Festivals

{Portland H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival and Cthulhucon} More Shorts!

This article concludes our coverage of Portland, OR’s H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival and Cthulhucon. Keep an eye out for the festival next year, and go to their Kickstarter for all the best perks

You know, the first round of shorts were so eye-opening, I couldn’t help but need to see another. Regrettably, there were seven blocks of short films, and I only had the time and schedule to see two. The first I went into blind, but the second was a mission. There were a handful of specific events that had me hyped for this year’s festival, but one of them was undoubtedly the Thomas Ligotti adaptation In a Foreign Town. Being a card-carrying Ligotti fanboy, the weekend would’ve been a crushing disappointment if I’d missed it. 

But besides the Ligotti flick, there were five other shorts in the sixth block, and I have to say, this had a pretty strong showing from their respective filmmakers. The absurdly titled Z-Goat: First Bleat started us off strong, with an awesome creature design that combined two of the genre’s most celebrated icons—goats and tentacles. Shot in French from Belgian filmmakers, it was one of the most polished films of the nights, with some excellent gore and acting. 

Neris was up next, which felt something like an M.R. James ghost story crossed over with something more overtly Lovecraftian (which, as you probably guessed, means tentacles). The story is framed just as so many famous ghost stories, as someone sitting you down and telling you a story. In its best moments, the film has an around-the-campfire feel, but does falter with its performances. Neris was merely okay, but its DIY feel conjured a lot of charm. 

The middle film was perhaps the longest, definitely to its detriment. Exhibit Man had the largest budget and some of the best acting from its protagonist (Troy Mundle), but overstayed its welcome with a twenty-eight minute running time. Which is a shame, because so many aspects of the film were actually really great. As said before, Mundle kills it as the milquetoast who becomes changed by a maggot that can’t seem to help erupting from his ass to kill people. (Yeah, go ahead, read over that last sentence). He’s genuinely funny with a knack for comic timing. But unfortunately, the film is too long to support its own narrative, which is confused due to its awkwardly handled framing device. By the end of the second act, I was ready for it to be over. The jokes were good, and the effects were strong, but sometimes, less is more. 

Hide and Seek was a much better, although less ambitious film, and one of my favorites from this block. The young actresses are realistic and natural in their roles and the direction is tight and focused. This one, more than the others, is less concerned with appearing outwardly Lovecraftian, and I think it works to the film’s benefit. This is a cat and mouse ghost story with lots of tension and a technological twist. Taut and anchored by great performances, this was one of the highlights of my weekend. 

A good comedic segment is always welcome, and the 50s instructional parody The Cultist Next Door was met with welcome relief and hollers of approval. It’s a concept that could’ve totally gone off the rails with a poor performance, but the actors nail the tone here. This was incredibly funny and probably the most vocally well-received film of the festival. 

As The Cultist Next Door wrapped up, I knew it was time for what I had been waiting for the whole time. In a Foreign Town was worth the wait. Director Michael Shlain did a great job capturing the muted urban decay inherent in Thomas Ligotti’s fiction. We see sights of an imposing city, seemingly empty, but still full of menace. The imagery is something out of a nightmare. 

The story itself involves a man recollecting a visit to a carnival with his father (the fact that this carnival is in the heart of a city makes it all the more eerie). He’s speaking to a strange doctor with a host of medicines and syringes. He remembers going to the theater and seeing a tall man on a stage, taunting him with the promise to show his face. If this sounds ethereal and unsettling as far as plot goes—well, you’re right. It’s super strange. But, it also is paced well and very effective. 

In a Foreign Town is probably the best visualization of Ligotti’s world we have to date, and it comes from Shlain’s understanding of the material. 

And that concludes this year’s Cthulhucon! Lovecraft Fest was a blast and we’re excited to go back next year. Check out all of our coverage herehere,and here! See ya next time!

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