When it was announced this past July that Guillermo Del Toro would be making "At the Mountains of Madness," fans of H.P. Lovecraft and horror in general squealed with delight. In general the excitement can be attributed to the fact that in general, everything Del Toro touches turns to gold, but to a certain type of genre fan, the announcement meant even more. It meant that the work of Lovecraft would be featured in major motion picture with a substantial budget and legitimate actors, as opposed to the straight to DVD community theater-esque productions that they were accustomed to. While "At the Mountains of Madness" is a far off dream, microbudget Lovecraft pictures like "In Search of Lovecraft" are about the best that we have to work with, which frankly isn't much.
The premise of "In Search of Lovecraft," directed by David J. Hohl, is an interesting one, in that it's not an interpretation of a single work or concept from Lovecraft's universe, nor is it set in the past. Instead, the story focuses on present-day happenings in the world of Sue Ramsey (Renee Sweet), a neophyte reporter looking to catch her first major story. After being begrudgingly assigned to a Halloween "fluff piece" about H.P. Lovecraft, strange things begin to happen to her and her crew, which consists of her pseudo-love interest cameraman and a really annoying teenage intern. Every person that helps her along the way befalls a strange and nasty fate at the hands of a mysterious cult and/or otherworldly being plucked from Lovecraft's works.
When a director sets out to make a Lovecraft-inspired film, they are immediately faced with the challenge of weaving in a complicated and far-reaching mythos into an abridged format. Films like "Re-Animator" (inspired by the Lovecraft's short "Herbert West - Reanimator") take the easy and often more effective approach of using Lovecraft's work as a very basic building block without haranguing the viewer with backstory. "True" Lovecraft purists see this as a cop-out however, and their efforts to try and craft a more "authentic" experience often fall flat. The problem is, most if not all of these films have no budget, inexperienced directors, and feature subpar actors, making it extremely difficult to bridge the gap between Cthulhu mythos purists and the uninitiated. "The Search for Lovecraft" is no exception. The visuals of the "Black Man" and grisly cult killings in the film are great, but the 10 minutes of exposition about them are not. At times, it felt like I, as a viewer, was sitting through a literature lecture and not a film.
For all of its faults, I have a really hard time faulting labors of love such as this film. Sure it's boring in parts, laughably acted and all around amateurish, but I couldn't help but picture the director's face the first time he saw the finished shot featuring a CGI dimensional-hound popping out of the wall, or the giant tongue smashing the crew's windshield. Despite its dreary subject matter, "In Search of Lovecraft" has more than a few entertaining horror entertaining moments, the best of which being a genuinely scary dream sequence that features great practical special effects. Appreciating this film comes not from an assessment of the whole, but from gleaning small victories from its more entertaining and amusing moments.
"In Search of Lovecraft" will do very little to convince people who aren't already fans of H.P Lovecraft to go out and read his stories or watch another low-budget film tribute to his work. However, if you find yourself in the mood for a Z-grade digital video production from a director and crew that's obviously trying really, really hard, you could do worse. In the meantime, I'm going to hang back and hope that "At the Mountains of Madness" is a blowout success, so that would-be Lovecraft revivalists can find something else to pour their resources into.