Cool Air (1926)(1971)(1993)(1999)(2007)(2013)

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Friday, July 19, 2013

Cool Air (1926)(1971)(1993)(1999)(2007)(2013)

"Cool Air" is a short story by the American horror fiction writer H. P. Lovecraft, written in March 1926 and published in the March 1928 issue of Tales of Magic and Mystery. 

Lovecraft wrote "Cool Air" during his unhappy stay in New York City, during which he wrote three horror stories with a New York setting. In "Lovecraft's New York Exile," David E. Schultz cites the contrast Lovecraft felt between his apartment, crammed with relics of his beloved New England, and the immigrant neighborhood of Red Hook in which he lived as an inspiration for the "unsettling juxtaposition of opposites" that characterizes the short story. Like the story's main character, Shultz suggests, Lovecraft, cut off from his native Providence, Rhode Island, felt himself to be just going through the motions of life.

The building that is the story's main setting is based on a townhouse at 317 West 14th Street where George Kirk, one of Lovecraft's few New York friends, lived briefly in 1925.  The narrator's heart attack recalls that of another New York Lovecraft friend, Frank Belknap Long, who dropped out of New York University because of his heart condition.  The narrator's phobia about cool air is reminiscent of Lovecraft himself, who was abnormally sensitive to cold.

Schultz indicates that "Cool Air's” main literary source is Edgar Allan Poe's "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar", described as Lovecraft's favorite Poe story after "The Fall of the House of Usher".   Lovecraft had just finished the Poe chapter of his survey "Supernatural Horror in Literature" at the time that he wrote the short story.  Lovecraft, however, stated years later that the story that inspired "Cool Air" was Arthur Machen's "The Novel of the White Powder", another tale of bodily disintegration.

The story is set up as the narrator's explanation for why a "draught of cool air" is the most detestable thing to them.

The tale opens up in the spring of 1923 with the narrator looking for housing in New York City, finally settling in a converted brownstone on West Fourteenth Street.  Eventually, a chemical leak from the floor above reveals that the inhabitant directly overhead is a strange, old, and reclusive doctor.  One day the narrator suffers a heart attack, and remembering that a doctor lives directly above, heads there, culminating in the narrator's first meeting with Dr. Muñoz.

The doctor shows supreme medical skill and saves the narrator with a concoction of drugs, resulting in the fascinated narrator returning regularly to sit and learn from the doctor.  As their talks continue, it becomes increasingly evident that the doctor has an obsession with defying death through all available means.

The doctor's room is kept cold at approximately 56 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius) using an ammonia-based refrigeration system, the pumps driven by a gasoline engine.  As time goes on, the doctor's health declines and his behavior becomes increasingly eccentric.  The cooling system is continuously upgraded, to the point where some areas are at sub-freezing temperatures—until one night when the pump breaks down.

Without explanation, the panic-stricken doctor frantically implores his friend to help him keep his body cool.  Unable to repair the machine until morning and without a replacement piston, they resort to having the doctor stay in a tub full of ice.  The narrator spends his time replenishing the ice, but soon is forced to employ someone else to do it.  When he finally manages to locate competent mechanics and the replacement part however, it is too late.

He arrives at the apartment only to see the rapidly-decomposed remains of the doctor, and a rushed, "hideously smeared" letter.  The narrator reads it, and to their horror, finally understands the doctor's peculiarities: Dr. Muñoz was undead, and has been for the past 18 years.  Refusing to give in, he has kept his body going past the point of death using various methods, including perpetual coldness.

Rod Serling's Night Gallery: Season 2, Episode 12

Cool Air / Camera Obscura / Quoth the Raven (8 Dec. 1971)

A Gothic love story about a woman and a man who lives in a refrigerated apartment. / Miserly banker Sharsted finds himself trapped after viewing his client's strange optical device. / Edgar Allen Poe can't even get the first line down on paper.

I will defer to The Lurker in The Lobby as someone who has actually seen the episode.

A better and far more timeless Lovecraft TV adaptation premiered December 8, 1971 on NIGHT GALLERY.  It is Rod Serling's reworking of Cool Air, directed by Jeannot Szwarc and produced by Jack Laird.

Potentially much easier to adapt than Pickman's Model, Serling's screenplay nonetheless totally reformats the story, presumably to make it more TV-worthy and to give it greater depth.  The results are satisfying, but definitely not pure "Lovecraft."

As in Lovecraft's version, Serling uses the first person narrator with occasional voice-over throughout the segment.  But Serling's narrator tells the story in a manner that would have been impossible for Lovecraft: not only does Serling introduce a female character (a shunned species Lovecraft most probably perceived as alien), but he also makes this female the segment's narrator!

And Serling goes further still by adapting Cool Air as a kind of love story, with strong suggestions of necrophilia at the end.

Necronomicon: Book of Dead (1993)

H.P. Lovecraft's: Necronomicon, original title Necronomicon, also called Necronomicon: Book of the Dead or Necronomicon: To Hell and Back is an American anthology horror film released in 1993.  It was directed by Brian Yuzna, Christophe Gans and Shusuke Kaneko and was written by Brent V. Friedman, Christophe Gans, Kazunori Itō and Brian Yuzna.  The film stars Bruce Paynea as Edward De Lapoer, Richard Lynch as Jethro De Lapoer, Jeffrey Combs as H. P. Lovecraft, Belinda Bauer as Nancy Gallmore and David Warner as Dr. Madden.

The three stories in the film are based on three H. P. Lovecraft short stories: The Drowned is based on The Rats in the Walls, The Cold is based on Cool Air, and Whispers is based on The Whisperer in Darkness.

"The Cold"

Reporter Dale Porkel is suspicious of a string of strange murders in Boston over the past several decades. Confronting a woman at a local apartment building, he is invited in only to find the entire place is very cold.  The woman he has confronted claims to suffer a rare skin condition which has left her sensitive to heat and light. Demanding the truth or his story runs as-is, Dale is told the story of Emily Osterman's arrival to Boston twenty years before.

Emily had supposedly taken residence in the apartment building, and told by Lena, the owner, not to disturb the other tenant, Dr. Richard Madden, a scientist.  Her first night, she is attacked by her sexually abusive stepfather, Sam, who has tracked her down.  Running away, the two struggle on the steps leading to the next apartment. Dr. Madden opens his door, grabs Sam's arm and stabs his hand with a scalpel.  The fall down from the stairs kills him.  Emily is bandaged up and given medication.  That night, Emily is roused by drilling noises and blood dripping from her ceiling.  Heading upstairs, she finds Dr. Madden and Lena mutilating Sam.  She passes out, to awaken later in her bed with a clean ceiling. Dr. Madden assures her she was having a nightmare.

The next day while job hunting, Emily sees two cops with a flyer asking for information about the murder of Sam. She confronts Dr. Madden, and he comes clean: Though Sam was already dead from the fall, Dr. Madden claims he would have killed Sam regardless for what he had done to Emily.  Dr. Madden reveals his copy of the Necronomicon and how he learned of its information on sustaining life.  In the greenhouse, Dr. Madden proves this by injecting a wilted rose with a compound to revive it, claiming that as long as it is kept out of the sun, it will never die.  The two have sex, with a distraught Lena spying on them.

That night, Lena threatens to kill Emily if Emily will not kill her, as Lena is in love with Dr. Madden, a feeling that has never been returned.  Emily flees, only to return months later.  Upon arrival, Emily finds her boss from the diner in Dr. Madden's apartment, struggling to avoid death.  Lena stabs the man in the back, killing him. Lena insists on killing Emily, but Dr. Madden will not allow it, the struggle destroying lab equipment in the process.  The resulting fire injures Dr. Madden severely, and without his fresh injection of pure spinal fluid, feels no pain as his body disintegrates before he dies.  Lena shoots Emily with a shotgun in revenge.  Emily announces her pregnancy, and Lena, feeling a loyalty to Dr. Madden, saves her.

Dale suspects the woman he's talking to is not Emily's daughter, but Emily herself, having contracted a disease from Dr. Madden during intercourse.  Emily reveals he is right, and that she is still pregnant, hoping one day that her baby may be born.  She also reveals that she has continued murdering for spinal fluid, and chooses to keep a supply stockpiled.  Dale realizes his coffee has been drugged as an aged Lena approaches him, brandishing a syringe.

Cool Air (1999)

In the 1920s, impoverished horror writer Randolph Carter rents a room from Mrs. Caprezzi, an elderly land lady.  Not long after settling into the shabby and almost bare room, he discovers a pool of ammonia on the floor that has leaked down from the room above.  Mrs. Caprezzi, while cleaning up the ammonia, regales Randolph with strange stories of Dr. Muñoz (Jack Donner), the eccentric old gentleman who lives in the room upstairs.  Later, Randolph suffers a heart attack and painfully makes his way to the doctor's room where he is treated with an unconventional medicine and makes a remarkable recovery.  Befriending the doctor, Carter soon discovers the awful truth about the doctor's condition, why his room is kept intensely cold, and the fragile line that separates life and death.

Cool Air was filmed on location in Glendale, California, USA over several weekends, using a CP-16R regular 16mm camera package owned by DP Michael Bratkowski.  The film was shot on Ilford Black and White regular 16mm film stock, a great filmstock, though prone to film dust and shavings when transferred using a Telecine Flying Spot Scanner, otherwise known as a Rank.

Chill (2007)

Chill is a multi-award-winning 2007 horror film written and directed by Serge Rudnunsky that stars Thomas Calabro, Ashley Laurence, Shaun Kurtz and James Russo.

The film was inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's "Cool Air".  Similar plot elements include the fact that the doctor in the film (played by Shaun Kurtz) is named Dr. Muñoz as in Lovecraft's story, and must live in refrigerated conditions in order to survive.  There is also a mention of the Necronomicon in the film; while this does not occur in Lovecraft's "Cool Air", it does serve in the movie as a clue to its Lovecraftian inspiration.  Part of the plot hinges on the refrigeration system breaking down, again as in the Lovecraft story.  Physically the character of Dr Muñoz in the film does not resemble the character described in Lovcecraft's story, nor does he speak with a Spanish accent.

Overall, however, the plot of the movie moves away from the Lovecraft story in depicting Muñoz as the controller of a serial killer who preys on prostitutes.  Muñoz lives in the back of a deli which he runs, and the protagonist Sam, a writer who comes to work at the deli for survival money, gets dragged into the web of killings. Sam also falls in love with a woman named Maria who runs a clothing stores across the street and is being threatened by a local cop, Detective Defazio who she dated once.

The DVD packaging for the Australian release through Flashback Entertainment does not feature Lovecraft's name anywhere, though the American packaging indicates that Lovecraft's tale inspired the movie.  The film is omitted from Charles P. Mitchell's otherwise fairly comprehensive The Complete H.P. Lovecraft Filmography (Greenwood Press, 2001), possibly because the makers of Chill did not overtly capitalize on Lovecraft's name.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette summarizes the plot as "Let's just say someone dies but cheats Death by harvesting flesh and dabbling in the occult."

Cool Air (2013)

Filmed in 2006 but not released until 2013 via Video on Demand.  Why?  I don’t know, maybe it just sucks that much.  No information is available for the delay.

Charlie Baxter, a struggling screenwriter, is searching for accommodation in a rundown mansion somewhere in the isolated mountains above Malibu.  An expressionless and creatively bankrupt young man who rewrites exploitation sci-fi / horror scripts for a living, he takes a room in the mansion and learns of the mysterious doctor residing in the room above his own who dabbles in strange experiments.  As he learns more about the circumstances of the doctor and the history of his landlady, her autistic daughter and the strange lodger across the hall, Baxter is inspired to write his long blocked "great American Screenplay".  Working furiously, Baxter suffers a heart attack, and staggers up to see the doctor for treatment.  He passes out immediately, but awakens a cured man.  But at a terrible price.  The Doctor, a strangely preserved woman named Shockner, persuades Baxter to stay until he recovers fully, and informs her "patient" of the medical condition that has forced her into a hermit's existence. Twenty years ago Shockner suffered a fatal disease.  Her solution found in the occult and dark arts, preserved her life but at the cost.  Slowly Baxter is drawn into a nightmarish world of insane experiments and murder.  He knows something must be done to stop the evil that resides in the room at the top of the stairs.

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