The main film for Volume 5 of The H.P. Lovecraft Collection is Strange Aeons, an adaptation of Lovecraft's "The Thing in the Doorstep." After reviewing all five volumes of the Lovecraft collection, I feel this is the second best centerpiece film, behind only Volume 1's Cool Air. As is the case with most films in this collection, the film is hampered at times by its low-budget production values and less than stellar performances, but there is clearly a lot of heart and imagination on display as well.
The story, which has been called among the most "film friendly" of Lovecraft's tales, is as follows: on a small college campus, Dan (JD Lloyd), a professor of ancient cultures, and his star student/close friend Edward (Erick Robertson) encounter a mysterious new student named Asemuth (Angela M. Grillo). There is instant animosity between Dan and his new student, but Edward falls under her spell. It turns out that Asemuth has a remarkable knowledge of ancient cultures, as well as a terrifying power: she can switch bodies with another person at will. Dan, through his nightmares, realizes he is the only one who can stop Asemuth and save Edward. The rest I cannot reveal.
The strength of Strange Aeons lies in the script itself. While there are some "clunker" lines of dialogue, the plot moves along at a steady pace with some quite eerie touches along the way. Importantly, the key scene near the end, lifted directly from Lovecraft's story, is effective and chilling. As for the negatives: I feel somewhat guilty for harping on the low production values, for the makers obviously had to make do with what they had. However, to ignore them would be to ignore the proverbial elephant in the room. These are most apparent at the conclusion (right after the great, chilling scene that is the highlight of the film), in which poor special effects render the conclusion into a rather poor remake of the conclusion of Return of the Jedi.
Perhaps more important is that the three leading performances are uneven. While Lloyd is serviceable but not great as Dan, Robertson has some unintentionally laughable moments as Edward - he has a hard role to play, but his performance is just not very good. Conversely, Grillo is terrific as Asemuth. She plays her femme fatale role just right: beautiful, sexy, but very dangerous. It's easy to see why Dan hates and fears her, as well as how Edward can fall under her spell. Of the three leads, I could definitely see Grillo moving on to bigger and better roles.
Honestly, if this script had the financial backing of a major studio and a Grade-A cast, it could be a knockout. Still, even with its faults, Strange Aeons is a very good film and worthy of headlining one of the volumes in this collection.
Among the short films, there is a horror gem, a film I feel is the best one on the disc and one of the best all-around films in the entire Lovecraft Collection. I would have never thought that a claymation film could be so scary and effective, but Michael Granberry's claymation short From Beyond - five minutes of mounting supernatural horror, with a haunting final shot. Well worth seeing.
Maria's Hubris by Patrick Weber is a much shorter, different adaptation of "The Thing on the Doorstep." Its version of the key scene from Lovecraft's story works but is not quite as chilling as the version shown in Strange Aeons (it is also hurt by a campy moment of overacting at the end).
Finally, Do Not Feed the Books is a very short but humorous "one joke" cartoon set in a Lovecraft bookstore (not much else to say about it).
Overall, this is a strong volume of the Lovecraft collection. The main film is solid, while the short From Beyond is outstanding (not to mention scary). I hope any future volumes maintain this level of quality.
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