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Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown
Blu-ray Disc Released: 10/13/2009
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 12/16/2009
If you really think about (and let's, shall we?), there are only two kinds of documentaries -- those which feature a subject about which you know nothing, and those which feature a subject about which you have some knowledge, be that small or vast. The former category is much easier to judge. If you learn just one thing from the documentary, and it holds your interest, then it can be considered a success. But, if you go into a doc with some prior knowledge, it will have to work harder to impress you. This is just one of the reasons why Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown is one of the best documentaries which I've seen in a while.
Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown focuses on American writer H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937). The film combines two different views of Lovecraft. First of all, the documentary takes a very detailed look at his life, beginning with his birth. By examining his childhood in Providence, Rhode Island, and the way in which his mother sheltered him, the movie explores how this relationship shaped the young writer. We learn that Lovecraft fell in love with reading fiction at a young age, but became a recluse by the time that he was a young adult. As Lovecraft begins to write stories of the horrific and unexplained, the piece looks at some of the more famous works and explains how they were published and received. We then learn of Lovecraft's romantic and social life, and how he grew to be a somewhat prolific writer. Intercut with educational (for lack of a better word) bits are comments from Lovecraft devotees, such as John Carpenter, Neil Gaiman, Guillermo Del Toro, Peter Straub, Ramsey Campbell, Stuart Gordon, amongst others. They offer some further insight on Lovecraft's life, but, more importantly, they offer a critical analysis of his work. There is much discussion of the "Cthulu Mythos" and how Lovecraft's stories about creatures from other dimensions was very influential. The speakers also touch on how their own work has exhibited shades of Lovecraft.
Before viewing Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown, if you'd asked me if I knew anything about the author, I would have confidently stated, "Yes." And while that is true to an extent (I've read a good deal of his work and I've read some about his life), as it turns out, I knew far less about him than I thought. This documentary digs fairly deeply into Lovecraft's life, examining his family tree and his early upbringing. We learn of his father's death and the parenting style of his mother. Through his correspondence, we get a good idea of how Lovecraft viewed the world and himself. I'd read that he was reclusive and private, but I had no idea that he was not only truly a recluse, but xenophobic and racist as well. Director Frank H. Woodward does a great job of illustrating the past by combining photos of Lovecraft and his family with period photos and maps of the areas where the author lived. An actor supplies Lovecraft's voice for quoting from his journals, letters, and writings.
Another nice facet of Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown is that it assumes that you have not read all of Lovecraft's work. When a story is mentioned, instead of launching into an analysis or critique, a synopsis is given for the story. Also, the documentary is brimming with art from various artists depicting Lovecraft's many bizarre creations. This way, those who are new to Lovecraft can get an immediate understanding of what his stories are like.
If I were simply judging Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown on how it examines Lovecraft's life and work, then I would give it a nearly perfect grade. However, the movie does have one huge downfall. The last few minutes are spent quickly running through how Lovecraft's influence continues to be seen in popular culture. We are given a few examples, with little explanation, and suddenly the documentary is over. Even if the filmmakers couldn't get the rights to show clips or art from various works, it would have been nice if they had mentioned Ghostbusters or Evil Dead. While a poster for Reanimator is shown, there is no mention of the fact that there have been several movies based on the author's work. Those who are unfamiliar with Lovecraft would most likely be surprised to see that he's still touching filmmakers and authors today.
This nitpicking aside, Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown is an excellent documentary. As a moderate fan of Lovecraft, I came away with a newfound appreciation for his work, but also somewhat stymied by his personal beliefs. My wife, who watched the movie with me, knew next to nothing about Lovecraft and was immediately captivated by his story and now wants to learn more about his work. If you are a scholar of Lovecraft, there may not be anything new here for you, but all others should be impressed by this documentary.
Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown attempts to enter our world on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Cinevolve Studios. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 15 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing only a hint of grain at times and no defects from the source material. Some of the images are somewhat dark, but otherwise the image is well-balanced. While the image is nicely clear, I doubt that this looks much better than the DVD. The Disc carries a Dolby Digital 2 channel audio track which runs at 48 kHz and a constant 448 kbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. I did have to adjust the volume a few times to hear some of the speakers, most notably Ramsey Campbell, but otherwise this is a solid track where we can hear what is being said and the background music stays in the background.
The Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown Blu-ray Disc contains a few extras. "Extended Interviews" contains another 75 minutes (!) of comments from the speakers. They extrapolate on many of the topics explored in the final cut, and there is more (but still not enough) talk of modern-day works which were influenced by Lovecraft. "Lovecraftian Art Gallery" allows us to take a closer look at the art featured in the film. The final extra is the TRAILER for the documentary.
Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long