three films. Although, I’d really be game for a fourth even though it has been a long time since the third. But Dr. Herbert West is still out there.

I guess the biggest thing about this film that sets it below the others is that the big grand finale isn’t bigger and crazier than the previous two movies. The first film’s finale was ridiculous in the best way possible. The second film upped the ante and was as visually impressive as it was completely insane. This film still has an awesome ending full of insanity, violence, gore and a lot of dark humor but it didn’t go any further than what we’ve seen before.

I feel like the prison riot scenario could have been so grander and with a lot more re-animated corpses ripping human flesh to shreds. It was cool seeing what happens when a junkie shoots up with Dr. West’s syrum but it felt like an understatement in the way the film handled it.

At the end of the day, Jeffrey Combs is still money as Dr. Herbert West and this is still a good horror film that fits within the franchise, even if though it came out after a thirteen year break.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: Bride of Re-Animator (1989)

Release Date: October, 1989 (Sitges Film Festival)
Directed by: Brian Yuzna
Written by: Rick Fry, Woody Keith, Brian Yuzna
Based on: Herbert West – Reanimator by H.P. Lovecraft
Music by: Richard Band
Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, David Gale, Fabiana Udenio, Kathleen Kinmont

Wild Street Pictures, 50th Street Films, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Blasphemy? Before what? God? A God repulsed by the miserable humanity He created in His own image? I will not be shackled by the failures of your God. The only blasphemy is to wallow in insignificance. I have taken refuse of your God’s failures and I have triumphed. There! There is my creation!” – Dr. Herbert West

I know I am in the extreme minority here. However, I actually prefer Bride of Re-Animator to Re-Animator. Not that I dislike the original in the slightest. This one just has an edge on it, in my opinion. But I will get into that.

This film brings back the important people. Jeffrey Combs returns as Herbert West, the mad doctor behind the grisly experiments that are responsible for the monsters in these films. Bruce Abbot returns as his reluctant partner Dan Cain and David Gale reappears as the villainous Dr. Carl Hill. In this film though, the severed head of Hill is given bat wings so that it can travel around with ease, scaring the crap out of everyone at every turn once we get to the final act of the story.

The film also adds in Fabiana Udenio, as a nice love interest for Dan. However, Dan is also obsessed over Gloria (Kathleen Kinmont), a deceased patient that becomes re-animated as the title character of the film in a similar fashion to the Bride from various Frankenstein stories and adaptations.

The reason I like this film better than the original, is that it seems to have a higher level of quality. The practical special effects have improved, the lighting, cinematography and overall camera work are also better. Plus, the characters are more established and the actors seem to be really embracing their roles and the story with much more vigor than in the first film. There is just a level of comfort and familiarity that seems to come through the lens and onto the screen.

Also, I just like this story better. Where the first film was a reinvention of the Frankenstein tale with an H.P. Lovecraft touch, this one is a reinvention of the Bride of Frankenstein. While I love Frankenstein it is the Bride of Frankenstein that I have always loved more and the same is true with these great reinventions of those stories.

Jeffrey Combs is just so at home here, as Dr. Herbert West. This is the film where he became more than just a one off character and really cemented himself as a horror icon. It was unfortunate that it took so long to get another sequel after this one, as he could have become his generation’s version of Peter Cushing’s Dr. Frankenstein. And maybe he has reached that status but I could have watched him do this for six or seven films like Cushing’s awesome run from the late 50s into the early 70s.

As good as the first Re-Animator was, I wouldn’t have bought into the concept of it as much, had it not been for this film turning it into a series, albeit a short one with just three films.

Rating: 8.25/10