As a committed fan of horror movies, I’ll be the first to admit that 90% of the things are utterly unwatchable. And as a gay man (who probably should be committed), I have no problem saying that the odds for any particular "gay movie" being good are even worse. So I apologize if, when a gay horror movie comes along, my expectations are generally set somewhere between "dreading" and "hoping the DVD player explodes before the opening titles".
Enter Cthuhlu, a legitimate gay movie and a legitimate horror movie that somehow manages to also be a solid piece of atmospheric, entertaining filmmaking. Honest-to … well, honest-to-Cthulhu.
Russ (Jason Cottle) is a thirtysomething history professor who is called to his seaside hometown when his mother passes away. Having been estranged from his family for some time because of the fact that he is gay, Russ isn’t thrilled about the idea of returning home, but also isn’t planning on backing down once he’s there regarding the man that he’s grown to be.
But before he even makes it to his family home, Russ comes across a terrible road accident and stops to help the injured driver. When he tries to assure the man pinned behind the wheel of the overturned truck that help is on the way, the bloodied man grins, "They said you’d be back."
No wonder this guy doesn’t go home more often.
Back at home, his father’s attitudes toward Russ and his sexuality haven’t changed, and he urges Russ to settle down and start a family. All the talk of families upsets his sister, Dannie (Cara Buono), who reveals that she cannot bear children. Russ’s family seems to be pressuring him to stay in his hometown and settle down, but he doesn’t understand why.
Meanwhile, Russ reconnects with Mike (Scott Patrick Green), who was once his close friend and lover. Mike is now living his life as a straight man, but the connection between the men is still quite strong. They quickly fall back into their old comfortable pattern of friendly flirtation, and Russ soon notices that Mike seems to be stuck in life, unable to keep a job or a relationship, and wonders if his friend is living an unrealized life.
But lest you think that this is all family drama, rest assured there’s something far more sinister afoot. Once home, Russ is plagued by strange visions of men in robes emerging out of the sea and strange writings and symbols. Russ learns that children have been going missing in the town and a girl at the liquor store silently passes him a note urging him not to talk to a drunken sailor who claims to know about the horrible things happening to the missing kids.
And what’s worse, Tori Spelling is hitting on him!
Yes, Donna Martin does appear for a few scenes in Cthuhlu … and oddly, though the movie is strong enough on its own to not need whatever bump in credibility an appearance by a former TV star might add, it’s not a wasted cameo or offhand gesture. She actually plays against type quite well as a friend of his sister who clearly has eyes for Russ, which her paraplegic husband seems fine with. But does she have ulterior motives?
Based loosely on the wonderfully creepy mythology of legendary horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, Cthulhu is all damp Pacific twilights, creaky old houses and salty breaths of sea air. The film is positively dripping with atmosphere, which is something that most low-budget horror movies lack. (If you’re a fan of the writer’s work, this is really more akin to The Shadow Over Innsmouth, as Cthulhu himself isn’t really involved other than as a reference.)
And what’s more, though Lovecraft had no explicitly gay themes to speak of in his wonderfully moody works, Cthulhu incorporates the gay element beautifully, giving us a believable gay lead gay character whose issues are far more intense than the standard coming-out problems or generic family discord that most gay characters get to chew on. I mean, I loved The Family Stone as much as the next guy, but wouldn’t all the dinner-table bickering have been vastly improved by a scene where slimy fetuses pop out of the basement ceiling? Cthulhu’s got that covered.
Cthulhu is the rare gay genre film that manages to serve both its masters without alienating either core audience. It’s unapologetically gay, with a gay lead character, gay issues and themes, and man-on-man sex scenes. But Russ is very accessible as a character, and the movie doesn’t feel like it’s preaching a message of tolerance or winking at an insider audience, so any straight viewer who picks up the flick shouldn’t be turned off when they realize that they’ve rented … *GASP* … a gay movie.
On the other hand, it’s also a straight-up horror movie. There are thrills, wonderfully creepy suspense sequences, deaths (some expected, some not) and some blood and slimy stuff. But we’re not talking Hostel or Saw here, so even casual horror fans or gay viewers who aren’t horror fans looking for a solid gay film will have no trouble making it through.
Spooky goings-on, unrequited gay loves and paranoid delusions aside, where Cthulhu really succeeds is in nailing the archaically creepy atmosphere of its source material. Lovecraft’s stories were about vast, ancient conspiracies that threatened to pull apart the fiber of the contemporary world, of leviathan sea gods who waited to return to power on land, and witches who held the keys to unlock powerful, terrible dimensions.
The sweeping aerial camerawork, deliciously eerie soundscapes and score and meticulously plotted scares help bring these myths to life in a contemporary story in a way that few filmmakers have managed. Probably in part due to the gay angle, the film feels decidedly modern yet still taps into a dark, damp place beautifully. It’s a classic horror story without the cobwebs and candelabras.
While Cthulhu is a strong low-budget film, it isn’t perfect. There’s some uneven acting and the production at times exposes its tiny budget, although not nearly as often as one might expect. And don’t get turned off by Russ’s appearance in the opening scenes … the wig goes away mercifully fast.
Thanks to a well-developed gay lead, a steady hand with mood and a fresh approach to its source material, Cthulhu is a standout in the niche of gay horror movies, and a strong entry into either genre. Halloween season or otherwise, this macabre mystery offers a fun ride to viewers looking for a film that goes "bump" in the night.
Check out a trailer for the film below, and check out the film’s website to see if Cthulhu is playing in a city near you.