Nearly 75 years after H.P. Lovecraft’s death and the Cthulhu Mythos is going strong in books, comics, games, movies and music. Cinematically speaking there have been nearly 100 adaptations of his work. Naturally, this high level of output is going to bring out the hucksters looking for a quick buck. Today we will examine two of the worst offenders.
As a VJ rule of law, you always know you are going to be in for a rough time when the opening credits feature grammar errors. No joke, the on-screen title here reads H.P. LOVECRAFT THE TOMB. Is Lovecraft starring in this and top billed? Yup, they forgot the oh-so-important apostrophe “S” on there (the box gets it right). Anyway, Tara (Victoria Ullmann) and Billy (Christian Behm, who also edited under the pseudonym Xgin…really!) wake up in what appears to be a warehouse filled with 9 candles, 2 doll heads (creeeeeepy) and 8 coffins. A disembodied voice informs them they will “play a game” in “the tomb” as they must find 6 other folks and guess their captor’s name in addition to their connection. “Eight nails. Who fails?” he constantly teases them over the PA system.
Hmmmmm, the plot sounds awfully familiar. Yup, good ol’ Lommel is getting his SAW on big time. One can’t even begin to convey how bad this film is. It is shot-on-video and looks terrible. The sound is so muffled that I had to turn on the subtitles to understand what characters were saying. The set design consists of handing some poor PA $50 and telling them to go wild at the dollar store during Halloween. And, of course, you have the fact that Lommel is ripping off SAW hard. But the killer’s motivation is laughable. Everyone has wronged him in some way and he writes down their offense in his little book. One guy’s offense? “He sold me a lemon!” Yup, our killer Morris (Gerard Griesbaum) is willing to kidnap someone and torture them because he wasn’t smart enough to kick the tires on the used car lot. I’d almost want to give Lommel credit and assume he is doing a spoof of the inane SAW revenge motif. But then he shows the killer watching his captives on a computer WITH THE MONITOR TURNED OFF and I just remember Lommel’s an idiot.
This ain’t got hell all to do with Lovecraft stories outside of Lovecraft adaptations being all the rage in the late 80s. “From the imagination of H.P. Lovecraft” boasts the video box. Please point me in the direction of his stories about cocaine deals gone wrong at a carnival. The actual screen credit is a little more diplomatic, claiming the film was “Inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft.” So if you pretty much throw the word Cthulhu onscreen you are good to go in the world of video marketing.
Of course, this type of exploitation is understandable when you know who was behind it. Director Juan Piquer Simon is a favorite round these parts for his goofy slasher masterpiece PIECES (1982) and the world’s best killer slug movie ever SLUGS (1988). This film, sadly, lacks the charm and insanity of those two but it is not without its moments. At least Simon was honest when he said of the film in 1991 to Fangoria, “It would be pretentious on my part to say that CTHULHU MANSION truly ‘does justice’ to Lovecraft’s writings.” The aforementioned on stage tragedy is a riot, especially when the mute assistant bolts onto stage and tries to put the flame engulfed floating wife out with a fire extinguisher. I can’t think of a worse day at the office. The whole gang gets it in a variety of bizarre ways including death by monster in the fridge, a blood spewing shower, killer ivy and flying cutlery. And the end demon is dispelled by literally turning his upside down cross right side up. Genius!
Finlay graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and I bet the day he received his diploma he never foresaw himself acting in this. Of course, he is a pro and gives it his all (hard lessons learned from starring at Mathilda May’s breasts on LIFEFORCE, no doubt) in what is easily the worst entry on his filmography. The rest of the cast is not quite up to Finlay’s snuff. Fisher is a riot (in all the wrong ways) as the gang leader Hawk. He eventually ended up in several RED SHOE DIARIES episodes and that seems appropriate. Sweet gang member Melanie Shatner is, indeed, the daughter of Captain Kirk and she is pretty damn attractive. She thankfully hasn’t inherited her father’s flair for the overdramatic and went on to earn her stripes in SYNGENOR (1990) and the first two SUBSPECIES sequels. Sadly, she keeps her clothes on. In fact, nudity is lacking in the entire thing and I shame you Mr. PIECES.
This was released in some territories as BLACK MAGIC MANSION and I think that title is more apt. It would stifle the Lovecraft crowd hate and be seen as merely a goofy ass 80s house with monsters flick. As I mentioned in THE UNNAMABLE reviews, there is an inherent charm to be found films like this. After all it is at least shot on film, has decent actors, some monsters and enough unintentional laughs to make it worth while. It has its fans. In fact, I know my good friend Jon Kitley loooves it.