(Based on Cool Air)
H.P. Lovecraft has often been referred to as “unfilmable” given the conceptual nature of much of his horror. As such, it’s no surprise that a number of the films produced as adaptations of his work are given a rather lukewarm reception. But as a film that is more inspired by his work than directly adapted from it, you manage to eschew the expected criticisms from Lovecraft aficionados and offer up an alternate take on some of the concepts explored in his literature in favor of… well, shall we say a more cinematic portrayal.
Cool Air was the last story written by Lovecraft during a two year residency in New York; one of his more Poe-inspired pieces, the story dealt with the author’s reactionary and racist attitudes, albeit more subtly than some of his other works, while adjusting to life in an urban environment. And yet, ironically, the story was comprised of little more than two primary characters conversing in a room. This scenario bodes very well for filmmakers as it would require very little in the way of full scale production design and/or special effects, although one could argue that the prospect of watching a film about two people talking seems less than entertaining, regardless of how interesting the topic of conversation. And herein lies the problem with much of Lovecraft’s work and why many deem it unfilmable: it’s not particularly action or even plot oriented. Nevertheless, several adaptations of this story have been produced, and you, Chill, have to be one of the better attempts to infuse some more cinematic ideas to counteract the literary trappings of the story.
In some regards, your treatment of the story focuses less on the psychological and metaphysical imperatives of the characters, replacing them with the more horror movie standards of self-aggrandizing mania. Sure, you do somewhat follow the basic plot of a younger outsider encountering the undead doctor, becoming at first fascinated and later repulsed at the revelation of his true nature. But it takes you nary the first few minutes to go down your own path. Your version of Dr. Muñoz, ably performed by Shaun Kurtz whose balance of youthful obsession and seasoned restraint makes for a surprisingly creepy rendition of the character, is given a much less benevolent treatment than in Lovecraft’s story. His resolve to sustain his life for the good of scientific and medical advancement comes at the cost of others’ flesh, adding a much more gruesome element not completely outside the Lovecraftian realm, and summarily giving the story the filmic necessity for some fight to be had.
But it’s not just in the villainous presentation of Dr. Muñoz where you deviate from your source material. To compound the conflict, you give us a romantic subplot involving Ashley Laurence (of Hellraiser fame) as a neighbor whose police detective ex-boyfriend continually harasses her while investigating the disappearance of prostitutes – Muñoz’s victims; a decidedly non-Lovecraftian addition, but one that does well to heighten the tension of your atmosphere and raise the stakes for your everyman main character, performed rather tepidly by Thomas Calabro. On the other hand, Calabro’s deadpan demeanor in his first few moments of screen time do at least mildly correspond to the narrator’s own discomfort and feelings of alienation in the original short story, giving him at least the semblance of a Lovecraftian hero/victim who, despite his best efforts, is doomed to suffer at the grim hands of an insane fate. It’s almost too bad that Calabro’s motivations to put an end to Muñoz’s horrific plans required the obligatory damsel in distress that Laurence’s character ultimately fulfills. Needless to say, fans of Lovecraft’s malign cosmicism would certainly find these changes objectionable, but they certainly work for what you’re trying to do as a standard horror film and you execute them well enough that you do not lack in entertainment value.
There’s really not much else to say about you, Chill. You were, thankfully, careful not to state that you were adapted from Cool Air, but merely inspired by it, which many may not realize is a wholly different animal. By taking the concept of a Lovecraft story and modifying it to suit the cinematic necessities of action and entertainment, you give us an effective little horror movie that could at least get casual viewers interested in reading up on the source material. You’re not too far removed from the films of Stuart Gordon in this regard, although you come across less of a gory midnight movie and more of a made for TV/movie channel flick. Either way, Chill, you’re not among the worst Lovecraftian films out there… in fact, I’d venture to say that you’re all right. And that’s something.