A somewhat belated return to posting (not taking into account Hallowe'en shenannigans), largely due to a busy work schedule these past five weeks. For your delectation and amusement, I offer a short review (of sorts) of the production of The Dunwich Horror recently performed at the Courtyard Theatre in London as part of the recent London Horror Festival:
Latter day Lovecraftians have opined the demise of Del Toro’s current attempts to bring At the Mountains of Madness to the silver screen. After reading this interview, I’m almost relieved, as Del Toro’s vision of what the movie would ultimately become seemed so blurred as to be in serious danger of loosing sight of the key themes of the original tale. Instead of ponderous exploration of human insignificance in the face of deep geological time and cosmic infinity (which made the tale so distinctly Lovecraftian and, in my opinion, one of the finest exemplars of the HPL's cosmicism), it seems that Del Toro may have presented us with another bloated Hollywood A-lister CGI monsterfest.
On a more positive note, a couple of weeks back I had the opportunity to see a performance of Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror at the Courtyard Theatre in London. I’m pleased to say I was really impressed by this, and, while the show has come to the end of its current run as part of the London Horror Festival, if you have the chance to see it at another locale, I would strongly recommend taking the opportunity to do so.
Where this particular production succeeded (perhaps in contrast to my fears of what Del Toro’s At The Mountains of Madness might have become) was in its retention of the richness of Lovecraft’s language. During the performance I attended this was achieved not by offering a dramatised rendition of the plot, but by theatricalising a slightly abridged reading of the story. A point, I felt, which was effectively emphasised in the paucity of the set dressing (although the actors appeared in period clothing).
Indeed, it is the very fact that it is Lovecraft's use of language rather than plot which stands at the centre of his tales which leads me to ponder the possibility that any attempt to effectively translate Lovecraft’s vision onto the screen may ultimately prove futile . Undoubtedly some works of literary fiction don’t face this problem - I would argue that Peter Jackson’s translation of The Lord of the Rings produced something which actually improved on Tolkien: gone where the pointless and trite scenes involving Tom Bombadil, in addition to which, Tolkien’s characters were subject to a depth of emotional development and complexity that was entirely missing from the books. Tolkien's work is also very visual in character, insofar as the landscape of Middle Earth is itself a central character in his tales.
I digress. Also of note was the manner in which the production sought to vernacularize its version of The Dunwich Horror. Perhaps not something that Lovecraft purists would be keen on, but it worked for me, and made for some (what I think were intentional) moments of comedy as the Dunwich locals ploughed through reams of Lovecraftian prose in West Country accents. Accordingly, Armitage and Morgan were presented as plummy Oxford Dons (Morgan, by the way, is portrayed as female in this telling of the tale, which creates some interesting and subtle plays of language regarding the sexual politics of Armitage and Morgan’s relationship).
In any case, I did feel that the retention of much of The Dunwich Horror’s original text illustrated the fact that, rather than suffering from adjectivitis as he has been accused, Lovecraft was extremely capable of producing a kind of writing which (as Fritz Leiber and, more recently, Mark Samuels, have noted) has a profoundly evocative, poetic and incantatory character. Joshi similarly recognises this in the introduction to Black WIngs (his recent edited collection of Lovecraftian tales) when commenting on why Lovecraftian pastiches which aim to ape Lovecraft's literary style so often fail. On a related matter, this leads me to a point I’ve wanted to put to bed for a long time: namely the wholly unjustified claim that Lovecraft typically would end stories with narrators desperately writing down their final words (usually in italics) in the face of some rapidly approaching and monstrous doom. As I recall, Dagon is one of HPL’s few tales which is even vaguely guilty of this. In actual fact, the blame for this literary affectation needs to be laid, figuratively as it were, at the door of William Hope Hodgeson’s The House on The Borderland.
In any case, The Courtyard’s version of The Dunwhich Horror was for me one of the more effective visual retellings of the tale (though I do retain a soft spot for Roger Corman's quasi-psychedelic 70s movie version), and is definitely something I’d see again given the chance. Indeed, it has inspired me to make a return visit to the Courtyard tonight to see another show which is also part of the London Horror Festival. On this occasion, The Monster Hunters, which by all accounts is some kind of eldritch hybrid of The Persuaders and late sixties/early seventies Hammer Horror films. Nice.