The making of Cthulhu

Did you know there existed a movie named Cthulhu released in 2008?

A man on a beach facing a cage full of naked people.

It’s amazing a movie called Cthulhu garnered such little attention. In all fairness, the cephalopod headed creature from Lovecraft’s imagination probably is his most renowned creature. So much so that it is even featured in the credit of the Rick & Morty cartoon. But if you were to ask most horror fans, they would probably never have heard of Cthulhu. I know I didn’t, I stumbled upon it because of YouTube, there’s a free copy up there and I first thought it was one of those cheap movies that people try and shoot in their backyard and then go and sell for one dollar and Vimeo.

Cthulhu isn’t that. You should probably watch it, it’s for a reason that its director posted a copy on his YouTube page, as well as the full audio commentary track taken from the DVD. You can go on, I’ll be there when you get back.

Despite the screenwriter writing that the story of Cthlhu started in 95, when he and Dan Gildark (the director met), it is probably fair to assume that the story really started around 2003. First because Dan Gildark had come back from his trip to East Europe, a trip which sent him to European jail, while Grant Cogswell, the writer, had just lost its run for a place on the city council of Seattle. Both their creative minds felt stranded, for good reason yet it’s really no surprise Gildark finally looked Cogswell ( who wrote) in the eyes and asked him to write for him.

At the time, Gildark was a film student, after having been a war photographer and finding himself in trouble he had come back home. Yet, I know for a fact people who believe the world is worth changing will stop at nothing, we may take baby steps, we may learn to review our scale but we never stop.

Cogswell had lived on and off with other homeless people in different parts of Seattle, he was a DJ, a writer, a columnist for the Stranger (a daily paper there). His leftist views had him rubbing shoulders with Black Block and all that. When asked for a screenplay, he thought of Lovecraft, he thought of the cosmic dread of forces so grand a lone man cannot fight them off. Let’s say Cogswell didn’t see eye to eye with the war in Iraq, with the lack of action in front of climate change.

Soon he established he would write a variation of the Shadow over Innsmouth, but instead of a stranger disocvering a strange cult in some unknown city, he would have a gay protagonist come back there. Cogswell, very heterosexual from his records of the whole movie, said he had the idea because at the time, lots of his gay friends who had fled backwoods town because of their sexuality, had to endure coming back home because one of their parents had died. Cogswell wanted to talk about that, of the wrongs of heredity.

For five years, he and Gildark would try to fund their movie, building up momentum on the shoulder of another flick which had been shot in Seattle and had gained success (Police Beat). This at least enabled the duo to gather a team of talented individuals, a crew who knew what they were up to. This added to the fact that they had been able to convince a few (albeit small) known actors for certain parts might have helped the campaign.

In the commentary track present on the DVD, Cogswell can be heard complaining about how hard it is to gather money in order to finance a movie. According to his account, the team had to even garner a bit while shutting the damn thing.

A creature in a tunnel appears thanks to the flash of a camera.

Still, one cannot forget that it was the duo’s first movie. There appeared to have been a rule which stated that Cogswell couldn’t be on set. I’ve seen other sets where such a rule was implemented, preventing the screenwriter to address changes made by the filmmaker but reading through the material I gathered, I am pretty sure Cogswell was there all the way. His paper, a beautiful one at that, describes the whole adventure as a tiring and mesmerizing process while the audio commentary has him shitting all over the project.

Gildark will admit he made mistakes. For the flick they garnered one million dollars which is A LOT for a first totally independant movie, but they also had 40 days of shooting which might seem a lot until you discover that the movie had over 85 locations to cover. From my point of view, as an ex-gaffer, that shit’s crazy. It’s really no wonder that a grip once fell from exhaustion on set, or that a truck drove past one of their shooting locations without seeing it.

The commentary track is two people who tried and lived their dream, sinking their own money in their damn ship, trying to explain while the whole thing failed. And let me be straight, when I think of Cthulhu I don’t think of it as a cinematographic disaster. Sure in the end, it destroyed the saving of his creator. Cogswell had to retire in Mexico to write tourist guides, while Gildark would not try and produce a movie before 15 years had passed.

But it is to be expected when a bunch of passionate individuals launch themselves in a campaign that’s probably too grand for them.

Despite all of that, despite the clumsiness in the realization and the lack of money on some other part the movie was made, which cannot be said of every movie. And let me be straight some studio movies are sometimes never finished. Making and releasing your own flick is an exploit in and of itself.

But since its creator really believed they would make money over fist thanks to their idea, I bet they ended up disappointed. No one should try and make art while expecting to get rich. It’s a bad recipe.

Fifteen years ago or something, a duo of idealists tried and subvert the Lovecraftian trope by adding a gay protagonist, they used a million dollar to tell a sotry of ancestors suffocating the youth and the decay of a nation. From a 2020 perspective? Cthulhu is definitely worth the watch.

The movie has to be seen.

Its story has to be told.

You could go on and watch it.

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I write about the history of artmaking, I don’t do reviews.

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Basile Lebret

Basile Lebret

I write about the history of artmaking, I don’t do reviews.

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