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07 August, 2010

DVD Review: PICKMAN'S MUSE

Title:  PICKMAN’S MUSE

Year of Release—Film:  2010

Year of Release—DVD:  2010

DVD Label:  Independently Distributed



When comparing the great masters of written horror, from Mary Shelley to Stephen King, it becomes readily apparent that some are more easily adapted to the screen than others are.  King, for example, is notoriously difficult to translate to the motion-picture format, even by King himself.  That is to say, “translate well.”  For every good King adaptation, there’s a score of not-so-good ones.

One author who does translate very well to the screen is H. P. Lovecraft, the first great 20th Century author of Fantastic fiction.  Lovecraft, whose mythological creations Chthulu and the Old Ones, demons and elder gods from a dark dimension, still inspire writers and filmmakers, was born in 1890 in Providence, Rhode island, and died a mere 47 years later, of intestinal cancer.

Of the wealth of stories that he wrote in those years, virtually all have been adapted, some several times, into movies.  Some have merely borrowed elements of the stories, such as Sam Raimi’s use of the Necronomicon, a creation of Lovecraft’s, for THE EVIL DEAD.  Some have shamelessly pilfered titles or the barest shreds of plot, such as Uwe Boll’s wretched ALONE IN THE DARK.  Some however, have made earnest, heartfelt efforts to bring his stories to the screen.  One of these latter is the new film from writer / director Robert Cappelletto, PICKMAN’S MUSE.

Howard Phillips Lovecraft, 1890-1937
Based on the story “Haunter of the Dark,” the story concerns an artist named Robert Pickman (played very well by Barret Walz), who is under the care of a psychiatrist.  The psychiatrist, Dr. Dexter (Maurice McNicholas), has grown exasperated with his patient, who makes no effort to connect with anyone else, not even the doctor.  He wants only his medications, and to be left alone to paint.  Semi-successful, he makes a decent living doing commission work, producing paintings to order for decorators.  His problem is that he’s blocked, unable to paint.  His agent tells him to take some time off, promising to stall his clients.

While combing through an abandoned church, sketching various aspects of it, he discovers a mysterious artifact, a pyramid-shaped object from which emanates waves of dark energy.  Upon returning home, he begins to hear voices, strange beings seen only as shadows on his window, talking to him.  Unconsciously, he starts to paint.  And what he paints is an image of abject horror, as though it were an eyewitness view of Hell.
Though I’m unfamiliar with anyone connected to this project (with the exception of Lovecraft himself), they have done a spectacular job working on what could only be a very low budget.  The script is excellent, translating the suspense and horror of the original into the cinematic form, and Cappelletto’s direction is competent and solid.  Cappelletto also photographed it, and here as well his work is good; professional, proficient—not great, not innovative, but it serves the purposes of the story very well.

The cast, as is true with any level of production, is the weak link in the chain, and this is one area where the movie lets the viewer down.  As I stated earlier, Barret Walz is very good in the lead role, as is Tom Lodewyck as Goodie Hines, a lunatic also under Dr. Dexter’s care, one who shares an important connection with Pickman.  Maurice McNicholas, as the good doctor, is adequate but a bit prone to histronics; his performance isn’t terrible, but neither will it impress the viewer.  The rest of the supporting cast is about what one would expect from a low-budget production, and those who enjoy such films will not find them much of a detriment.

As a confirmed fan of both low-budget Indie Horror, and the writings of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, I must say that I am pleased at the recent resurgence in interest in his work.  Lovecraft’s writings have an economy of style, a sparseness that translates well to the motion-picture form.  His horrors are psychological, and his creatures indescribable, unimaginable.  This works in the favor of low-budget filmmakers, who would lack the resources to create convincing monsters the likes of which inhabit the Lovecraftian universe.  Wisely, Cappelletto doesn’t try to show us the creatures haunting Pickman.  As producer Val Lewton best demonstrated nearly 70 years ago, the viewer’s imaginations will fill in the dark voids that the filmmaker leaves us.

As is the case with many low-budget films that lack a major distribution deal, it may be difficult to track this DVD down.  Please, if you’re a fan of Lovecraft, or appreciate good-quality independent filmmaking, don’t be deterred from looking for it.  It can be found at Amazon.com, and at Robert Cappelletto’s MySpace page.  I enthusiastically recommend you look for it.

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