Posts Tagged ‘Lovecraft-inspired’

Altitude (2010)

06/20/2011 2 comments

Some cryptozoologists have described accounts of creatures called “atmospheric beasts”, non-winged creatures that dwell in the antmospheres of planets. Carl Sagan proposed that such creatures could potentially live in the atmosphere of gas giants like Jupiter, while more esoteric thinkers have speculated that UFO sightings might actually be eyewitness accounts of atmospheric beasts in Earth’s stratosphere. Well, if people can imagine it, other people can make a movie out of it, and this one decided to pass this phenomenon through the Lovecraft filter. How well did it do? Let’s find out.

Altitude is a Lovecraftian horror film directed by Canadian comic book writer and artist Kaare Andrews. It stars Jessica Lowndes, Julianna Guill, Landon Loboiron, Ryan Donowho, and a big tentacle monster.

When Sara was a little girl, her mother was killed when the plane she was flying crashed into another plane in midair, also killing two of the three passengers. Nobody knew where the other plane had come from, and it would remain a mystery for years. Fortunately, the threat of random ninja planes has not dissuaded Sara from getting her own pilot’s license, and years later she plans to fly herself and four friends to Montreal in another small plane. Sara’s boyfriend Bruce is nervous about the flight, but the others (resident douchebag Sal, his girlfriend Mel, and Sara’s cousin Cory) are excited about the trip, so Bruce grins and bears it for Sara’s sake. However, midflight a bolt in the tail comes loose, jamming the elevator and sending the plane into an uncontrolled climb. As Sara tries to regain control of the small plane, their trajectory sends them into a storm, where they lose all radio contact with the ground. This would be bad enough, were it not for the tentacle monster living in the storm…

I found this movie fairly randomly on Netflix, and when it arrived this weekend I mentally shrugged and said, “what the hell”. I’d seen some good indie movies from Canada (Cube comes to mind), and I was a fan of well-done Lovecraftian horror (see also Event Horizon). However, this movie had two strikes against it right off the bat. First, it was a direct-to-video feature. I’d seen some entertaining DTV movies in my day, and while many of them were entertaining, the overwhelming majority were hilariously bad. Secondly, director Kaare Andrews is better known for his comic books than his movies – Altitude being his first feature film. While this means that he has a good sense for visuals, Frank Miller has shown us that being a bitchin’ comics guy does not mean you will necessarily be a bitchin’ movies guy.

The story did hold some promise, in a Twilight Zone sort of way, offering a weird random phenomenon that could not be adequately explained by the laws of science, but in actual execution it fell flat. We are given only the briefest characterization for the core cast before the story unfolds, not nearly enough to make the viewer care about these people even in the last third when the really hinky stuff starts happening in earnest. While this movie is relatively short – only about an hour and a half long – most of the parts that did not involve solving the plane’s malfunction or the plane and its passengers being tentacle raped by the cloud monster felt like padding. In truth, a lot of this filler could have been trimmed out, and the result shown as an episode of Tales from the Darkside or The Twilight Zone. When things start getting really twisty at the end, I was left feeling less like, “Oh, that was clever” and more, “Where the hell did that come from?!” There are good twists and lazy twists, and this felt like a lazy twist. This, coupled with dodgy special effects, left me feeling like this could have been a much better movie is more effort had been put into it.

I will be the first to admit that it is difficult to make a good Lovecraft pastiche, but in the case of Altitude, it started out in the real world, set a course for Lovecraft Country, but overshot and crashlanded in the Twilight Zone. It’s a badly assembled collection of parts that might have been good, but ended up mediocre. Give this one a miss.


In the Mouth of Madness (1994)

H. P. Lovecraft knew a long time ago that there was a fate worse than death. However, this was not, as many believe, insanity. In the world envisioned by Lovecraft, everyone must remain slightly deluded in order to protect themselves from the more horrifying truths of the universe, and from truly comprehending our own place in it. Therefore, in Lovecraft’s universe the only fate worse than death is stark raving sanity.

John Trent is just looking for a few answers. He is about to find them… whether he wants to or not.

In the Mouth of Madness in a horror film directed by John Carpenter and written by Michael de Luca. The third film in what Carpenter calls his Apocalypse Trilogy (following The Thing and Prince of Darkness), this movie stars Sam Neill, Julie Carmen, Jürgen Prochnow, David Warner, Frances Bay, John Glover, and Bernie Casey.

Insurance investigator John Trent is very good at his job, winnowing out the truth behind would-be insurance scams. When hideously-popular horror writer Stephen King Sutter Cane comes up missing, with his latest book still pending, Trent thinks finding the reclusive author will be a snap – a publicity stunt meant to drive up demand for the expected book. These books are already wildly popular, but can cause sanity-shredding effects in readers who might not have all their marbles to start. Trent doesn’t believe the hype, but when he starts reading Cane’s books to find out what all the hoo-ha is about he starts to suffer vivid nightmares of monsters and deformed humanoids. He also finds that the cover art of Cane’s paperbacks contain strange red-lined shapes that when lined up properly, form a map of the state of New Hampshire, pointing to a town that only exists in Cane’s novels – Hobb’s End.

Sensing a possible lead, Trent goes looking for this town with Linda Styles, Cane’s editor, sent along to assist Trent. Unexpectedly, he does find Hobb’s End – populated by the fictional characters and storylines from Cane’s books. However, little does he know that his terror is only beginning, as he discovers that Hobb’s End lies far outside the comfortable reality he knows…

Throughout the 80’s, John Carpenter became known for some really kickass horror movies, and In the Mouth of Madness is no exception. Starting off as a mystery, in the style of many of Lovecraft’s short stories (and if you know Lovecraft’s stuff, you already have a fair idea how Trent’s journey will end), the story soon starts down a very dark tunnel that will have you wondering how “real” Trent’s world is, and for that matter whether Hobb’s End is more or less “real” than the “real world”. Numerous authors have since played with recursive reality in this way, like Danielewski’s House of Leaves, but this is really damn hard to pull off in visual media. I am happy to say the Carpenter nailed it, with the budget and resources of an 80’s horror movie. There is no CGI, and truthfully you don’t see many monsters (and what monsters are on screen are dimly perceived at best). However, it is still clear that Hobb’s End infects those who live and visit there, until the veil of sanity is finally clawed away from Trent’s eyes, showing him the true nature of things.

This is one of two movies I’ve seen where Sam Neill’s character goes batshit crazy, and he does “insane” well. He doesn’t overact it, not even at that moment where you realize… yup, his cheese has officially slid off his cracker. Trent and Cane are the only two characters that get any sort of fleshing out – but that’s the point. The whole premise relies on taking writing conventions and batting them all over the floor like a cat with a toy mouse. The people in Hobb’s End are simultaneously fictional and real, in ways that cheerfully stretch the fabric of this movie’s universe, until something has to give. And if that isn’t mindbending enough, several characters even discuss their own fictionality, especially when they do weird things because “that’s how he (Cane) wrote me”. Of course, by the end the fourth wall is gleefully shredded, and… well, there’s a reason why this is the third movie in the Apocalypse Trilogy.

If you like a good, trippy horror movie that messes with your perceptions of “real” and “fictional”, check this movie out. John Carpenter ably pays homage to Lovecraft’s work in ways that few directors have been able to do before or since. And remember: Reality is only what we tell each other it is.

Event Horizon (1997)

Hell is only a word.  The reality is much, much worse.

In the year 2040, the faster-than-light starship Event Horizon embarked on its maiden voyage to test an experimental gravity drive that used an artificial black hole to create a temporary wormhole, allowing instantaneous travel between any two points in space.  It disappeared without a trace. 

Good news:  In 2047, the Event Horizon was spotted in orbit around Neptune.

Now for the bad news…

The experiment was a complete success.

Event Horizon is a British science fiction horror film written by Philip Eisner, directed by Paul W. S. Anderson, and starring Laurence “The Matrix” Fishburne, Kathleen “Apollo 13” Quinlan, Joely “The Patriot” Richardson, Jack “Idle Hands” Noseworthy, Jason “Lucius Malfoy” Isaacs, and Sam “Jurassic Park” Neill.  Since its release it has been happily adopted by fans of Warhammer 40,000 as part of that universe’s backstory, and readers of Lovecraft will find many familiar elements in its concept of a realm infinitely worse than hell waiting just beyond the fabric of the known universe.

When the Event Horizon reappears within our solar system, a salvage team is sent to recover it.  Led by Captain Miller (Fishburne), the crew of the Lewis and Clark are accompanied by Dr. Weir (Neill), the original designer of the Event Horizon, who explains how the gravity drive was supposed to work.  The team discovers that the crew has been massacred, but all the final entry in the ship’s video log tells them is that everything was Just Fine until they activated the gravity drive – at which point everything went completely (and literally) to hell.

As the salvage mission continues, Engineer Ensign Justin (Noseworthy) is pulled into the gravity drive’s core, returning in a catatonic state and later attempting suicide due to whatever he saw within.  It is not long before the rest of the crew starts having hallucinations of their various fears and regrets: Miller sees a former teammate he was forced to abandon, and Weir sees his dead wife (missing her eyes, for bonus scary points).  After a cleanup of the log show the crew going insane and violently mutilating each other (deleted footage also depicted a sadomasochistic orgy recorded on the log that probably would have made Clive Barker blush), the salvage crew is faced with the possibility that the Event Horizon’s maiden voyage actually dropped it into Hell (or worse), and brought something back with it… something that plans to return home with this new batch of victims.

While the script is pretty much an excuse plot and some of the dialogue turns cheesy at times, the cast of Event Horizon do a good job in carrying the horrific concept of the film.  Sam Neill is delightfully unnerving as he allows the darkness of That Other Place to corrupt his soul, his obsession with recovering his baby slipping easily into insanity with only a nudge.  The Event Horizon itself even comes across as its own character before they start anthropomorphizing it, with its almost actively malevolent design inspired by the Notre Dame Cathedral with more spikes and alien geometries than any sane man would put into a scientific vessel.

The special effects are well-done and subtle throughout this movie thanks to the studio’s decision to go with a smaller FX company to keep the budget down, with only a few points where they were obvious (the late Mrs. Weir’s empty eye sockets and the clearly animatronic legs in one shot of Miller’s burning comrade).  The cleaned up video log is a true nightmare, a surreal bloodbath that stabs you right in your primitive animal brain while making your logical brain demand to go back and make sure that it really saw what it thought it saw.  While the “chaos dimension” that induced all the madness is only mentioned and never seen, it is clear that, whatever the FX guys could come up with to depict it, the reality of it would have been much worse.  Worth noting is the fact that the original cut was 130 minutes, with more gore and a longer segment of vlog to enjoy, but test audiences and the studio were both so disturbed by the result that Anderson was ordered to scale it back, to his regret, and the footage has since been lost.

In the end, despite its flaws, this movie is a chilling and welcome addition to sci-fi horror.  If you want a little horror in your sci fi, go see Alien.  If you want a little sci-fi in your horror, go see Event Horizon.  Alone.  With the lights off.