Friday, July 1, 2016

VHS Summer Week #1

Cthulhu Mansion
Juan Piquer Simón

Back in the 1990s when the world wasn’t drenched in Lovecraft paraphernalia, it was a bit of a shock to see the words Cthulhu emblazoned on a VHS box. Sure, as far as Lovecraft adaptions go, we had Re-Animator (1985), From Beyond (1986), and The Resurrected (1992). Aside from The Dunwich Horror (1970) and to a lesser extent The Haunted Palace (1963), very little had touched upon the actual cosmic star spawn that threatened to consume the Earth. So, I’m certain much of Cthulhu Mansion’s rental business was from eager nerds excited to see something to do with an actual elder god but, as if issued from Lovecraft’s mind itself, it was all a cruel joke from an uncaring universe.

This is exactly 50% of the Cthulhu you'll find in this film.
A gang of juvenile delinquents, and you can tell they are a gang of juvenile delinquents because they all wear leather jackets, set-up a drug deal at a carnival. Things wrong, people get shot and the gang takes a magician named Chandu (Frank Finley) and his daughter Lisa (Marcia Layton) hostage. They hide-out in Chandu’s mansion. Despite his warnings, they persist on staying there and it isn’t long until the thing in the basement wakes up and begins to take notice. It seems Chandu’s magic is real and what’s worse he learned from a book that bears the words, ‘Cthulhu.’

Sadly, I was one of the enthusiastic tape renters who raced home only to discover that Cthulhu Mansion offers up no Cthulhu beyond the title and few brief name drops during the movie.  This wouldn’t be a problem if the film had anything else to offer. The pace is leaden, the music is forgettable, and look of the film is flat and uninteresting. There is the occasional effect that is amusing at the cost of the film, my favorite being giant skeletal hands that grope at a victim after bursting forth from inside the refrigerator.  There is also a decent shower filling with blood sequence that perpetrated on one of male characters surprisingly. Combine all of this with the fact that Cthulhu Mansion was directed by the man who brought us Pieces (1982) and Slugs (1988), and you’ve got a tremendous disappointment sitting in your tape player.

The horrible secret origin of the Kool-Aid man.
It’s not 100% irredeemable, some of the monster make-up is decent enough and the performance of Frank Finlay as Chandu is miles ahead of what every other actor is bringing to the screen, but these are small bright spots in ninety-minutes of tedium.

To date, Cthulhu Mansion is only available on VHS. I can’t see anyone scrambling to get this film on Blu-ray (but then again I’ve been surprised before). In its own limited kind of way it’s the Platonic ideal of film that you would rent just because everything else at the video store has been picked over. It’s immediately forgettable and disposable but not completely devoid of entertainment. I’d say check it out only if you are either a Lovecraft or Simón completest, everyone else would be better off with just about any other Lovecraft adaption.

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