CC: The Shadow Over Innsmouth (1936), Dagon (2001) & Cthulhu (2007)

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Friday, September 20, 2013

CC: The Shadow Over Innsmouth (1936), Dagon (2001) & Cthulhu (2007)

Do you feel that overwhelming sensation of dread?  Or maybe you have started to question you own sanity?  Are you seeing things unexplainable and unspeakable in the shadows?  Then it must once again be that time of the week when geometry starts to become non-Euclidean and forgotten gods and places return to our reality.

The Shadow Over Innsmouth is a novella by H. P. Lovecraft.  Written in November–December 1931, the story was first published in April 1936; this was the only fiction of Lovecraft's published during his lifetime that did not appear in a periodical.

The story describes a young man's discovery of a strange hybrid race, half-human and half an unknown creature that resembles a cross between a fish and a frog, that dwell in Innsmouth – a coastal town that had seen better days – and the waters offshore.  The townspeople worship Dagon, a Philistine deity incorporated into the Cthulhu Mythos.

Robert M. Price cites two works as literary sources for The Shadow Over Innsmouth: Robert W. Chambers' "The Harbor-Master" and Irvin S. Cobb's "Fishhead".  Chambers' story concerns the discovery of "the remnants of the last race of amphibious human beings", living in a five-mile deep chasm just off the Atlantic coast.  The creature of the title is described as "a man with round, fixed, fishy eyes, and soft, slaty skin.  But the horror of the thing were the two gills that swelled and relaxed spasmodically."  Lovecraft was evidently impressed by this tale, writing in a letter to Frank Belknap Long: "God! The Harbour-Master!!!" 

"Fishhead" is the story of a "human monstrosity" with an uncanny resemblance to a fish:

His skull sloped back so abruptly that he could hardly be said to have a forehead at all; his chin slanted off right into nothing. His eyes were small and round with shallow, glazed, pink-yellow pupils, and they were set wide apart on his head, and they were unwinking and staring, like a fish's eyes.

Lovecraft, in "Supernatural Horror in Literature", called Cobb's story "banefully effective in its portrayal of unnatural affinities between a hybrid idiot and the strange fish of an isolated lake".

Price notes that Fishhead, as the "son of a Negro father and a half-breed Indian mother", "embodies unambiguously the basic premise of 'The Shadow Over Innsmouth'.... This, of course, is really what Lovecraft found revolting in the idea of interracial marriage...the subtextual hook of different ethnic races mating and 'polluting' the gene pool."

Price points out the resemblance in names between the Deep One city of Y'ha-nthlei and Yoharneth-Lahai, a fictional deity in Lord Dunsany's The Gods of Pegana who "sendeth little dreams out of Pegana to please the people of Earth"—a precursor to Lovecraft's fictional deity Cthulhu, who sends less pleasant dreams from R'lyeh.

The description of the Deep Ones also has some similarities with the sea creature mentioned in H.G. Wells' short story In the Abyss (1896):

Two large and protruding eyes projected from sockets in chameleon fashion, and it had a broad reptilian mouth with horny lips beneath its little nostrils. In the position of the ears were two huge gill-covers, and out of these floated a branching tree of coralline filaments, almost like the tree-like gills that very young rays and sharks possess. But the humanity of the face was not the most extraordinary thing about the creature. It was a biped; its almost globular body was poised on a tripod of two frog-like legs and a long, thick tail, and its fore limbs, which grotesquely caricatured the human hand, much as a frog’s do, carried a long shaft of bone, tipped with copper. The colour of the creature was variegated; its head, hands, and legs were purple; but its skin, which hung loosely upon it, even as clothes might do, was a phosphorescent grey.

The story is divided into five chapters.  In the first chapter, the narrator begins by recounting to the reader of a secret investigation that was undertaken by the government at the ruined town of Innsmouth, Massachusetts, and that the story told to them by the narrator himself is the reason for this investigation.  He proceeds to describe in detail the events surrounding his initial interest in the town (antiquarian and architectural), which lies along the route of his tour across New England, taken when he was twenty-one.  While he waits for the bus that will take him to Innsmouth, he busies himself in the neighboring town of Newburyport by gathering information from local townsfolk; all of it with superstitious overtones.

The second chapter details his ride into Innsmouth, described in great detail as a crumbling, mostly deserted town full of dilapidated structures and people who look just a bit odd and who tend to walk with a distinct shambling gait. All of this is offputting to the narrator, who describes the people as having the "Innsmouth look", "queer narrow heads with flat noses and bulgy, stary eyes".  Only one person in town appears normal, a young clerk at the local First National grocery store who comes from neighboring Arkham.  The narrator gathers much information from the clerk, including a map of the town and the name of a local who might be a good source of information: an ancient man named Zadok Allen, known to open up about the town when plied with drink.

The majority of the third chapter is composed of the conversation between Zadok and the narrator.  Zadok, who is very old, has seen much in the town and goes on at length, telling a tale of fish-frog men known as Deep Ones who live beneath the sea.  It seems they bring prosperity in the form of fish as well as fantastically wrought gold jewelry to those who offer them human sacrifice.  These fish-frog men are amphibious and are able to mate with humans. The hybrid brood have the appearance of normal humans in early life but, in adulthood, slowly transform into Deep Ones.  The completed transformation brings them eternal life, which they live in cities under the sea.  These fish-frog men were first discovered in the Indies by a native island tribe, which was itself found by an Innsmouth merchant named Obed Marsh.  When hard times befell Innsmouth, Obed and some followers did what they could to call up the fish-frog men in their New England town.  Zadok is at first angry that the narrator appears not to believe him.  After seeing strange waves approach the dock, he becomes frightened and tells the narrator to leave town because they have been seen.  The narrator leaves and Zadok disappears and is never seen again.  When the story is over, the narrator is unnerved but thinks it a product of a fertile imagination.

Chapter four tells of the night that the narrator was forced to spend in town, after being told that the bus in which he came to town is experiencing engine trouble.  The narrator has no choice but to spend the night in a musty hotel. While attempting to sleep, he hears noises at his door like someone trying to enter.  Wasting no time, he attempts to escape out a window and through the streets, at times imitating the peculiar walk of the Innsmouth locals. Eventually he makes his way to some train tracks where he hears a great many creatures passing in the road before him.  He hides and resolves to close his eyes, having at this point come to accept the idea that Zadok's story is true.  He cannot keep them closed, however, and upon seeing the fish-frog creatures in full light for the first time, faints in his hiding spot.

In the final chapter, we hear of how the narrator wakes up unharmed and quickly walks to the next town (Rowley). Over the years that pass, he begins doing research into his family tree, discovering some disturbing information along the way.  Eventually it becomes clear that he is a descendant of Obed Marsh himself and nightmares accompany the narrator's realization that he is changing into one of the creatures.  As the story ends, the narrator, by then a student at Oberlin College, tells us that his horror at the idea is changing into acceptance, and that he will be quite happy living forever in the city Y'ha-nthlei, deep beneath the sea.  He also has a cousin, even further transformed than he, being held in a mental hospital whom he plans to break free and take with him.

 

Dagon (2001)

  • Genre: Fantasy – Horror – Mystery
  • Directed: Stuart Gordon
  • Produced:
    • Carlos Fernández 
    • Julio Fernández 
    • Miguel Torrente 
    • Brian Yuzna
  • Written:
    • H. P. Lovecraft (Novella) 
    • Dennis Paoli (Screenplay)
  • Starring: Ezra Godden, Francisco Rabal, Raquel Meroño
  • Music: Carles Cases
  • Cinematography: Carlos Suárez
  • Editing: Jaume Vilalta
  • Studio:
    • Castelao Producciones
    • Estudios Picasso
    • Fantastic Factory
    • Generalitat de Catalunya - Institut Català de les Indústries Culturals
    • ICF Institut Català de Finances
    • Televisió de Catalunya
    • Televisión de Galicia
    • Vía Digital
    • Xunta de Galicia
  • Distributed:
    • Divisa Home Video 
    • Lions Gate Films
  • Rated:
  • Release Date:
    • 12 October 2001 (Spain) 
    • 23 July 2002 (USA)
  • Running Time: 98 minutes
  • Country: Spain
  • Language:
    • English 
    • Galician 
    • Spanish

Despite the title, the plot is actually based on H. P. Lovecraft's novella “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” rather than on his earlier short story "Dagon" (1919).  In fact, the setting takes place in ‘Imboca’ is a Spanish adaption of 'Innsmouth'.

Paul Marsh is a stock market tycoon vacationing off the shores of Spain with his girlfriend, Barbara, and their friends Vicki and Howard.  A storm blows the friends' boat against some hidden rocks.  Vicki is trapped below deck, and Howard stays with her while Paul and Barbara take a lifeboat to the little fishing village of Imboca.

At shore, Barbara and Paul find no one about, and venture into town until they eventually reach the church, where they find a priest.  Barbara convinces him to help them, and the priest comes to speak with two fishermen at the docks, who volunteer to take either Paul or Barbara to the wreck.  Despite Paul's misgivings, Barbara stays to try to find a phone in order to call a doctor while Paul goes to help their friends.

Vicki and Howard are mysteriously missing, however, and Paul is brought back to Imboca, where he is sent to a hotel that Barbara was supposed to have ended up in.  But she is missing as well, and Paul is left to wait for her in an old, filthy room.  His fitful rest is disturbed by a large gathering of strange people approaching the hotel, and Paul is forced to flee.  He ends up in a macabre tannery full of human skins, where he discovers Howard's skinned face.  He ends up fighting off several of the villagers by starting a fire, and finds momentary safety with an old drunkard named Ezequiel, the last human in Imboca.

Ezequiel explains how the worship of Dagon brought incredible wealth in the form of fish and gold to Imboca, but also terror when Dagon demanded live sacrifices and human women to breed with.  Paul realizes his friends are in danger, and begs Ezequiel to help him save Barbara and Vicki.  Ezequiel relents and takes Paul to the Mayor's manor, distracting some Imbocans long enough for Paul to slip inside.  There, Paul finds a beautiful woman named Uxia, who looks just like a mermaid Paul has dreamed of.  She saves him from discovery, but when Paul finds she isn't human either, flees again in horror, despite Uxia's pleas to stay.

Paul narrowly escapes a horde of more villagers by stealing an old car, but ends up crashing, and is caught and thrown into a barn, where he is reunited with Vicki, Ezequiel, and Barbara.  The three plan to escape, but the attempt comes to naught when they are discovered.  Having been raped and impregnated, Vicki kills herself, and Paul and Ezequiel manage to kill one guard and subdue another before being recaptured by the guards' backup. Barbara is taken away, and Paul and Ezequiel end up in a butchery, where they are chained and given a chance to join the worship of Dagon.  When they both refuse, Ezequiel is killed before Paul's eyes while they both recite Psalm 23.

Paul is saved by the appearance of Uxia, who informs Paul that he has no choice but to join them.  When he seems to concede, Uxia tells the priest to make arrangements for their marriage.  After Uxia leaves, Paul escapes, killing the guards and the priest, and starts desperately looking for Barbara, collecting a can of kerosene on the way.  His search brings him to the empty church and a hidden passage that takes him below ground, where a congregation of Imbocans are watching Uxia torture Barbara before the human woman is chained and lowered into a deep, water-filled pit.  While the Imbocan congregation and Uxia call to Dagon, Paul attacks, dousing several villagers in kerosene and lighting them on fire before pulling Barbara out of the pit.  However, it is too late to save her.  The monstrous Dagon himself grabs Barbara and drags her back down.

The uninjured Imbocans surround Paul, but are stayed by one man who is revealed to be Paul's father- and Uxia's as well.  Uxia explains that Paul's human mother escaped from Imboca years ago, but now that Paul has returned, he will be her lover, and they will go to dwell with Dagon forever, thanks to the Imbocans' immortality.  Trapped, Paul pours the last of the kerosene over his body and lights himself on fire.  Uxia grabs him and sends them both into the water, where Paul sprouts gills.  With no choice left, he follows Uxia down into a pit he has also dreamed of.

 

Cthulhu (2007)

  • Genre: Drama – Horror – Thriller
  • Directed: Daniel Gildark
  • Produced:
    • Jeffrey Brown 
    • Grant Cogswell 
    • Alexis Ferris 
    • Dan Gildark 
    • Garr Godfrey 
    • Laurie Hicks 
    • Anne Rosellini 
    • Roxanne Tarn
  • Written:
    • H.P. Lovecraft (Novel) 
    • Grant Cogswell (Story)  
    • Dan Gildark (Story) 
    • Jason Cottle (Story) 
    • Grant Cogswell (Screenplay) 
    • Douglas Light (Dialogue)
  • Starring: Tori Spelling, Cara Buono, Jason Cottle
  • Music: Willy Greer
  • Cinematography: Sean Kirby
  • Editing: Tony Fulgham
  • Studio:
    • Arkham Northwest Productions 
    • Cascadia Film Collective
  • Distributed:
    • Regent Releasing 
    • Eagle Films 
    • Optimale
  • Rated:
  • Release Date: 14 June 2007
  • Running Time: 109 minutes
  • Country: United States
  • Language: English

The film is loosely based on the short story "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" (1936) by H. P. Lovecraft.

The film moves the story from New England to the Pacific Northwest.  The film is notable for having a gay protagonist.  Screenwriter Grant Cogswell explained that he and Gildark chose to exploit the metaphor for the horror faced by a gay person returning for a relative's funeral and having to face the horrors of small-town life.  The film premiered June 14, 2007 at the Seattle International Film Festival and officially opened in select theatrical venues August 22, 2008.

When young history professor Russ is called upon by his sister to execute their late mother's estate, he is reunited with boyhood friend Mike, and with his father, the charismatic leader of a New Age cult.  While exploring his memories, Russ wanders into a warehouse where hundreds of names are listed on the walls.  As he sleeps that night, he dreams of a stone cudgel and awakens to find a cudgel in his motel room; the town drunk warns him that it is an instrument of sacrifice.  A young liquor store clerk enlists him to help find her brother, whom she believes has been taken by the cult.  Russ's aunt, who has been living in an asylum, tells him that his mother left a message hidden in her house.

Looking for answers in the warehouse, Russ is taken on an unbelievable journey through the small town's ancient, subterranean origins.  When he escapes, he and Mike find the girl's brother murdered.  Russ begins to believe preparations are underway for a mass sacrifice, and engages the attentions of a seductress in order to obtain information.  He is raped and arrested for murder on the eve of the May Festival.  The stakes are raised when Russ discovers that the cult intends to take over the world by raising anthropomorphic creatures from the sea.

The film ends with Russ and his best friend/lover being held by the cult, as Russ' father orders him to choose between the man he loves and the life he has been called to lead in his father's church.

The film holds a 62% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  Maitland McDonagh wrote, "it's a thoughtful and sometimes very creepy film that tackles big themes on a small budget and proves that in the right hands, ideas can trump special effects."  Steve Barton of Dread Central wrote, "Cthulhu is high on ambition and originality and the closest we've come to a true H. P. Lovecraft film."  Conversely, Mark Olsen of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "Cthulhu isn't awful, but it isn't particularly compelling either," while John Anderson of Variety wrote, "the acting is so emotionally unhinged and erratic it borders on camp."


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