Beyond the Wall of Shlock
LovecraCked! The MovieDirector: Tomas Almgren
Cast: Joanna Angel, Adam Armstrong, Nick Basile, Brian A. Bernhard, Chad Bernhard
Distributor: BiFF JUGGERNAUT Productions
MPAA rating: Unrated
Display Artist: Elias, Tomas Almgren
First date: 2006
US DVD Release Date: 2006-09-05
One gets the impression that Howard Phillips Lovecraft was a fairly humorless man. The weird-fiction short story writer never achieved fame in his lifetime outside of a small circle of devotees. H.P. Lovecraft died young, impoverished, and malnourished in 1937, never seeing the profound impact his work would end up having on the sci-fi and horror genres. From Lovecraft's aristocratic pretensions, tortured psyche, and Nietzschean worldview were born tales of horrid half-human hybrids, ancient texts containing horrifying rites and guarded by bookish antiquarians, and cosmic entities existing beyond space and time, good and evil.
Looking at Lovecraft's oeuvre, you'll find that many of his own unique obsessions have since become sci-fi and horror conventions, and have impacted a ton of contemporary horror and sci-fi, not least Stephen King. What you'll find very little of, however, is levity. There is, however, a whole body of humor that's sprung up around Lovecraft's work, that treats the Lovecraftian lexicon like the ultimate inside joke, you need look no further than Ash horribly botching incantations (culled from Day The Earth Stood Still) in Army of Darkness -- that book in the Evil Dead trilogy isn't just any Book of the Dead, it's the one and only Necronomicon.
The reason that Lovecraft's mythos is the source of as much left-field comedy as it is serious, horrific homage may be as indescribable as the extra-spatial architecture and perversely warped geometry in Lovecraft's famous tale of enigmatic cults and Elder God resurrection, The Call of Cthulhu. Maybe it's the ironic juxtaposition of fashioning an adorable stuffed animal after an ancient, squid-faced death-god that makes the plush version of Cthulhu such a hot seller. Maybe it's the sheer singularity of Lovecraft's unholy pantheon -- including, but not limited to cosmic entities named Yog Sothoth and Nyarlethotep, and the winged, body thieving fungi beings found in the superlatively creepy "The Whisperer in Darkness", who hail from the planet formerly known as Pluto (though Lovecraft fictionalized version of the then-newly discovered planet was called "Yuggoth")-- that makes "Cthulhu Comedy" possible. As any fan of Lovecraft can attest, there's a certain satisfaction derived from being familiar enough with such an idiosyncratic body of work to read the "Who Will Be Eaten First?" mock-Jack Chick pamphlet -- which discusses the importance of worshipping the Elder God in the hopes of, best case scenario, going mad and being consumed early on in the world's inexorable descent into swirling chaos -- and actually get the joke.
LovecraCked! is on odd take on the phenomenon of Lovecraft's comedic potential. It's an anthology of seven cinematic shorts, each by a different director, each either related to Lovecraft's work or attempting to capture some element of his unmistakable aesthetic. The various sketches are tenuously linked together by scenes of a journalist-narrator, played by Biff Juggernaut founder Elias, exploring Lovecraft's biography, or something resembling it. These Brooklyn based, no-budget cinema purveyors have an affinity for the cult of Monty Python as much as for the cult of Cthulhu. From the fragmented, Terry Gilliam style DVD cover artwork on, LovecraCked! aspires to be Python-on-Lovecraft with production values that make Troma look like Industrial Light and Magic. At some points, it manages to sincerely capture an air of classic Python-esque absurdity.
Throughout LovecraCked!, satirical speculation about Lovecraft's lonesome life comes with a hefty helping of classic sight-gags. During a legitimately creepy narration of Lovecraft's "The Outsider", the camera pans onto Elias, who continues narrating, inexplicably sans-pants. He interviews a German about Lovecraft's legacy while the interviewee has an entirely different conversation in German (wasn't that joke already used in National Lampoon's European Vacation? Ah well, it works anyhow.) Troma's venerable Lloyd Kaufman drops by for a cameo in a Tromatic take on Vaudevillian miscommunication, with Kaufmann trying to hawk Troma DVDs and Elias trying to pump him for info on Lovecraft's life. The Biff Juggernaut crew play fast-and-loose with Lovecraft's life story for yuks, but also pay a decent amount of homage to the master exemplified, for instance in a short skit that depicts a nervous young Lovecraft pounding away at his typewriter in a fittingly frantic frenzy.
As for the shorts themselves, as in any anthology, some skits are better than others. Some parallel the comedic overtones of the rest of the movie, and others are straight forward homemade attempts at Lovecraft in all his maddened glory on shoestring budgets. "Bugboy" is a black-and-white tale of lost love that ends with a gooey, pulsating cocoon and a slimy mutation. "Remain" employs stop-motion to create a truly chilling if not Hellraiser-inspired take on the merging of an artist with his otherworldly art. "Alecto" offers a tale of abuse that neglects to depict gore in favor of unsettling imagery and the good old fashioned head-gripping, brain-boiling madness pervasive throughout so much of Lovecraft's work.
Without the budget to create a massive, undulating, extra-spatial beast a'la John Carpenter's In The Mouth of Madness or, more recently, Stephen King's "Crouch End" from his Nightmare and Dreamscapes mini-series (which didn't quite meet the expectations of fans of the original story, or its Lovecraftian roots), each director employs weird imagery, mind-numbing sound effects, and uber-creepy atmospherics so that even if the acting is sometimes expectedly amateurish, LovecraCked! is showcasing indie-innovation at its best. Some of the strongest shorts don't even name-check Lovecraft's anti-pantheon directly, but recall his work purely in mood and mindset.
In terms of sheer shock-schlock comedy, the crowning glory of LovecraCked! is a shortened version of burningangel.com's Re-Penetrator. For those unfamiliar with the world of internet punk-rock pornography, Re-Penetrator is a hardcore porn send-up of cult Lovecraft film Reanimator. Featuring punk-porn maven Joanna Angel as a sex-starved stripper zombie reanimated by Herbert West's familiar green-glowing goo, the film explores uncharted territory in terms of good taste. Somewhere between watching a gore-addled cunnilingus scene that wouldn't be out of place at a GWAR concert, and a complete disemboweling, you wonder if you shouldn't have donned a tuxedo and a monocle in preparation for viewing such classy imagery. Re-Penetrator brings the disparate genres of horror and hardcore pornography together at last, creating space for a whole new genre of bad jokes about "Halloweenies".
Yeah, the Re-Penetrator is a must-see if you're of a certain debased mindset (or if you're a traditionalist busybody and have run out of things to be shocked by/protest). But the entire 87 minute film has been around, in all its controversial glory, since 2004 (I just looked this up, I promise, it's not like I watch a lot of zombie-porn). Of course, in terms of an anything-goes indie-Lovecraft anthology, it'd probably irresponsible not to include it in some form.
Even if it's not necessarily the most organized or consistent merging of Lovecraftian insanity and madcap hilarity imaginable, LovecraCked! packs in enough absurd laughs and homemade avant-garde scares to make it worth checking out, whether your idea of "cult" includes boundary pushing b-grade splatters or black-clad worshippers of Shub-Niggurath, The Black Goat of the Woods with A Thousand Young.
The DVD extras give you a chance to catch a few shorts made by filmmakers whose work is featured in the movie, not to mention some past short films and music videos by Elias and Biff Juggernaut. "The Voice Inside", a psychological shock-horror short, and two ever-so-slightly disturbing videos done in the late '90s for industrial act Things Outside the Skin, are necessary viewing if you're into creepy and disturbing imagery, Lovecraftian or not.