Directed by Richard Stanley.
Starring Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Madeleine Arthur, Elliot Knight.
Horror, U.S. 111 minutes.


In U.K. cinemas from 28th February 2020 by Studiocanal.

EST 27th March, Blu-ray and DVD 6th April, VOD 13th April 2020


For connoisseurs of cult cinema, the prospect of Richard Stanley's return to directing for the first time in over twenty years since the debacle of his unceremonious firing from THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU is exciting enough on its own. To then pair that with the news that he would be tackling H.P. Lovecraft's haunting tale of cosmic horror affecting a New England family made the news all the sweeter. But then to have Nicolas Cage thrown into this mix, making this a trifecta of singular cult creatives, resulting in one of the most significant events in alternative cinema in recent years. Exciting news but questions and doubts lingered. Would Stanley still have the skills in providing his unique style? Could this be a rare and successful non Stuart Gordon screen adaptation of Lovecraft? Would Cage turn up on set finding this an excuse to go full bizarro as he does more often than not?


In short; yes, yes and kind of.


Any worries that Stanley could have lost any touch when it comes to directing or scripting are soon banished. While the film's story of a meteorite crashing into the Gardner family's back garden may be a slow burn at first, once it sets up the characters back stories the nightmarish aspects of both cosmic and body horror prove that Stanley's absence from the genre could be one of the most significant missed opportunities in recent cinematic history. He also has a lightness of touch, bringing a sense of humour to proceedings that is in part aided by Cage's performance as a caring husband, father and alpaca farmer.


Once the weirdness takes centre stage however the film races on, embracing its pulp horror roots. Its neon violet colour scheme highlights some truly unsettling body horror that is reminiscent of Carpenter's THE THING. The climax contains glimpses of the true scale of horror involved that show how ambitious horror cinema may become in the future, being able to capture some more of Lovecraft's most outlandish concepts and imagery.


Cage moulds his performance along with the films own lurches into horror. Starting with an aw-shucks type persona serving up cassoulet to his less than impressed children, including Madeleine Arthur as budding Wiccan Lavinia, Brendan Meyer's often stoned Benny, and declaring his love for his wife Theresa, Joely Richardson, he soon turns goofily psychotic. One instance where he lashes out at his daughter comes across as unintentionally humorous thanks to Cage's delivery which slips into the weird and clipped transatlantic accent he used in one of his most, shall we say, distinctive performances in VAMPIRE'S KISS. It may not reach the blood-crazed soulfulness of his previous SpectreVision collaboration MANDY,  however, the fact that he manages to still pull off moments in the final act, one, in particular, involving a tender kiss that is simultaneously grotesque and touching, goes to show his unique styling can still impress the audience.


Note the Americanised spelling of the title, noticeably different from author H.P. Lovecraft's own title which also came with a definite article. In a film partly concerned with mutation, this is just one of many instances concerned with that particular aspect in what amounts to a triumphant return from Stanley who manages to meld enough of his own spirit with that of Lovecraft. In updating the story to the present day, Stanley adapts Lovecraft's short story of cosmic horror wreaking havoc on one unlucky household with a script which involves aspects that at first may seem jarring and random; the Necronomicon, alpacas, wicca and a mystic Tommy Chong to name a few. However, by the film's end, all these aspects have been melded together, much like some of the films unlucky biological subjects, with Lovecraft's own themes; an uncaring otherness from beyond that mere man can not comprehend without losing his sanity.


Lovecraft purists may not be fully satisfied with the results here. Still, Stanley manages to nail those apocalyptic themes with a nihilistic sense that has not really been translated onscreen before. The news that he may be tackling The Dunwich Horror next is an exciting prospect. An extended cinematic universe involving Lovecraft's most otherworldly creations has been mooted by Stanley and SpectreVision. Let us hope that we do not have to wait until another two decades have passed before we can see it.


Iain MacLeod.


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