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Reed’s Horror Review, Castle Freak (1995) and (2020), a Comparison.

A low bar, a lower accomplishment…

Don’t get me wrong, I like the original Castle Freak (1995) but it never really merited a full review. Compared to the other works of H. P. Lovecraft that got turned into movies (Re-Animator (1985), From Beyond (1986), Dagon (2001), Color Out of Space (2019)), it’s just ho-hum. The other movies are balls-out bonkers and way more entertaining. Effectively, for Castle Freak (1995), there is nothing to review.

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Nicholas Cage: What Does He Contribute to Horror?

Nicolas Cage is slated to play the male lead in a movie adaptation of “The Color out of Space” by H. P. Lovecraft. So, are we going to get a deep and thoughtful rendition of an incredibly complex story line? Or are we going to get the usual “Not the bees” hammed up acting that Nicholas Cage is well known for?

I hit the threads to ask fellow horror heads in Frightland what they thought and it broke down pretty simply.

It should be noted that the sample is about half what I consider acceptable (no less than 300 reporting) and my targeted sample group are horror fanatics who have specific biases.  However, those are the biases are what I’m after. First, the hard numbers.

When asked if they thought Nicholas Cage was an appropriate fit, those surveyed had this to say.

Stats: Sample size 144
Nicholas Cage is a fine actor and will do a great job 62 43%
Nicholas Cage’s over the top acting will fit the genre 41 28%
Nicholas Cage is not fit for this movie 20 14%
No Opinion 21 15%

Though just barely, I am immediately hit by the fact that individuals who didn’t care one way or the other, outnumber individuals who believe Cage is going to bomb.  Even if just by one. There are two primary camps for support. Those who believe Cage is actually a good actor and can handle it. Not sure how familiar these people are with his filmography but it’s their opinion.  The second camp believe that Cage’s usual over the top method acting is actually perfect for Lovecraftian setting. This may be a good point. Lovecraft delves deeply into madness and if anyone does a ‘frothing at the mouth raving lunatic’ right, it’s Cage.

For those who believe Cage is a decent actor, it is true his filmography is filled with smashing performances. Matchstick Man, Raising Arizona, and 8mm. Even films like The Rock, as campy as it was, Cage did a fine job. He’s clearly capable of amazing acting… but then we start to look at his track record in horror and it seems like his quality level takes a nosedive.  In several of my reviews, I’ve told him to please leave horror and never come back.

We don’t have to just use examples like “Not the bees” from The Wicker Man.  He hasn’t exactly had a great track-record with horror at all. The worst being Vampire’s Kiss which was so over the top, it has since become a series of memes that have launched his campy ridiculousness into legendary status.  Cage went so over the top in Vampire’s Kiss we got full blown ‘So Bad It’s Good’ with levels not seen since Troll 2.

In my review of Pay the Ghost, I was surprised to be hit by a lukewarm performance as opposed to the hammy over acting.

In my review of Mom and Dad, literally the only bad acting was Cage, and he was surrounded by a bunch of nobodies.

But with 8mm under his belt, Cage clearly shows he’s capable of the edgy subtlety necessary for Lovecraftian stories.  And that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for one of Cages full blown over the top zany moments. We all remember Bruce Campbell’s  scene from Evil Dead 2 when confronted by laughing furniture, or when actor Sam Neill completely cracks at the end of, In the Mouth of Madness.  Most recently, fans of the good ol’ fashioned Cage freak out point to Mandy, where his over the top acting filled the role almost too perfectly. It was like a natural fit.

Current director Richard Stanley, maybe keenly aware of Cages ability to deliver both and if he has the capacity to wrangle in the great ego that is Cage, it could work out perfectly.  While there is something about horror that Cage never really seems to get a handle on, using 8mm again as an example, if The Color out of Space is presented more as an ‘investigative thriller,’ maybe he won’t ham it up until eventually given clearance from the director to, so to speak, ‘go full Cage.’

Looking at the director’s filmography, nothing stands out as a particular gem and the list is depressingly short over a very long time period.  I wonder if this director has the clout to reign in an ego like Cage and rangle up appropriate acting.

In the end, there is a slight glimmer of hope that Cage can pull off Lovecraft.  It’s likely just a matter of presenting it to the actor in the correct way. If it can be done, The Color out of Space may deliver the final adaptation for the story to be taken seriously in cinema.  However, I’m not holding my breath. We literally only have 8mm to point to as the right style for Cage, that and a director I strongly doubt has the level of clout needed to direct Cage.

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Cthulhu Calling

In the movie What About Bob?, Bill Murray’s character says there are two kinds of people in the world: those who like Neil Diamond and those who don’t. I believe there are two kinds of people in the world. Those are the ones who know who Cthulhu is and those who don’t. 

Last Thursday was the last day of school where I’d  been teaching 8th grade science. I wore a t-shirt made to look an incoming cell phone call from none other than Cthulhu. I knew that some of my students would dig it. Others would have no idea what it was. The first person to comment on it was another teacher. She is probably in her mid-fifties. When we ran into each other in the mail room she said, “I like that shirt.”

After that I asked her if she knew who Cthulhu was. She did not. I gave her the quick and dirty introduction to the character. She gave me the all too familiar that’s nice smile and head nod that I get from lots of people who just don’t get horror at all. The kids, however, loved it. Cthulhu is in revival in the junior high school set. 

Cthulhu is one of my favorite monsters. I don’t have much in my collection related to him, however. I own a Funko pop mini of the great old one, the previously mentioned t-shirt, and a custom embroidered shirt that I wear to book signings and conventions. That’s it. I, however, talk about him a lot. 

At my former job, I often referred to my boss as Lord Cthulhu. Much like the elder god, the sheer sight of that boss would drive you insane. He shows up in random comments I make on a daily basis. I’m being literal about that. I mention Cthulhu every single day in some capacity. 

I think that he is a neat character who needs to be mentioned with the likes of classics like Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, and the werewolf. However, I am cautious about telling people to read “The Call of Cthulhu.” One reason is that Lovecraft is, in my opinion, an acquired taste. The second reason is Lovecraft himself. The author is currently a sticky topic. His ideas about humanity and which type of peoples are good is evident in his writing. Lovecraft shares a lot of racist, sexist, and classist ideas in his works. This causes a strong sense of cognitive dissonance within me. One the one hand, I really like some of the monsters that Lovecraft created. The other hand holds that he expressed his narrow minded and ignorant opinions in those works. It’s a tough balancing act, but I’m a liberal Southern so I’ve had to do this most of my life. 

Then there is Cthulhu. He doesn’t care. He hates everyone equally and wants everyone to die just the same. 

Cthulhu has also transcended his creator. I mentioned at the beginning there are two kinds of people, those who know him and those who don’t. Amongst those two kinds of people that I’ve met, only a few know who created Cthulhu. Most of the junior high kids know the character from internet memes, video games, board games, or that episode of South Park. I’ve not met a single kid who knew Cthulhu that had read Lovecraft. The transcendence that Cthulhu has made over his originator, makes it easier to like him as a monster. 

Although he is incredibly evil, Cthulhu is cool. He’s everywhere. You can get bumper stickers advising people to vote for him in 2020. (Anything is better that what we’ve got.) There are parodies making him a cutesy cartoon character: Hello Cthulhu. This often brings down the appeal of monster to me. Cthulhu is still badass. He’s not like anything else. If anything like him comes around, it just a knock-off Cthulhu, an elder god at discount prices, a generic great old one you might pick up at Aldi’s. 

So here’s to Cthulhu in all his look-upon-him-and-go-insane glory. Vote for him in 2020: why choose the lesser of the two evils. Get a cuddly stuffed animal. Buy your cat a costume and make her Cathulhu. Get yourself one of those knit hats that covers your face with yarn tentacles to keep the cold away this winter. Cthulhu’s cool. He’s hip, and it’s just not the 8th graders thinking so.   

Editor Note: Cthulhu and Lovecraftian Horror as a whole is hardly ever done correctly. The mind bending terror of a thing whose very attention can drive you mad is terrifying, especially when done right. That said, Cthulhu and the look associated with it, is undeniably cool. I also heartily recommend both Call of Cthulhu games that are out, they are both fantastic.

John Baltisberger