Volume 2 of The H.P. Lovecraft Collection, titled "Dreams of Cthulhu," features the BBC pilot Rough Magik as its centerpiece, along with four short films: The Terrible Old Man, From Beyond, Experiment 17 and Experiment 18.
The Rough Magik pilot, written and produced by Stephen W. Parsons and directed by Jamie Payne, was created in 1999. Though not picked up as a series by the BBC, its premise is promising: a top-secret organization called The Night Scholars have uncovered that an ancient Sleeping God is invading the dreams and controlling the will of unsuspecting humans (called Dreamers) in order to create chaos and anarchy in the world. According to the liner notes, the Night Scholars, led by a Mr. Moon, were effective at hunting down dreamers, but stepped on the wrong bureaucratic toes and were disbanded. However, after a disturbing increase in Dreamers and evidence that the Sleeping God is awakening, the Night Scholars are reunited, and it is up to Mr. Moon to control the situation before it is too late.
The featured episode has a genuinely creepy and disturbing opening as a female Dreamer nonchalantly sacrifices her two children to the Sleeping God. After investigating this event, Mr. Moon brings a bizarre sculpture made by the woman to the studio of former Night Scholar Kenneth Warren. Mr. Moon then interrogates Warren, and the rest of the film primarily revolves around Warren (heavily drugged) recounting his experience while serving on patrol in the Falkland Islands War, in particular the gruesome and bizarre encounter his patrol had at an isolated farmhouse on the island.
Unfortunately, the film does not build on the momentum of its opening. Though there are some particularly gruesome moments at the end of Warren's story, it does drag a bit in the middle and certain moments seem in need of further explanation. This problem is likely to due to this being a pilot for a proposed The X-Files-type series; it seems that at various points, the foundations for key points in the main story arc are being laid down, with the intention of more and more information to be presented as the series unfolds. Thus, while the film has some strong moments and would be of interest to fans of Lovecraft, it again does not build on its strong start and there is a sense of incompleteness about it.
My personal favorite film on the disc is The Terrible Old Man by Bob Fugger. Unlike the labyrinthine Rough Magik, The Terrible Old Man is a short, complete campfire horror tale. The simple premise: three crooks on the run stop in a small diner, where they see a rather hideous looking old man paw at a waitress then tip her with a gold coin. After seeing the coin, the head thief decides that the old man's house would make for an easy score on the side. Needless to say, the crooks get more than they bargained for. The film does not start strongly; set-up scenes involving the crooks are rather poorly acted. However, the story effectively builds in suspense as it advances and rides the momentum to a solid "Boo!" ending. In particular, the interior of the old man's house is genuinely nightmarish (the director was clearly much stronger at lighting and set design than in coaching acting).
Fugger's other short film, From Beyond, is not quite as strong. This tale revolves around a scientist meeting with a former colleague whom he believes has gone insane. However, he makes an amazing discovery: the colleague has created a machine that reveals dimensions just beyond our five senses. From Beyond takes itself much more seriously yet lacks the narrative drive of The Terrible Old Man. Furthermore, the film features special effects that are rather poor and somewhat of a distraction.
The other two shorts are by Christian Matzke. To be honest, I was not impressed with the two films by Matzke in Volume 1. His Experiment 17 included here is much more effective and disturbing than his previous films. He sets up the climactic scene beautifully - a mix of real archival footage and staged photographs set up the premise: in the early days of WWII, the Nazis have obtained The Necronomicon and have ordered a small team of scientists to uncover the book's secrets. The short film builds to a brief but shocking scene as Experiment 17 is attempted but goes haywire (and this scene really does look like top-secret footage). Unfortunately, Matzke's follow-up film, Experiment 18 (in which a Nazi private is ordered to attempt a follow-up spell from the book), is not effective in trying to build on the storyline established in the first film.
Overall, the centerpiece film in Volume 2 is not as strong as the centerpiece films of Volume 1 (Cool Air) or Volume 4 (Chilean Gothic). Again, the fact that it is a TV pilot rather than a film gives it a sense of incompleteness. More effective are two of the short films, particularly The Terrible Old Man, followed by Experiment 17.
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