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The H.P. Lovecraft Collection, Vol. 1: Cool Air - horror/sci-fi DVD / action adventure DVD review
THE H.P. LOVECRAFT COLLECTION, VOL. 1: COOL AIR Unrated by the Motion Picture Association of America curledupdvd.com rating: 4 stars
Actors: Bryan Moore, Vera Lockwood, Jack Donner
Directors: Bryan Moore, Anthony Penta, Christian Matzke   Studio: Microcinema
DVD release: 27 May 2008   Runtime: 140 minutes (1 disc)
Format: Color, DVD-Video, NTSC
DVD features: Audio tracks (Dolby Digital Stereo - English), Exclusive interviews with cast & crew of Cool Air, Interview with Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi, Openers from the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival, 8-page booklet on Lovecraft and the films

The centerpiece of Volume 1 of The H.P. Lovecraft Collection is an adaptation of Lovecraft's, "Cool Air," along with short film versions of "Herbert West - Re-Animator," Nyarlahotep" and "The Hound." Of these films, the centerpiece, Cool Air, clearly dominates the others in terms of quality and effectiveness.

The story: in the hot summer of 1925, writer Randolph Carter (Bryan Moore) moves into a boardinghouse run by a cantankerous old woman (Vera Lockwood). When the young writer is struck with a heart attack, he is saved by unconventional means by the mysterious physician who lives upstairs, one Dr. Munoz (Jack Donner). Randolph befriends the doctor, who seems to truly appreciate the young man's company. However, Randolph cannot help but notice that the Doctor (1) never leaves his apartment, and (2) somehow keeps his room frigid with the help of a strange machine. Randolph soon learns the sad, haunting truth about the doctor's condition, why his apartment is so cold and, finally, the true meaning behind the doctor's phrase, "Never underestimate the power of the human will."

This film won the 1999 Lovecraft Festival, and the award seems well deserved. The film is outstanding, especially considering its shoestring budget. I expect a film based on a Lovecraft work to be creepy, yet I did not expect one to be so poignant and sad as well.

The strengths of this film are not special effects, but the writing and the acting. As Dr. Munoz (who apparently was not a particularly sympathetic character in Lovecraft's original), Jack Donner is unforgettable as a figure who clings to his dignity in the face of almost perverse tragedy. Near the end of the film, he gives an eloquent, moving account of the tragic events that led him to his small apartment. I doubt there are many other actors who could have delivered this soliloquy and made it as effective, as heartbreaking, as Donner does. As for the rest of the small cast, director Moore plays Randolph and does well making him likeable and sympathetic - especially considering his role is basically to be the thankless "straight man" to Dr. Munoz and the rest of the cast. My only minor complaint: the landlady (Vera Lockwood) was likely intended for some comedy relief, but her character comes off a bit too sour and whiny for me.

The other short films on the disc, unfortunately, are nowhere near as accomplished as Cool Air. Two of the shorts are by Anthony Penta. One, "The Hound," involves a pair of grave robbers who come to a gruesome end. The film has no dialogue spoken on screen by the actors, only off-screen narration: the narrator basically recites the story. This style simply does not work for me, as often the actors seem to be standing around, almost waiting for the narration to catch up to them in order to react. The other by Penta, "The Hapless Antiquarian," is a six-minute short done in the style of a 1920s silent film, including a sepia tint and garish overacting. The premise is somewhat clever - the story advances as a romantic couplet narrated letter by letter through the alphabet as the narration is acted out on screen. However, the film is pretty much fluff and doesn't have a real tie-in with a Lovecraft story.

The other two shorts are by Christian Matzke. "Nyarlathotep," like Pant's "The Hounds," has no spoken dialogue on-screen and instead features a word-for-word reading of the short story. To be honest, the film is hard to follow (and I did watch it more than once). It appears to be about a resurrected mummy who travels to a small town as a magician and brings about the apocalypse, but I'm not sure. I was also distracted by the laughably fake Egyptian "beard" worn by Nyarlathotep. Matzke's other film, "An Imperfect Solution," interprets part of Lovecraft's serialized horror adventure "Herbert West: Re-Animator." Save for a few moments of rather expected amateurish acting, it's a significant improvement over his other film as it is more clearly plotted and easy to follow. The story is quite similar to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in theme: a brilliant doctor goes mad and homicidal in pursuit of his goal to re-animate the dead.

All of the features on this disc were made on shoe-string budgets by people who made these films as true labors of love rather than for monetary gain. Still, Cool Air is hands-down the most accomplished work on this disc, and it alone makes the disc worth seeing (the quite moving final shot of the film will stay with me for awhile).

  • Scene selection for Cool Air
  • An informative interview with Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi
  • Two short introductions to the Lovecraft Film Festival
  • An eight-page printed booklet
The best extra: a very entertaining, informative set of interviews with the cast and crew of Cool Air. Moore and crew discuss the many obstacles they had to hurdle to get this film presented. (Note: the cast and crew actually trespassed onto the boardinghouse property in order to film the movie!)
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reviewed by Trent Daniel
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