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Happy Birthday H.P. Lovecraft

 August 17, 2018 at 10:07 AM PDT

Welcome back to another edition of listener supported KPBS and image Junkie podcast Beth Accomando. If you enjoy listening to the show. I'd like to ask a favor recommend it to one friend. That's it not asking for money or for you to write a review just tell someone who loves movies to take a listen. I'd greatly appreciate your help in building an audience for the show today. I'm also trying something new. Doing a brief review of a new film at the top of the show and then going to the main topic which today is H.P. Lovecraft. But first I have a few words about mile 22. From which I will double. This is an overwatch operation. Our team is Jason antireform Majorie. Not a. Military operation. The goal is to complete the mission at any cost. Wish they had a punching bag outside the theater. Because when I left the press screening I wanted to hit something. I'm an action junkie. I love nothing more than the adrenaline rush from pure kinetic energy you get in a good action film. But I felt no adrenaline only anger seething through my veins after watching Mile 22 although Mark Wahlberg is as a star. It's eco Uys I came to see he's the brilliant action star of the two Indonesian raid movies for mile 22. He performed and choreographed fight scenes. And director Peter Berg through all the footage in a blender and spit out a sludge that doesn't allow you to appreciate any of the flavors of the action. Overcoming is what you do when you have a talent Clodd that you have to make look good you Uys needs no such help you just put them on screen and let them go. You can tell that the fight choreography is clever but the way it's shot and cut you could have had Betty White doing the fights and she would have looked good because most of the shots are mere seconds or frames long so all you'd have to do is one motion per shot. But I do have a soft spot for Berg because he directed very bad things which is one of my all time favorite films and he delivered the wildly fun actioner the run down with the rock. But then he started to make more serious films and his action style became derivative of the fast cut Bourne movies. But fast cutting does not equal heightened tension or even excitement. Just like making Wahlberg's character talk fast doesn't necessarily make him smart and Carmela's not going to let you. I'm totally calm because you're mentally unstable. Thank you. After seeing this film I had to run home and watch Raid Redemption as a palate cleanser. Maybe mild Juanita's trying to reflect Wahlberg's A.D.H.D character or the chaotic state of the world. Or maybe Berg got paid by the cut for whatever's behind this mindlessly frenetic style. It destroys what could have been a lean mean political thriller about getting an asset a mere 22 miles from an embassy to a plane. Okay now that I got that off my chest I can move on to something that brings me great joy. Despite the fact it's all about fear darkness and the unknown. That's right. I'm talking about the works of H.P. Lovecraft August 20th will mark the 128 anniversary of Lovecraft's birth. But how did this man who was born in Providence Rhode Island come to create a body of horror fiction that continues to this day to influence the public consciousness and other artists Lovecraft and his creation. The tentacles could Fulu even inspired my haunted house a couple of years ago. So today I'm dedicating the podcast to H.P. Lovecraft by interviewing Mike Dalga a man with a passion project to create a rock opera from Lovecraft's dreams. It's about. Want to get. Right. Before we discuss what this project is all about and talk about some of the best Lovecraft film adaptations and Lovecraft adjacent films. I asked Gallagher how he first got hooked on Lovecraft. Yeah well we'd have to press rewind all the way to like the mid 1980s. I was one of those guys that had a few friends and we played Dungeons and Dragons on the weekend and I remember I would buy this magazine called white dwarf and flipping through the pages I kept seeing this thing called Call of Fulu and it was another role playing game sort of like the competition to Dungeons and Dragons. I was always interested in what I saw in the ad but at the same time you know trenchcoats and like a lantern just didn't quite pass muster for my you know magicians and dragons and all of that stuff so it didn't happen until much later when I got cast in a silent movie adaptation of the call of good fulu. And I actually submitted to the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society's first film which was an adaptation of the call of Fulu and that was in 2004 and I I submitted for a deranged swamp folk and got called in for a one of the sailors who is who discovers relay as it has risen from the sea and I was the lucky sailor who released Kulu in that silent movie. So as I was on that set I thought wow this this writer sounds familiar what is this. As I was hanging out with all the other nerds I put two and two together and realized oh my gosh I've I've loved this guy's works my entire life because it really tied into alien by Ridley Scott. Daniel Bannon screenplay Ronald set Daniel Bannon huge Lovecraft fan and John Carpenter's The Thing and I just adore those movies and they are very love craft and so that's that's where I go back as far as the mid 80s to that white dwarf magazine when I saw the call of the filu in that ad for people who may not be familiar with H.P. Lovecraft. I'm sure most people have like heard his name and heard of Fulu and things like that. Give us a little kind of a summary of who he was and you know he was writing. He was born in 1890 so yeah is a while ago and kind of a very different time. But give us a little kind of snapshot of who he was. He's a fascinating man. But he wrote weird fiction in the 20s and 30s and he didn't live that long he. He died in 1937 and his short lifetime he wrote for weird tales magazine. Many contributed short horror stories. He was not a blood descendant of Edgar Allan Poe but a mood descendant of Edgar Allan Poe in terms of that type of horror. Narration So there was Poe and then there was Lovecraft and after Lovecraft you could say there was Stephen King who has mentioned that Lovecraft is the greatest practitioner of American Horror ever. He was an only child. We dig a little deeper. His father was sent to a mental institution when he was very young so he was raised by a single mother. I can't recall what happened to his mom but he ended up being raised by his aunts after something happened to his mother. So only child in Providence Rhode Island and a fan of all of the horror stories that his father passed on to him when he was growing up so he ultimately became this writer who lived very poor lifestyle wasn't getting paid much money for submissions to weird tales magazine. But he did end up moving to New York and he wrote some stories while he was living in New York New York freaked him out because of all of the immigrants Irish Italian Polish. So Providence was was a different world from New York but he moved there after he got married to his Jewish wife. And that marriage didn't last very long. She ended up moving to Chicago for work and Lovecraft found himself returning to Providence. That's probably when his sort of glory years of his most famous titles were were being written such as at the mountains of madness the shadow over Smith and something that very dear to story dreams in the Witch House. Now you mentioned he's kind of a kindred soul to Edgar Allan Poe but both of these writers they were writing in the horror genre and neither one of them really had much popularity and success and critical acclaim during their own lifetime. Right. That's true. They lived hand-to-mouth. There was they were not rock n roll stars during their lives. They are now. But that's that's that's definitely a fact. No recognition. No money just a lot of suffering through their art. And then they pass and then some lightning strikes and something happens. And what you think it is about his stories that has so captured people's imaginations because these books haven't really kind of faded away. They've only kind of gotten stronger in the public consciousness and in pop culture. But what do you think it is about his work that really hooks people. This is going to sound negative but I find his style of writing very dense. Just imagine chewing something that's very rich in nutrients but the flavor isn't evident right from the get go. And it's extremely chewy like it takes a really long time to activate that flavor and some some people who want a more instantaneous connection to the material. I don't like this. What happened to me was I ended up getting hired by the guys who run the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society which is a business in Glendale California. They made that movie the silent film adaptation of Call of the Lou. And because of that experience I really immersed myself in his works because I felt like if I'm going to work for these guys I got to know this material and I got to push my way through it. And that's when the glory of riches revealed itself. So it's very very difficult to describe his prose style of writing other than if you can imagine someone who likes to pile on the adjectives before he gets to the action. There's a lot of elaborate of explanation from a first person standpoint and his works. So I think a lot of people who create art themselves are willing to take that time to to immerse themselves. I can read and read and reread and I always discover something new between those adjectives which is a weird way to put it. It's like it's not very simplistic horror. No you really got to peel back layers. I really feel like you're it's a it's a ticket into this man this writer's dreams and his mind and that's a privilege. And it also seems to be that a lot of what the horror has to do with is this sense of the unknown. It's not it's not readily something from the real world like somebody who comes to kill you you know or to beat you up or something. It seems to really tap into this sense of dread of things that you really don't know or understand. And that that's where the terror comes from. Yeah that's a great statement really at the root of it I think is he was the first horror writer to sort of create a new brand. It's called cosmic horror. I don't want to say it's the dawn of science fiction but it's probably the dawn of horror and sci fi collided was through H.P. Lovecraft in terms of the horror being sort of an earth based element. His brand of horror really alludes to an indifferent universe a universe that doesn't care about us we are insignificant in a universe that's full of much greater horrors than we are aware of. And so his his protagonist characters are always unearthing or or obsessed individuals who discover something through their study of knowledge that already exists or science that is being discovered and seeing things that most people don't see. So that's that's what's fascinating about what he wrote is. I remember hearing someplace or reading someplace that he was frustrated. You know he wanted to be an astronomer but he didn't have the math skills to do it. So this is how he he ended up exploring that realm is sort of a still attending these very scholarly discussions presentations at universities and then integrating that knowledge with dreams he had at night. So it's very visionary. But you're absolutely correct deathlike. It's a fear of the unknown as the name of the documentary that's based on his life because that's there's a famous quote that he has the greatest I'm going to paraphrase and butcher it but it's about fear and that being fear of the unknown being the greatest fear of man. One of the thing that can be problematic about H.P. Lovecraft is that as a person things have emerged that depict him as racist or homophobic. And I just had the opportunity to read Alan Moore's introduction to this new gorgeous thick bible annotated H.P. Lovecraft volume that I haven't had a chance to delve through yet but I did get through the introduction. But he did a really nice job I thought of putting that into a context that kind of helps you understand where his sense of horror came from because he points out he said that you know here was this person who was why Protestant middle class heterosexual at a time when you mentioned you know he went to New York and that he was this person who feared so many things from so much change coming out his life that you know some of that putting it into this context of who he was where he was living and how that kind of played into his art. Kind of helps you understand it if not you know condone what he was like. Yeah. If you go on social media and someone bring you know the fan pages for Lovecraft or when somebody pops in there and drops one of these you know he was a racist bombs and all of a sudden you've got a very sort of nerdy discussion about Lovecraft where it's reverence towards him takes a left turn and goes into this other territory. I see that all the time and there is that element is out there and it's the only thing I can say about it is if you see through the lens of 2018 and you pass judgment on people from the past who lived in a completely different world it's very easy to criticize someone for someone writing in the manner that they wrote. And I'll use this one story as an example. I'm a person of color. Halfbreed My my father's from Minnesota and he's of Norwegian Swedish descent. My mother is from the Philippines and they met during the Vietnam War and a time when you know my dad's ship was going into the port in Olongapo and the world was crumbling it was the late 60s and they fell in love and they had me in the 60s that wasn't seen as something that should be done throughout much of the United States. And I can't criticize that that's how it was just as I can't criticize Lovecraft for being who he was at the time. He he grew up. So this is always a sensitive topic because if if were to condemn the man's works because of who he was or what what is presumed of how he was I can't sit and interview the guy right now. You know he can't protect himself and say look I didn't know the world was going to be this cool in 2018. So it's interesting. I'll have to check out that Alan Moore write up because it sounds like he he gives it a bit of a softer edge in explaining those elements. Well and it's like I said it's you know understanding a context and you know what interests me is that you know here's this person who may have been experiencing this very personal fear of unknown things to him in a very real sense of you know his own personal life trying to express those in an artistic and creative way. And how does that manifest itself. And you know he has created some of the you know best literary horror of his time and you know there has to be a source for where that's coming from. Yeah. There's a story called The Horror at Redhook and Redhawks in New York. It's all about the immigrants and the fear of what happens in a major city when you know a segment of society is all of you know I live up in North Hollywood and you know Glendale is known as Little Armenian now. Is that supposed to make me afraid to go to Glendale. No not at all. If anything I'm I'm intrigued by Los Angeles being the melting pot. It is. But yeah Lovecraft must have felt the same when he moved to New York and all of a sudden he was exposed to not just the the foreigners but how each each nationality interacted with each other. I don't think the Irish and the Italians got along you know in New York although even though they were both Catholic. For example if we take one of his works that's clearly a statement on something that I feel a connection to being who I am. My dad being a Navy man and my mother being from Southeast Asia the shadow over tinsmith is a perfect example it's about people in a fishing village who travel the seven seas and end up in the South Pacific and coming across sort of an island full of bug eyed fish looking people and coming home and all of a sudden you've got the the residents of Smith you know returning to the ocean as they begin to transition to fish creatures. So what does that say about the mixing of the races. If we're to examine it a little bit as you say like art this is how this man potentially dealt with his fears as he put it down on a piece of paper and wrote these fantastical stories. Now as you delved into his work you're inspired to tackle a personal project so explain you are in the midst of something that may take you many years to accomplish. What is this project that you've begun. Yeah but coming up on five years into it I produced a rock opera adaptation of the dreams in which house that story was written in 1932 right during the sort of the peak of Lovecraft's most celebrated stories in a sense with the mountains of madness shed over into myth and dreams in the Witch House they're all right in that that that's sort of considered Lovecraft's peak but I picked up this story at the recommendation of one of my collaborators Andrew Lehman at the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society because I wanted to know a little bit more about this character in the Lovecraft Mythos called the Black Pharaoh and the black Pharaoh is also not LA Hotep and also known as the crawling chaos. So it's a myth. Those character who has three names. But yeah. So Andrew said Give dreams in the witch house a shot. It's not known as Lovecraft's one of Lovecraft's stronger stories. In fact it's criticized for being sort of a fractious hodgepodge of ideas. Joshi in the foreword to the story in the what is it. The Penguin Publishing book really describes it well from from the standpoint of where Lovecraft's works where it sits in sort of the lineage of Lovecraft's greater works. But I found it fascinating because it delves into witchcraft and combines witchcraft and folklore with advanced mathematics and it's about an obsessed student much like reanimator with a medical student who uncovers an indescribable horror. And in the case of dreams in the witch house it's through his dreams and whether or not his dreams are actual reality or not if they're actually taking place is up for the readers interpretation. But I was very moved once I started reading the story because all of a sudden I imagined it being like a Sweeney Todd type of show. I was a stage actor for 15 years on Broadway for a while. Jesus Christ Superstar toured in all of these big musicals and I thought I've never seen a horror musical that's sort of replicated Sweeney Todd's horror. And so I was like This is a perfect candidate for that. And so I ended up collaborating some with some producers of heavy metal in Sweden that I had worked with previously when I lived over there and we went track by track and we collaborated and strategize on how we could realize this story into a rock opera that could exist on a double LP or all of these modern day music formats as well streaming download. So we did it we took about 18 months and over 50 individuals working on it terms of musicians and singers. And it's a monster project and it continues to in much in a very Lovecraft's and fashion sort of a new tentacle grows out. And voila we've got more to the dreams in the Witch House Rock Opera brand product line. So it's it's definitely a passion project. We're five years into it. This October will be five years since the release of our concept album. So at this point what you have is the audio version is an audio version of this rock opera and you still have dreams to develop it beyond that into potentially a film or play. I outed myself because the original intention. Very very from the very beginning was this inspiration of seeing it on stage. Naturally that's where my head goes because of my experience in theater and also when you set out to do something and the business of entertainment itself is continually evolving. You don't really see where where you might land at some point. So when we got through the stay the phase of producing the concept album and it was released and received extremely well. We've got all five star ratings on iTunes Amazon. We've had several reviews Fangoria all supportive all of our fans love it. It's very it's big it's not campy it's if you can imagine merging Andrew Lloyd Webber is Jesus Christ Superstar that that type of quality and bombast with a horror story. That's what we set out to do. And so right from almost the get go I realized oh this if the intention is to put this on Broadway that's going to be that's going to take a super super long time just finding out that the territorial Tauriel nature of how theaters on Broadway decide what shows are going to be given a shot at it requires a two million dollar budget just to put it all into a position where it can be pitched to play on one of those stages. So I realize I live in Los Angeles. I can't really make that pursuit. What I can do is start to delve into the independent film waters and things feel very promising. When you decided that you wanted this to be a rock opera what did you think about that format lent itself to Lovecraft in this story. I mean sound is such a key part of horror whether it's the Usik or sound effects however you want to call it. So how did you kind of like envision this score. Because not all of its songs some of it's just music. How did you what did you think lent itself to Lovecraft about this format. I felt like this was the perfect story to adapt into a rock opera because the protagonist character Walter Gilman is an obsessed mathematics genius who challenges all his professors and through enormous concentration as he's working out these these equations and formula he starts to hear sounds from beyond. So he's opening the portal to alternate dimensions through his ears at first so that he hears things. When I read this specific passage in the story about cacophonous sounds and mindless pipes and chanting. I just was just. It took me to hard rock immediately because the the nature of sound itself is you're talking about waveforms you're talking about dynamics and layers and frequencies. And there's our human ear doesn't hear everything that actually exists out there. What better way to explore those themes than through music. And I think Lovecraft's The perfect vessel for that because it is very transcendent the work. And in terms of horror and rock you can break a lot of cinematic rules just based off the fact that it's a horror movie just add to that it's rock opera rock is all about breaking rules. The story itself of dreams in the witch house is a fractious Rule Breaker. By itself because who would merge witchcraft and math. And advanced physics and mathematics together. Does that sound like a horror story to you. I haven't. Is there another a horror movie out there or like the protagonist is a mathematics. I think think Goodwill Hunting meets the which you know maybe that should be part of my pitch next time. Yes exactly. Now you have some iconic people involved in this project. One of them is Barbara steel. Yes she is an icon and what a treat. I contacted her a couple of years ago and it wasn't like I can just pick up the phone call Barbara still you know. So by living in Hollywood I had I had some collaboration with someone who had recently worked with her and so he he brought my project to her. And I was very thankful for it. And as soon as she heard chants set to. Like hard rock metal she was game. Center. She said Oh this is just wonderful. And she's played many witches in her time. And once I reached out to her and I said oh yes Barbara and also you'll be normally the character as a thought as seen as a male. And that just didn't interest me because as a thought as a nuclear chaos at the center of the universe who gives birth to planets that has just as a thought has to be a female. So I said Barbara you're going to provide the voice for the center of the universe. She responded what what aging star doesn't want to hear that she's been offered the voice of the center of the universe. Yes I'm happy to do this Michael. So she was in our studio in Studio City and I had Douglas Blair with me. He's the lead guitarist of WASP and he and I collaborated on this. This expansion track called Argo Navis Heart of Darkness and we were lucky enough to get Barbara Steele to do the voice and we actually brought her up to the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival last year in Portland to premiere a lyric video that we produced and it was just before a screening of Black Sunday. So it was perfect. Yeah. You're a fan of Barbara Steele. I can. Oh yes yes. She was in the terrifying Mario Bava film Black Sunday. Yes. Yeah. If anybody has ever seen that film she gets that Iron Maiden Maskew hammered into her face in quite memorable. So if you were going in to pitch this to someone is there a track you would play just if you'd only play one. Yeah that's that's the tricky nature of a rock opera as you kind of have to experience it in its totality to really get it. That sounds like a lead into what we're gonna like play a song. But just to get the concept Tonelli of what the the the seriousness of this project is. And there is a song there is a track that sort of sets the tone and sets us off on this adventure. The rock opera concept album is called Dreams in the witch house and that would what you what you're asking for would be track to dreams in the Witch House gives a nice concise sort of trailer as to what what the audience is in for throughout the rest of the journey. What do you remember of creating this particular track the kind of work that went into it. Yeah what I do remember is she's I had my musicians in Sweden. I had my vocalists in Hollywood. How do we act like we're all in the same space. Combining our efforts creating this and through the magic of the Internet and Skype and just never giving up. I was able to to actually find some success in a formula moving forward. So this is the this is the cast. Of the eventual movie or stage version altogether in the beginning and we get to meet some characters and hear the tale of Cazayoux Mason which that was condemned to hang in 60 92 who now lingers throughout the Witch House in Arc of Massachusetts. So through the glory of Skype sessions and fantastic collaborators in Sweden. And I should name them Chris Lany Anders Ringman Lennert Oseland Lennert íslands is a giant in the Swedish recording industry. He worked with Abû in the 70s and he was an engineer in at poler studios when led zeppelin recorded him through the outdoor so and he's a big nerd like when when I found when he found out that we were all gonna collaborate on a horror rock opera. He was fully on board because it's just sort of like a bucket bucket list item so I couldn't have done it without them. My collaborators at the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society. I was an employee of theirs while I was producing this monster project. Sean Bronny Andrew Leemon Andrew Lehman's the voice of Frank Elwood in dreams in the witch house. I'm the voice of Walter Gilman the obsessed mathematics genius. I'm not the proper age but vocally you know you can you can do that. So it's just like it was. It was. It was meant to be. And then all of my previous collaborations with people in the industry. Elaine Cashen is the voice of the witch and she was a cast member of cats on Broadway. I toured with her and Jesus Christ Superstar. And when I hired her for this she had just finished. We will rock you in Las Vegas. So she's the voice of the witch. You mentioned Arkham Asylum and it reminded me that there are certain things that Lovecraft created that have just become part of our popular crime scene. This notion of Arkham Asylum MISCA tonic University right because fulu are things that people may not know yet are connected to him and yet they're like so embedded in our pop culture now. That's right. Yeah just Arkham itself. I just there's Arkham House Publishing Arkham Sanitarium DC Comics Arkham Asylum. I'm just like what and video games and video games thing. Exactly. And it's it's fascinating that this guy hasn't had his mega moment yet. And I know a lot of fans and creators are worried about that like when he does have his mega moment. Will it spoil sort of the mystery of it all as soon as somebody finds the proper formula to commercialize his works. You know if you compare him to somebody like Philip K. Dick. What a visionary writer he was. Blade Runner Minority Report list goes on and on. For Philip K. Dick the Amazon series man in high castle. So why hasn't that happened to Lovecraft. But as we mentioned earlier there have been adaptations of his work and we're going to talk a little bit about a few of the key ones that we would recommend people check out. And since I just saw the other night reanimator which is one of my favorites. And speaking of musicals it also had a musical incarnation. Stuart Gordon who created the film in the 80s created the musical stage version so good about which I think I've seen somewhere in the neighborhood of like 30 or 40 times. You saw them anytime I went out there we used to go up to L.A. when all of them to Vegas. We followed them Miguel and I went across the Atlantic to WoW at Edinburgh Fringe home and I think we saw three times alone just there. So you're a Jesse Merlin fan. Jessie Merlin Phantom fan of that. He's a professor up I'm on the rock opera very ballista that track. But yeah I smuggled I think it was 120 pompoms for the MISCA tonic university while across the Atlantic to bring and give out at the at the play because we printed lyrics and we and everybody to sing along with the MISCA tonic fight song. And God damn it. Was. Did you ever sit in the spray zone. Oh yes. We were the listeners you should explain that like what is the spray zone. Hey guys I think technically I think it was the splash splash zone. OK. But I embrace it. I actually I actually did an NPR story I convinced NPR to do a story on this. Oh my. And when they first did it it looked like you know Dexter's kill room has wrapped everything in plastic just like saran wrap plastic but basically it's a very gory play and if you sat in the first three rows really more like the first five but the first three rows you were likely to get covered in blood and some potential other body parts. Yeah but. Yeah. And we proudly wore our you know bloodstained shirts and we even made we made MISCA tonic university lab coats with the logo embroidered on. That's how much I love reanimator is such a good adaptation of the movie. Yes the musical. It's brilliant. Yeah. I even have a podcast all about it so if you guys are listening to this go check it out. And the thing about the stage version and it was interesting because when the stage version first came out it was about the same time they were trying to mount Spiderman on Broadway. Right. And what struck me about the failure of Spiderman and the success of reanimator was that Spiderman was trying to be a big budget Hollywood movie on stage. Interesting which is difficult. I mean the stage has its limitations. Whereas reanimator because Stuart Gordon comes from this theater background he understood if you embrace what theatre can do and engage the audience in rounding out the details with their imagination as opposed to like we're going to try and do something so spectacular on the stage that you'll be blown away by the fact that we can recreate a Hollywood movie on the stage. Whereas what he did is more of a you know Mickey Rooney Judy Garland thing. It's like hey we don't really have the money to do big budget effects but we can be really clever. Yeah. You're going to come out on about how we create the effects on stage. And by doing that you're going to be so much more engaged in what we're doing. And it was brilliant and the music was fabulous and it was funny because I saw it so many times and like there's some I don't generally like musicals at all and usually seeing a musical for a second time I'm just going like that music's just grating on my nerves and I couldn't understand why the music in that seems so fresh every time I was listening to it and it's really very clever Mark Netter did the score and he just did a brilliant job. I agree I agree. I only saw it twice but I was pleasantly surprised and to have gone and to have left that experience my face hurting and my voice wearing out because of the belly laughs and the constant grin and also the are are they doing this. Is this happening just Stuart Gordon is a master at finding maximum value from a very young economic starting point. And it shows in his movie version of reanimator Yeah yeah. And the interesting thing is that when reanimator was made as a film which I think it was 1980 the special effects were all practical at that point right. And that actually adapted very well to doing a stage play because he used a number of people that he had used on the film to do the special effects because the differences on stage it has to be right the first time. But when you're in a low budget film it sort of has to be right the first time as well because you don't have the ability to do endless takes usually. So the skill set kind of matched up very nicely and you know basically onstage what you're doing is practical effects. Yeah yeah definitely and you can see that in the movie. He he really succeeds and that's when when you mentioned to me that you'd like to talk about reanimator. That's that's kind of I think it came out in 85 0 5 yes yeah. And I was a 14 year old at that time early high school years and I remember that I had been exposed prematurely to the Friday the 13th films Halloween John Carpenter's Halloween Texas Chainsaw Massacre. That was all about some maniacal man you know hacking away at young beautiful people. When I saw reanimator I I wasn't really aware that it was a Lovecraft story even though it says in the title H.P. Lovecraft reanimator. But what Stuart Gordon did to reanimator was he he said it in that 80s pocket of. That's kind of when the Freddy Krueger movies came out. George Romero's Dawn of the dead. So everything was kind of really vibrantly lit. If you think of it in comparison to the 70s slasher films Worrell's kind of dark. And that's why when I was watching this thing I was like this thing is so in your face. You know how how can this be happening. And then also I found myself laughing many instances you know the comedy of this severed head is staying erect so I'm going to grab the little was that weighted thing with the spikes. Yeah. Well you put papers posted notes bills and. Yeah yeah. It's like oh I'm going to use that thing and then I'm on like squash the head on it and it'll say recked you know just the comedy of that and also the concept of this guy couldn't be using his voice because he has no lungs to pass across his vocal chords. Like how is he speaking you know. So it was just very innovative. And what I felt was so successful about that film was capturing the obsession of a young person on the verge of discovery and that's so Lovecraftian you know if this gets out and we can animate flesh and no one has to die what does that do. And also philosophically like if you can reanimate the flesh but there's no way to actually capture the person's soul or that person's essence then what's the point. You know so those questions started to rise. Those are very Lovecraftian questions. Yes. And those. And that's really at the core of the horror to behave. It's that notion of it's those layers of notions because it's like it's that godlike sensibility. Right and you know Herbert West is the young student who you know discovers this reanimating fluid. So on a certain level which comes out very much in the play in a beautiful song where it's like I'm not God but you know it turns into loss I'm God. God yeah. So it's that sense of you know man being able to be like a god. But then it's also this sense of humor these reanimated corpses. And if they aren't themselves then what kind of a horror is that. I mean if you get reanimated but you have no consciousness of who you were and potentially there's a point where somebody else controls these people like that's one of the most horrific things you can think of to you know kind of be alive and not yourself. So I mean those are all sorts of wonderful areas to it when you become older in your life you're able to sort of see those elements and ponder them. And it's not just about pure like shock entertainment anymore. It was very interesting to revisit that movie now and compare it to or try to figure out how I felt about it at 14. You know this completely different eyes watching this thing. Well yeah because when it came out I think what it got most attention for was being this gore fest. I mean people talked about how much blood was in it. Yeah. You know I don't remember what the rating was if they even got it rated but I remember there being some uproar about how violent and gruesome it was. But you know when you watch it there is a high level of humor also and the humor is not that scream nudge nudge wink wink look how funny we are. It's theater humor. Everything is very serious. I mean everybody's taking their roles very seriously and the humor comes from just how extreme right and outlandish certain things are. And from Jeffrey Combes brilliant brilliant performance as Herbert Westlake. Yeah yeah it is. I mean he nails the obsession right on the head. You get that right from the get go and he's creepy you know. And we have some brilliant lines from that film have details later. Don't expect it to tangle as a broken back. Oh. That's right. Dr. HILL I'm very disappointed in you. You steal the secret of life and death and want to stick with the bubble headed. You're not even a second rate scientist. Never get credit for my discovery. Who's going to believe a talking head. Get a job on a side show. There's brilliant lines. So if you only go see one currently existing H.P. Lovecraft film yeah. Make it reanimator. Yeah well those pickings are slim because you're not going to find much. You know there's lots of Lovecraft adjacent cinema out there. There aren't a whole lot of adaptations out there like direct adaptation right. There's there's the Dunwich Horror. You know that's from the 60s and there are others out there that this is a fantastic adaptation. The call of Catullo I spoke earlier this is one of let's talk about some of your you've got five films that you've picked that we're going to discuss and so why don't we start with the one which is the direct adaptation of of a Lovecraft story which is the call of Cathy Lowe. And again this is from the H.P. Lovecraft society which took. I remember seeing the set of their film festivals and it's a silent black and white film with amazing. Meticulous production design. And suger just black and white. Passion project all the way. Yeah the fact that this these guys made this for fifty thousand dollars. In 2003 and for. It's it's amazing. Talk about maximum like results from minimal economy. But it's also that sort of like. Let's let's go for it let's see what happens and then they're kind of like maniacally giggling all the way to the end. And then what what results on screen is is magic and actually very very faithful to the. To the story. The short story which was written in 1926. It's an earlier love story. What I love about it is the these the strategy use let's treat it like Hollywood did produce this film in 1926. And what would it feel like. What would it look like. And it was unearthed and discovered. And here it is. You can finally see it. So it is made as if it was produced in 1926. Of course with digital technology. But the. The Casule new. Creature in this film is a stop motion. Puppet. It took. Hours hours upon hours upon hours to capture the the few seconds that you see the monster. But it was such a treat to to get cast in this in 2004 and to have shot at where we shot. Was. The relay scenes relay is an island that rises from the sea and that's where through lose labor. Has been. That set was in a friend's backyard in Pasadena. But yes call the cathedral. It's a short film it's about 45 50 minutes long. Just fantastic. This used to be on Netflix. Now you can't see it there. I'm not sure where you can stream it. But you can always go to the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society Web site. And pick up a copy there. They're self distributed. There's got DVDs there on Amazon as well. It's a really fabulous product. And if you didn't know that it was made recently and you just saw a clip from it you would genuinely believe that this was a film from the 20s. I mean they've taken such care in terms of the visual quality of the grain they kind of add the kind of crackling you hear on the soundtrack. Exactly and that sort of you know the glow of celluloid being illuminated by a bulb is sort of like this sating glow throughout the film and you know that's mesmerizing you know that type of treatment. Now this isn't the first time we've mentioned Kathy Liu. You know I can assume that most people know who he or it however you want to describe it. But for people who may not be that familiar who may have seen you know some images of it in the Lovecraft story you describe a little bit about how this character is presented. Yeah he's presented in sort of legend. No one has seen this this Mitsos figure. I don't think Fulu is male or female I think it's just this this beast entity that's under the under the sea basically who's one of Lovecraft's probably the most recognizable mythos character but basically he's trapped in a lair at the bottom of the sea on the island of Relais and once released it's the end of the world. And what's interesting about Lovecraft is you know a lot of people say he's original and visionary. He he took from folklore from around the world the God of the sea in Hawaii. I grew up in Hawaii is kind of a law and common law Tulu. Maybe there's a sort of maybe Lovecraft is making a little wink towards that this Catullo lives underneath the South Pacific. So there could be something there but yeah if I'm to describe foodless appearance it's a gargantuan sort of beast with a small dragon wings and tentacle the face and if you just google fulu if you can even spell Bagenstos see th you left you you'll see a lot of superb fan art out there of this creature. The poster for this silent film The Call of the Fulu by Lee Moyar I think is the artist just fantastic yeah. Now let's move from a direct adaptation to this documentary you mentioned earlier Lovecraft fear of the unknown right produced released 2008 by Frank Woodard. It's a wonderful documentary Monnerie if you really want to get into the bits and bobs underneath who Lovecraft was a greater and more and clearer concept of when he lived and how he lived and what his conditions were and his works. It's a fabulous documentary about an hour and a half long. Is interviews with Guillermo del Toro John Carpenter. Some some contemporary writers who are fans. I'm going to butcher his last name Neil Gaiman. He even actually sort of just from from a request sort of dictates Lovecraft in dialogue as if he's picking it right out of thin air and I'm like How do you do that. Like it sounds like Lovecraft but it's really fantastic. It's not necessarily an adaptation of any of his works but it's such a great presentation of him. And if you're a fan of Lovecraft content or try to dedicate an hour and a half to watch that it's on YouTube you can watch it at no cost. You'll have to watch them ads but it's there and it's phenomenal. And before we get to kind of the media of the films you've picked let's go to another short which I am twelve hundred and twelve hundred. Same year 2008 made by David Pryor David Pryor is the Jack of all trades. Never met the guy but I'm really inspired by him. Someone who grew up in Hollywood he's the great grandson of silent film actor John Gilbert who had an affair with Greta Garbo way back when during the studio system. And then unfortunately John Gilbert became an alcoholic and died when silent movies transition to talkies. Yeah. So anyway back to David Pryor he's the great grandson of this silent film actor. He he. This was his passion project clearly. And 12 Hunter it's a short film a little probably 40 minutes long and it's got Ray Wise and it. Twin Peaks. Area. We're. Going to cry for. Us. And. Hear from them. Even money says and it really it is not an adaptation of a Lovecraft story directly but it is truly Lovecraft in that it's about how obsession and a man's own guilt from having done something wrong can actually consume him. And you this protagonist character creates his own beast. That's how I see this film through an act that he does. He's a financial guy who does something very wrong. And one of his contemporaries commits suicide because of it so he he goes on this desert trip to try and escape his own guilt and what he's faced with is a manifestation of his guilt at this radio station in the middle of the woods. Transmission. Somebody's. Gotta do something to us. Jason. Kinetic pressure. We transmitted it seems to transmit. We. Will do what. We to do. What are you talking about. My. Car is outside of yours. You don't want to go so stop it. The car the keys. Repeal part before the war. So it's a fabulous film. And David Pryor does a knockout job. I won't say that I was directly inspired to pursue the rock opera because of having seen this but knowing that this guy assembled all his collaborators and found the funding and delivered this passion project at the quality level that it's at certainly gave me the confidence to move forward with the concept album for dreams in the witch house because just the result of this film am twelve hundred. It's something to ponder this movie for sure. Like what is that at the end. What does that mean. I love films like that and I think that's a lot of what Lovecraft does do is that the endings are not very conclusive to know his stories you're always left with some sort of hanging question. Yeah fill in this big blank yourself. I know it takes work to do that but that's what I'm gonna leave you with. He's lovegrass a master at that and I don't know if that's intentional. I don't know if that's like I'm going to do this for my readers orphans just like I'm kind of out of steam on this story so I've set the table and you go ahead and eat the meal yourself. I'm going to go over here and work some more. You know it's at twelve hundred. Check it out everybody. All right. And then it kind of your top two not direct adaptations but Lovecraft and films are alien and John Carpenter's The Thing. Yeah. So let's talk a little bit about those. Yeah hard to talk a little bit about because I'm such a nerd about those and I had movie like alien which took me to 79 when I was eight. It's just such a rich film visually and. It elevated the horror genre in a sense into art. It is a true art film. It's gorgeous to look at. But again why is it Lovecraft in the the people that wrote the screenplay. Dan O'Bannon Ron Ronald shoe set Daniel Bannon is clearly a Lovecraft fan. I met his widow at the H.P. Lovecraft film festival in San Pedro. So he's he's a passionate filmmaker. If you're the listeners out there don't know who Dan O'Bannon is he came up in that whole USC class. John Carpenter Darkstar that film they worked on together. And so alien was kind of. Fell after Darkstar in terms of Daniel Bannon's you know his passion project and the fact that it was it was it went from B horror movie to Ridley Scott is attached. And now it's this arc film with Gieger involved. It's just that's that's an example of what can happen. If you're in Hollywood and you just grind it out like good things can happen. But what is specifically Lovecraftian about alien itself. It's again the indifference of. Elements in the cosmos in the universe that are outside of the flesh of man and man like so is the xenophobe what is the xenophobia xenophobe is Stardust basically and it has such an indifference towards the people on that that deep space mining ship with with Yaphet Koto and Sigourney Weaver and all these great actors. So it really to me it feels almost like a dreams in the witch house. The ship is there which House and the xenophobe is brown Jencke and this creature that lurks in the dark brown Jenkins's which is familiar in dreams in the witch house who picks off some of the residents of the Witch House. So I see elements of dreams the Witch House in Alien Doulis kidnapped from. I'm. Sure. He's not there. It's got to be around there somewhere. Jack Bauer. Are you sure there's no sign that. Gotta be out there. Dallas. Get the hell out of. There is a chest burster scene an alien that is probably the most well-known scene from that movie when John Hurt is dining with his crewmates and all of a sudden he's sucking up his spaghetti noodle and then this creature emerges from his chest. In dreams in the witch house the climactic moment is when Walter Gilman is in his bed and a rat like thing emerges from his chest because it's dimensionally traveled from another world into his chest cavity and eaten its way out. So a lot of Lovecraft and alien and of course the alien creature itself is part of that fear of the unknown and cosmic sensibility. Yeah. And a little who like him being. Yeah that's true. Yeah yeah. I never thought of it that way like this. This odd concoction of organic elements that has this thirst for I don't know. Is it do we ever know. Does the alien consume its victims. You know it's never revealed. It's not like the alien is looking for food. It's just kind of indifferent. It's like you're Buhr here and I don't want you here. Right. Yes. I love aliens the sequel but Alien 3 again. Just what has happened from the birth of this movie Alien even it's its sequels feel Lovecraft and Alien 3 feels very Lovecraftian again. The indifference towards all of those Y chromosome prisoners on that. What is the name of the planet fury. Been awhile since he saw me. That's David Fincher his way. His very first movie. But it's just fascinating what when when a concept is thrown into the flesh of the screenwriter Daniel BANNON You can see a connective tissue to later sequels through this creature and it's and it's how it perceives mankind. You know I don't care about you. It's very Lovecraft. Yeah. Same thing with the thing we're just going to go right into it. If that's fine again kind of a fusion of the Mountains of Madness with Lovecraft and elements of Arctic. I can't recall if it's Antarctica or if it's the Arctic. It's one of the two. But anyway there are these men at this weather station or something doing studies and they uncover this this alien derelict ship that's under the ice. And once they defrost the element from the ship it organically starts to take them over much like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. But that that concept as well as extremely Lovecraft and. 12 men have just discovered something for 100000 years. It was buried in the snow and ice. Now it has found a place to live inside. Where no one can see it. Or hear it or feel it. I know I'm human. So if you are still human this thing doesn't want to show itself and wants to hide inside an imitation. Fight it has to what it's vulnerable. It takes us over. There's no more enemies. Nobody wants to kill it. It's one thing. So again you've got alien which has connected connections to dreams in the Witch House. The thing connections to the Mountains of Madness. I really feel like Dan O'Bannon John Carpenter the people who made you know I wrote the screenplay or wrote the screenplay and directed the movie. They're inspired by Lovecraft. So how could they not have love crafting elements and what they do. But I'm surprised that neither of these guys actually were able to convince a Hollywood studio to Hey let's let's make a big budget version of this. Yeah I mean it seems like that's a hard thing for anyone to do because didn't GUERMA Del Toro have a Lovecraft project for a while. Yeah Monster Project and you would think that that is going to happen because James Cameron was producing. Okay so there's your other big name behind it. It was at the mountains of madness and this was prior to Promethea which is connected to alien. And so Guillermo del Toro Del Toro was going to direct and he was doing creature developments for it. All right. There was not far down from the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society's old warehouse. There was a shop called spectral and they do creature development. And so Guillermo popped into the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society a couple of times and he drop off his buddy because he had secret meetings over at spectral so. And I was doing shipping receiving him back. This is a great story about the locust I'm there with my tape gun. You know I'm sending out you know dark adventurer radio theater that's a brand of radio theater adaptations of the stories that the Lovecraft Historical Society has done shipping those things MISCA tonic hoodies you know all these things I'm packing them up and all of a sudden I hear our back door go. And I see this head pop through and it's this bearded face and he's got a sandwich and there's lettuce in his beard and it's Guillermo del Toro. And he's like oh hello scuse me. I have my friend here from Mexico but I have a meeting over at Spectrum. Can I leave him. No. And this guy walks in and like yeah hey come on in. And he doesn't speak very much English. But as soon as he walks into the Lovecraft Historical Society he's like ah because clearly this guy's been to Guillermo's house. So he gets it. Oh one of these places. So this mystery friend would hang out with me. And Andrew Leemon and Sean Bronny as we're doing our you know our little Lovecraft and Minyon work. And while Guillermo was over at spectral. And so that's that's my encounter with Guillermo. During that process of developing at the mountains of madness and I had everyth like everything in my mind knowledge of Hollywood was like yeah that's going to happen because they signed Tom Cruise as well. Like how could that not get done produced by James Cameron starring Tom Cruise. A universal picture. It didn't get done because Guillermo's vision required it to be rated R at a 200 million dollar budget. And the suits at Universal just didn't see that as that. That wasn't the formula they wanted. They wanted something probably around 100 years. You know like P.G. 13 MPG thirteen. Exactly. So it fell through and Guillermo went over went off and did his kaiju movies you know Ansted Pacific Rim. So yeah. But you know I'm sure Guillermo sad like he's probably licking his wounds because the next thing that the next news that came out was Ridley Scott's Promethea s had Guillermo had seen a screening of that and was like great that's the movie I wanted to make it's radar and it's two hundred million dollars and it's it takes place in the icy planet with mountains you know so clearly at the mountains madnesses squashed for good. But this is all just just part of sort of the fabric of Lovecraft's sort of almost but it didn't happen but something is happening. I don't want to leave it on a negative. You know clearly there's we're here talking about him on the cusp of his birthday so that there is an importance to his works and himself even through the controversy of was he racist or not. You know I'm me being a person of color. I'm not really interested in that question you know. He's a guy who lived during his time we're at a different time now. We can we can we can make the world better now. You can't make it different from what he experienced back then. That's that's my view on that. All right well what would you like us to go out with a piece of music for us to end on. Yeah well it's not really a piece of music but more than like a fusion of Perot's poetry by Lovecraft and a great collaborator that I've been working with Douglas Blair who is the lead guitarist of wasp. We took his 1922 story fragment which is basically Lovecraft probably was like sleeping and he was like he had this dream as like I got to write that down. So it's a fragment of something that he never finished. But we talked about the Barbara Steele earlier in the show she gave voice to this figure of this nuclear chaos at the center of the universe and that character's name is as a Thoth. This story fragment is called as a thought written in 1922 and Doug and I are recently released this at Comic Con a few weeks ago as a spoken word sort of parallel expansion product to the rock opera lineage of products that people can buy now. So that's my long winded introduction to as a thought 1922 featuring myself Mike Gallagher reading Lovecraft's prose poetry and Douglas Blair on a fantastic dynamic guitar. All right we will go out with that. And thank you very much for talking with me about Lovecraft. Thanks for hanging in there with me Beth. It's clear that when we talk about Lovecraft it's it's very very difficult to keep it short because that just layer upon layer upon layer upon layer. Go out and read some Lovecraft everybody. Get. Get through those layers. We hope you're. When the age fell upon the world and wonder who went out of the minds of men when great cities reared to smoky skies tall towers grim and ugly and whose shadow none might dream of the sun or of spring's flowering meets when learning was stripped Earth. Of her mantle of beauty. And poets sang no more save of twisted phantoms. SCENE WITH bleared and inward looking eyes. When these things had come to pass and childish hopes they'd gone away forever. There was a man who traveled out of life on a quest into the spaces where the world's dreams had fled. The name and abode of this man but little is written. For they were of the waking world only. Yet it is said that both were obscure. It is enough to know that he dwelt in a city of high walls. Where sterile Twilight reigned and that he toiled all day long shot on turmoil coming home at evening tour was one window open not on the fields and groves. But on the. Court. Where other windows stared and dull the spare from that Casement one might see only walls and windows. Except sometimes one one leaned far out and peered aloft at the small stars that passed. And because Mir was in Windows must soon drive to madness a man who dreams and reads much the Dweller in that room used night after night to lean out and peer aloft to glimpse some fragments of things beyond the waking world. Can the greatness of Tulse cities after years he began to call the slow Sailing stars by name. And to follow them and fancy when they collided regretfully out of sight. Till at length his vision opened to many secret vistas whose existence no common suspects. One night. A mighty cold. Was breached. Dream. Haunted sky swelled down to the lonely watchers window. To merge with the close air of his room and make him a part of their fabulous one. Thanks for listening to another edition of K.A. PBS cinema junkie podcast the podcast comes out every other Friday. Coming up next will be an episode about adapting Shakespeare to both the screen and yes even to the stage because directors reinvent his plays and reimagine them in new settings and time periods till our next film fix on Beth Accomando your residence and I'm a junkie. There came to that room while streams of violent midnight glittering with dust of gold. Seas of dust and fire swirling out of the ultimate spaces and heavy with perfumes from beyond the world's oceans port their little slice suns that the ice may never be. And. Having in their whirlpools strange dolphins and seen imps. Of An rememberable deeps. Noiseless infinity. Eddied around the dreamer. And wafted him away without even touching the body. That leans stiffly from the lonely window. For days not counted in men's calendars the tides of far spheres bore him gently to join the dreams for which he longed. The dreams that men have lost. And in the course of many cycles. They tenderly left him sleeping on a. Green sunrise shore. A. Green Shore fragrant with lotus blossoms start by Red. Loads. As thought by H.P. Lovecraft.

Aug. 20 will mark the 128th anniversary of H.P. Lovecraft’s birth. But how did this man who was born in Providence Rhode Island come to create a body of horror fiction that continues to influence the public consciousness and other artists? Explore that question with the latest podcast.

149: Happy Birthday H.P. Lovecraft
Episode 149: Happy Birthday H.P. Lovecraft Aug. 20 will mark the 128th anniversary of H.P. Lovecraft’s birth. But how did this man who was born in Providence, Rhode Island come to create a body of horror fiction that continues to influence the public consciousness and other artists? Explore that question with the latest podcast and Mike Dalager who's working on a passion project based on Lovecraft's "Dreams in the Witch House." Subscribe to the Cinema Junkie podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcatcher.Support the podcast at

Suggested viewing

"Alien" (1979)

John Carpenter's "The Thing" (1982)

"Re-Animator" (1985)

"The Call of Cthulhu" (Short - 2005)

"AM 1200" (Short - 2008)

"Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown" (feature length documentary - 2008)

The 128th anniversary of H.P. Lovecraft’s birth falls on Aug. 20. But how did this man, who was born in Providence, Rhode Island come to create a body of horror fiction that continues to influence the public consciousness and other artists? Explore that question with the latest podcast.

I am dedicating the podcast to Lovecraft by interviewing Mike Dalager, a man with a passion project to create a rock opera from Lovecraft’s "Dreams in the Witch House."

Dalager worked for the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society from 2010 to 2014 and appeared in their silent film adaptation of "The Call of Cthulhu." That's where his obsession with the author began.

Mike Dalager (left) has been working on a Lovecraft passion project for years. It is a rock opera based on the author's "Dreams in the Witch House."
Mike Dalager
Mike Dalager (left) has been working on a Lovecraft passion project for years. It is a rock opera based on the author's "Dreams in the Witch House."

Howard Phillips Lovecraft was virtually unknown during his lifetime and died at the age of 46 in poverty after having only published his work in pulp magazines. But over the years his tales of horror, fueled by the fear of the unknown, have risen in popularity and captured our collective unconscious.

Among his best-known works are "The Rats in the Walls," "The Call of Cthulhu," "At the Mountains of Madness," "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," and "The Shadow Out of Time." All of which fed into the Cthulhu Mythos. The tentacled Cthulhu is one of the Great Old Ones, dead alien deities Lovecraft imagined as being buried deep inside the Earth.

Lovecraft's work is complicated by the fact that in real life he expressed racist, misogynistic and homophobic ideas.

Alan Moore articulately addressed this in his introduction to "The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft" edited by Leslie S. Klinger.

""It is possible to perceive Howard Lovecraft as an almost unbearably sensitive barometer of American dread," Moore wrote. "Far from outlandish eccentricities, the fears that generated Lovecraft's stories and opinions were precisely those of the white, middle-class, heterosexual, Protestant-descended males who were most threatened by the shifting power relationships and values of the modern world."