CC: Some Short Story Adaptations

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

CC: Some Short Story Adaptations

In the course of research on my Lovecraft feature sometimes I have to overlook some of his work simply because the only adaptations are short films.  Usually I prefer to stick with the feature length films but tonight I shall talk about a few of the shorts that caught my attention and their inspiring work.

The Tryout was an amateur press publication published by Charles W. Smith from his home at 308 Groveland St. in Haverhill, Massachusetts, U.S.A.

First released in 1914, The Tryout was a National Amateur Press Association publication.  Charles Smith had a printing press in a shed in his backyard where he put it together.  The publication was noted for its typographical errors, referred to by H.P. Lovecraft as "tryoutisms".  The Tryout is noted as the publication that first published many of H. P. Lovecraft's stories, poems and articles, as well as those of others of his circle, including Clark Ashton Smith.

Certain works included in the publication indicated the friendship between the writers, and included the poems “To Jonathan Hoag Esq.” (Feb 1918) by Lovecraft; “Lovecraft: An Appreciation” (Apr. 1918) by Arthur Goodenough - with the same year seeing a response in the form of Lovecraft's poem “To Arthur Goodenough, Esq” (Aug. 1918); and “To Mr. Hoag on his Ninety-fourth Birthday, February 10” by Lovecraft.

Lovecraft wrote under various pseudonyms for The Tryout, including Lawrence Appleton, Alexander Ferguson Blair, Archibald Maynwaring, Henry Paget-Lowe, Ward Phillips, Richard Raleigh, Ames Dorrance Rowley, Edward Softly and Lewis Theobald, Jr.

Also included in The Tryout is a five part history of amateur journalism written by Lovecraft, which began in the February 1920 issue.

 

The Terrible Old Man

"The Terrible Old Man" is a very short story (less than 1200 words) written on January 28, 1920, and first published in the Tryout, an amateur press publication, in July 1921.  It's notable as the first story to make use of Lovecraft's imaginary New England setting, introducing the fictional town of Kingsport.

The Terrible Old Man is a strange elderly man "so old that no one can remember when he was young, and so taciturn that few know his real name".  He lives alone in an ancient house on Water Street in the town of Kingsport. Even among the locals, few know the details of the Old Man's life, but it is believed that he captained East Indian clipper ships in his youth and had accumulated great jewels and riches throughout his life.  Those who had visited the property had seen bizarre collections of stones in the front yard and observed the Old Man carrying on conversations with bottles on his table.  Most locals take care to avoid the Old Man and his house.

The story focuses on three robbers, Angelo Ricci, Joe Czanek and Manuel Silva, who are "of that new and heterogeneous alien stock which lies outside the charmed circle of New England life and traditions".  They take little heed of the locals' cautionary whisperings and disregard them completely when they hear that the Old Man possesses a treasure.  They act immediately on their avarice according to their natures, and go to the Old Man's house to commit robbery.  Ricci and Silva go inside to "interview" the Old Man about the treasure and its hiding place.  Czanek waits outside in their vintage car.  Czanek waits impatiently for a long while, startled at one point by an outburst of horrific screaming from the house.  After a time, the gate of the house opens, but it is not his accomplices who emerge but the house's inhabitant.

The bodies of the three robbers are later found horribly mutilated down on the beach, "horribly slashed as with many cutlasses, and horribly mangled as by the tread of many cruel boot-heels".  The people talk about them, as well as about the abandoned car and the screams heard in the night, but the Terrible Old Man professes to have no interest in these things.

According to IMDB, this story has been adapted three times:

Nyarlathotep

"Nyarlathotep" is a short story by H. P. Lovecraft written in 1920, and first published in the November 1920 issue of The United Amateur.  It is the first mention in fiction of the Cthulhu Mythos entity Nyarlathotep.

The story is written in first person and begins by describing a strange and inexplicable sense of foreboding experienced by humanity in general, in anticipation of a great unknown evil.

The story proceeds to describe the appearance of Nyarlathotep as a "man" of the race of the Pharaohs, who claims to have been dormant for the past twenty-seven centuries, and his subsequent travels from city to city demonstrating his supernatural powers.  Wherever Nyarlathotep went, the story relates, the inhabitants' sleep would be plagued by vivid nightmares.

The story describes Nyarlathotep's arrival in the narrator's city, and the narrator's attendance at one of Nyarlathotep's demonstrations, in which he defiantly dismisses Nyarlathotep's displays of power as mere tricks. The party of observers is driven away by an infuriated Nyarlathotep, and wanders off into at least three columnar groups: One disappears around a corner, from which is then heard a moaning sound; another disappears into a subway station with the sound of mad laughter; and the third group, which contains the narrator, travels outward from the city toward the country.

The story ends by describing horrific, surreal vistas experienced by the party, in which they realize horror and doom have come to the world.

 

Nyarlathotep (2001)

  • Genre: Short – Horror – Thriller
  • Directed: Christian Matzke
  • Produced: Unknown
  • Written:
    • H.P. Lovecraft (Short Story “Nyarlathotep)
    • Christian Matzke (Screenplay)
  • Starring: Dan Harrod, Christian Matzke, Michael Kristan, James Cagney IV, Matt Little, Johann Matzke, David Meiklejohn, John Musacchio, Galen Richmond, Angela Staples, Jeremy Willis
  • Music: Unknown
  • Cinematography: Unknown
  • Editing: Christian Matzke
  • Studio:
    • Beyond Books 
    • Crawling Chaos Pictures
  • Distributed: Unknown
  • Rated: NR
  • Release Date: 18 August 2001
  • Running Time: 13 minutes
  • Country: United States
  • Language: English

"I am the last...I will tell the audient void."  Thomas Melinsky from Ohio says:

Anyone who watches horror flicks knows that good pictures are often few and far between.  As far as watching pictures based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft, good movies are fewer are farther between.  That's been my experience, anyway.  Perhaps I haven't been looking in the right circles.  I've not read H.P. Lovecraft's short story, "Nyarlathotep," and that's a crime in the right circles.  However, it wasn't necessary, and it shouldn't BE necessary. This picture's got that covered.

I first watched "Nyarlathotep" at Necronomicon, Providence, RI in 2001.  Most of the films were shorts, like this one.  As I've heard - more isn't always better, sometimes it's just more (okay, I took that from a movie, and I'm a movie lover at heart). And this one uses its fifteen odd minutes wisely.

With powerful images and an eerie soundtrack, "Nyarlathotep" comes to life (literally as you soon find out).  The main character and narrator, Dr. Burke, hears word of a mysterious traveler and inventor, Nyarlathotep.  The charismatic traveler has deeper secrets than his inventions, and his naive followers slowly unearth his twisted truths.

I won't spoil the story, but suffice to say, most characters in Lovecraft stories end up insane or dead - like one might expect from this genre.  It's all in the telling, and the telling here is superior.  I bought the film, and I've watched it more than any other picture I own.

The Music of Erich Zann

"The Music of Erich Zann" is a short story by American author H. P. Lovecraft.  Written in December 1921, it was first published in National Amateur, March 1922.

A university student is forced, by his lack of funds, to take the only lodging he can afford.  In a strange part of the city he had never seen before, on a street named "Rue d'Auseil", he finds an apartment in an almost empty building.  One of the few other tenants is an old German man named Erich Zann.  The old man is mute and plays the viol1 with a local orchestra.  He lives on the top floor and when alone at night, plays strange melodies never heard before.  Over time, the student gains Zann's trust, and eventually learns of his secret, that the old man has discovered melodies and rhythms of sound of an almost otherworldly nature.  Zann plays these sounds to keep back unknown and unseen creatures from Zann's window, which is said to look out into a black abyss, most likely another dimension.

The setting of the story is presumably Paris, though the city is never named. Auseil is not a true French word, but it has been suggested that Lovecraft derived it from the phrase au seuil, meaning at the threshold.  Auseil is read like oseille, meaning sorrel or, colloquially, money.

Lovecraft considered "The Music of Erich Zann" one of his best stories, in part because it avoided the over explicitness that he saw as a major flaw in some of his other work. An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia notes that it "might, however, be said that HPL erred on the side of under explicitness in the very nebulous horror to be seen through Zann's garret window."

IMDB states that a total of six shorts have been inspired by this tale (five in a two year span), and they are:

In the Vault

"In the Vault" is a short story by H. P. Lovecraft, written on September 18, 1925 and first published in the November 1925 issue of the amateur press journal Tryout.

"In the Vault" was based on a suggestion made in August 1925 by Charles W. Smith, editor of the amateur journal Tryout, which Lovecraft recorded in a letter:  "an undertaker imprisoned in a village vault where he was removing winter coffins for spring burial, and his escape by enlarging a transom reached by the piling up of the coffins".  Lovecraft accordingly dedicated the story to Smith.

George Birch, undertaker for the New England town of Peck Valley, finds himself trapped in the vault where coffins are stored during winter for burial in the spring.  When Birch piles up coffins in order to climb out through the vault's window, his feet break through the lid of the top coffin, injuring his ankles and forcing him to crawl out of and away from the vault.

Later, Dr. Davis investigates the vault, and finds that the top coffin was one of inferior workmanship that Birch used as a repository for Asaph Sawyer, a vindictive townsperson whom Birch had disliked, even though the coffin had originally been built for the much shorter Matthew Fenner.   Davis finds that Birch had cut off Sawyer's feet to fit the body in the coffin—and that the wounds in Birch's ankles are teeth marks.

The story was rejected by Weird Tales in November 1925; according to Lovecraft, editor Farnsworth Wright feared that "its extreme gruesomeness would not pass the Indiana censorship", a reference to the controversy of C. M. Eddy, Jr.'s "The Loved Dead"2.

After being published in Tryout, the story was submitted in August 1926 to Ghost Stories, a "very crude" pulp magazine that specialized in "true" tales of the supernatural, which also rejected it.  August Derleth urged Lovecraft to resubmit the story to Weird Tales in 1931, which finally published it in its April 1932 edition.

An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia calls "In the Vault" "a commonplace tale of supernatural vengeance" in which "HPL attempts unsuccessfully to write in a more homespun, colloquial vein."

You can watch the whole short film at -- In The Vault on Vimeo

 

Notes:

1.  The viol or viola da gamba is any one of a family of bowed, fretted and stringed musical instruments that first appeared in the mid to late 15th century and was most popular in the Renaissance and Baroque periods.  Early ancestors include the Arabic rebab and the medieval European vielle, but later, more-direct possible ancestors include the Venetian viole and the 15th- and 16th-century Spanish vihuela, a 6-course plucked instrument tuned like a lute (and also like a present-day viol) that looked like but was quite distinct from the (at that time) 4-course guitar (an earlier chordophone).

2. The plot centers around an unnamed narrator living in the rural village of Fenham who is a necrophile.  He describes his repressive childhood and what drove him to commit these crimes.  He works for one Mortuary/Undertaker after another, in order to be near corpses.  At the end of the story, with police hot on his trail, he commits suicide.  Due to the tale's grisly subject matter, and so controversial was the story in style and descriptiveness, copies of Weird Tales had to be withdrawn from sale in many places.  Within days, the magazine had become a cause célèbre (a controversial issue that attracts a great deal of public attention), and any surviving copies were immediately snapped up.

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