Volume 4 of The HP Lovecraft Collection contains three variations on the celebrated author's short story from 1926, "Pickman's Model," a tale about a celebrated but cursed artist who paints portraits of "unbelievable loathsomeness and mortal fetor." I was not familiar with this story before, which helped me go into these different takes on the same story with a blank slate.
All three versions of Lovecraft's story offer variations of the following plot: a journalist is trying to track down an infamous and mysterious artist named Pickman. In his quest to find Pickman, he learns that the painter's work caused such furor that he had to go into hiding yet went right on painting. The journalist soon discovers the horrible and nightmarish inspiration for Pickman's work.
The featured version, titled Chilean Gothic, is the most celebrated of the versions presented on the disc. Lovecraft's story is moved to Chile where, as an added plot twist, a journalist named Martinez is investigating the brutal murder and burning of a friend and fellow journalist named Niera. Martinez knows his friend was working on a story about Pickman and believes the artist played a role in his friend's murder.
The second version of the story, titled Pickman's Model, is a short student film made by Cathy Welch in 1981. Unlike the others, it ties a werewolf angle into the story. Not surprisingly, this is clearly the weakest of the three versions, as it is made with an amateur cast on a shoestring budget (and some of the performances, particularly by the actor playing Pickman, are unintentionally laughable). Still, there is a lot to like about this version. Welch had a talent for effectively using light and shadow for many shots, and the grainy black and white photography actually gives the film a creepy tone not unlike the original Night of the Living Dead.
The third version of the story, also titled Pickman's Model, was made in Italy by director Giovanni Furore. Though not as celebrated as Chilean Gothic, it is actually my preferred version on the disc for two reasons: 1) the director wisely uses the Italian setting for full gothic effect (an admittedly unfair advantage over the versions filmed in Texas or Chile); and 2) this has the scariest ending of the three versions, ending on a close-up of a disturbing "photo" that implies some of the horrors Pickman saw and transferred to his paintings.
Overall, I would mainly recommend this disc to anyone who is a fan of Lovecraft's work. However, the Saw and Hostel crowd might be somewhat disappointed, as the films require the viewer to conjure most of the horror with their own imaginations (and, to be honest, the films are mainly very good but not great).
NOTE: Also included on the disc are two additional short films. The stronger of the two: Into the Vault, an animated tale of a lazy, irresponsible caretaker who gets locked in a vault overnight and learns a hard lesson about not showing proper respect for the dead. Less successful is a short entitled Between the Stars, which so obviously copies Eraserhead in tone and appearance that David Lynch could consider copyright infringement.
Furthermore, rather short, but informative interviews by scholar Robert M. Price and celebrated horror writer Ramsey Campbell are included. Both discuss the profound influence Lovecraft had on modern horror fiction.
Finally, the disc includes an interesting eight-page booklet of short essays on Lovecraft, as well as on these versions of his story.
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