Come early October, the first full weekend to be precise, when the dusk shadows start to lengthen, horror fans from around the world descend on Portland, Oregon for the HP Lovecraft Film Festival. This year, the 27th in the festival’s run, returned to the venerable old Hollywood Theater in full force after multiple pandemic compromised showings.
The combination of nerdy excitement and cosmic trepidation for an in-person event of this magnitude was, from the moment the theater doors opened, fittingly beyond reason. This year, my ninth in attendance, I invited family. My cousin, Paul, and his partner, Michelle, flew in from Gainesville, Florida. This was their first year at the festival, and, for Michelle, her first time in the Rose City.
Nothing about Portland was typical this weekend though. The temperatures hovered in the low 80’s. With nighttime temps around 60, it was unseasonably warm for the Pacific Northwest. Rather than dodging raindrops and giggling over the crackling electricity of red and gold leaves, we quickly ditched morning sweatshirts for shorts and tees. It was, in a word, hot.
The Lovecraft Film Festival is, aside from communion with fellow fans, all about the love of movies. Running for three days, Friday through Sunday, the schedule fills up with everything from bite sized cinematic delights, to features, a combination of old campy classics and rare showings. The sense in the air around the festival is often, see it now, you never know where or when it’s coming out.
Prior to the festival’s Friday night start, we sat out on the back patio, drank PNW beers, and poured over the program, trying to make choices. While it is technically possible to see everything, the accumulated discomfort of thirty-six hours in a theater seat, has a way of forcing a sense of discretion. You can see it all – but really, for the sake of your spine, the question is, should you?
After three days in and out of theaters, drinking Narragansett, these were my highlights of the 2022 HP Lovecraft Film Festival, presented in no particular order.
The Best Films of the HP Lovecraft Film Festival
Some Vile Beast
United States | 2022 | 9 Minutes
Director: Brian Imakura
A highlight of the Saturday afternoon block, Imakura’s short brought a few unique elements to the Lovecraft ouvre – people of color, children, and a chilling crime story. This story had us talking through the dinner hour, dissecting both the unique cinematic and storytelling merits.
United States | 2022 | 7 Minutes
Director: Eric Swiz
The opposite of “Some Vile Beast”, this short was among the funniest in this year’s offerings (yes, there are funny Lovecraft films). Relentlessly absurd and morbid, “Book” had us all in stitches.
United States | 2022 | 10 Minutes
Director: Andrew Stadler
I’m a fan of animation, so I was quite pleased when this Lovecraftian sci-fi story filled the screen. While the story of hopeless abandonment was decidedly simple, and the climax telegraphed well in advance, there was a delightfully meditative aspect to the character’s story.
Germany | 2022 | 17 Minutes
Director: Melissa Arcak
Our party was split on this one. My cousin and his partner were a bit lukewarm on this short adaptation of The Hound, I liked it well enough. Never my favorite Lovecraft story, the presentation was entertaining, gritty, and, in the end, we all agreed, didn’t overstay its welcome.
The Pit and The Pendulum: A Musicabre
United States | 2021 | 30 Minutes
Director: Danny Ashkenasi
I have to say, I don’t love musicals. Hold on – I don’t even like musicals. I am especially lost when that musical is in Italian… however, this was the most ambitious production I’ve ever seen at the HP Lovecraft Film Festival (or anywhere, really). If you appreciate broad cinematic scope and can tolerate musicals, this movie is worth checking out.
Why We Don’t Visit Anymore
Nigeria | 2022 | 22 Minutes
Director: Orok Duke
My vote for the best film title. Were it not for the next film, it was the best movie in the festival. Duke, in the directors’ Q&A, made the comment that he wanted to tell a story from a kid’s point of view. His vision was to represent a shared memory between brothers, something they could piece together later in life. The events in this film would be, when the boys grew up, the experience that marked why they don’t visit grandma anymore. Such a brilliant concept and the execution was outstanding.
Cuba | 2022 | 30 Minutes
Director: Jose Luis Aparicio
A brilliant and beautiful film. The cinematography on “Tundra” was breathtaking in parts, the layered performances intersting and nuanced, and the Lovecraftian influence subtle. It reminded me of “The Host” the Korean film from 2013. It never overexplained its premise and relied on the bland terror of banality. We talked about this one all weekend long, our impressions of it changing, morphing, leading us to pine for future viewings. Seek this out.
England | 2022 | 96 Minutes
Director: Charlie Steeds
As the only new feature I saw over the weekend, I thought it worthy of mention. Although there was a lot to pick apart, it ended up being a fun ride. The producers crammed a hell of a lot of Lovecraft in between the credits. Count me as someone who is always up for a nautical disaster story.
The Other Festival Highlights
From the whole weekend, my favorite highlight was Jeffrey Combs’ reading of the Lovecraft poem, “What The Moon Brings”. Now, I’m not a big fan of my favorite author’s poetry but Combs brought a blathering, unreliable, flustered character vividly to life. I could feel the character coming unhinged as he followed the poem’s devolved psychology. As the veteran actor took his bow, I looked to my cousin and whispered, “maybe it’s time to read more Lovecraft poetry?”
Each year, the HP Lovecraft Film Festival culminates on Saturday night with the showing of the highlighted featured films. This year, the organizers delivered a double feature of beloved 80’s camp-horror classics, “Re-Animator” and “Bride of Re-Animator”. With Combs in attendance fans got a chance to ask questions after each showing after laughing at the many comic moments. In our seats, front and center, for “Reanimator” we chuckled and laughed until our sides hurt.
If I had to characterize the films this year, the word would be insular. Among the themes in the Q&A sessions was that the productions were influenced by not only the constraints of filmmaking during COVID, but the pandemic’s existential dread. While this felt obvious (of course the largest public health disaster of our lifetimes would affect the storytelling) it fit a Lovecraftian mood. As tired as I am of COVID, it was nice, for three days, to see it through a different lens.
Like most great film festivals, the HP Lovecraft Film Festival offers an embarrassing wealth of high quality, one-of-a-kind programming. All weekend we heard joyful whispers about a time travel film. There were social media parodies and stories about the wicked confluence of math and madness.
The HP Lovecraft Film Festival remains, as advertised, the only festival that understands.
Want Some Free Books?
Check out a collection of spine-tingling, eldritch stories, The Book of Witness. This collection of weird tales from Canyon County, Oregon offers a taste of what’s in store for the the Strange Air series of paranormal mysteries.