Wednesday, June 22, 2011

YE CURSE OF YIG

In a letter to August Derleth, H. P. Lovecraft wrote:  "By the way--if you want to see a new story which is practically mine, read "The Curse of Yig" in the current W.T.  Mrs. Reed is a client for whom Long & I have done oceans of work, & this story is about 75% mine.  Alkl I had to work on was a synopsis describing a couple of pioneers in a cabin with a nest of rattlesnakes beneath, the killing of the husband by snakes, the bursting of the corpse, & the madness of the wife, who was an eye-witness to the horror.  There was no plot or motivation--no prologue or aftermath to the incident--so that one might say the story, as a story, is wholly mine.  I invented the snake-god & the curse, the tragic wielding of the axe by the wife, the matter of the snake-victim's identity, & the asylum epilogue.  Also, I worked up the geographic & other incidental colour--getting some data from the alleged authoress, who knows Oklahoma, but more from books."  

I have not read "The Curse of Yig" for quite a while, as I am waiting to read all of the Lovecraft revisions when they are publish'd in ye two forthcoming annotated volumes from Arcane Wisdom Press.  The first such volume, The Crawling Chaos and Others, is at the printers as I write and should be available in four to six weeks, and in it one will find the fully annotated text of "The Curse of Yig."  However, through my beloved weird sister Sarah and her blog, She Never Slept, and her Facebook activity, I discovered that a film version of the story had been produced; and through Sarah's sorcery I was able to get in touch with the film's producer/director, Paul von Stoetzel, & in to-day's poft I got a copy of the film on DVD. 

Great Yuggoth!!!  This is, quite simply, one of the finest adaptations of a Lovecraft weird tale to cinema that I have ever seen.  It is brilliant and effective in every way.  It has been my opinion that films that stay as true as possible to H. P. Lovecraft's original stories are the films that work best, because they have the genius of Lovecraft as their foundation.  This is one of those rare films (such as Bryan Moore's excellent Cool Air and ye HPLHS's magnificent The Call of Cthulhu) that have as one of their major strong points their keeping Lovecraft's story as the basis for their cinematic effort.


There are some quite wonderful additions.  The actress pictured above, Amy Schweikhard, opens the film as its initial narrator.  Thus is Lovecraft's original male character transform'd.  She sits in a chair and begins to speak Lovecraft's language.  The dialogue is taken directly from the text of Lovecraft's story, and it is perfectly performed.  But this woman is not just a figure inthe story -- she is the story's "alleged authoress," Zealia Bishop (& what a delightfully appropriately Lovecraftian name this authoress has!).  Miss Schweikhard's delivery is so good, so effective, and has the immediate effect of instilling into the film an atmosphere of weird mystery.  She is utterly convincing, in the way she sits, the look on her face (which is almost a lack of expression that, underneath, churns a volcano of emotion).  The change of character gender works very well, especially when Lovecraft's original line, uttered by Doctor McNeill, "You've done remarkable work for a man as young as you seem to be..." becomes "You've done remarkable work--for a woman--as young as you seem to be." 

Production is solid and everything contains a sense of authenticity.  The lower lair of the asylum's seemingly deserted region is atmospheric and prepares one for the sight of the horror, that which has been kissed with the curse of Yig.  The creature is shewn to us just enough, and as the narrator quotes the actual lines of Lovecraft's description, "It was absolutely hairless, and its tawny-looking back seemed subtly squamous in the dim ghoulish light. . . . Around the shoulders it was rather speckled and brownish, and the head was very curiously flat.  As it looked up to hiss at me I saw that the beady little black eyes were damnably anthropoid, but I could not bear to study them for long", that is exactly what is shewn on the screen.  It is Lovecraft's offspring of Yig superbly and perfectly realised.  We do not see it overlong, just as it is not further described in the story. 

One of the weakest element in low budget film productions is poor acting.  In this department, this movie excels.  Everyone gives extremely good, at times brilliant, performances. Tim Uren is excellent as the doomed Walker Davis, a male character who, in true Lovecraft tradition, faints when overwhelmed by terror and horror.  Minor roles are handled with finesse, with Conor Timmis giving an exemplary performance in his few moments of dialogue.  One character that has been added to Lovecraft's story is a an "Okmulgee Man," portrayed magnificently by Kurt Schweickhard.  This wholly successful character is similar to that of old Zadok Allen in "The Shadow over Innsmouth," and he is so good he almost steals the show. 

The invention of that "Okmulgee Man" is but one of the wonderful and perfect aspects of the topnotch screenplay by leading player, Tim Uren.  The script is flawless, with many moments of brilliance.  Again, it tells the story almost exactly as Lovecraft penned it -- but I do not think it is a simple matter to accomplish this in a screenplay.  It takes thought and effort and keen knowledge of Lovecraft's text, and then it takes an understand of the film medium to thus convey a work of prose into an effective and fascinating film.

Music score is provided by Scott Keever, and wow is it wonderful.  It is not intrusive, and it absolutely adds to the mood of the film.  When the music needs to unsettle, it is subtly weird.  When the narrative introduces the Davis couple the music becomes delightful folksy (a poor word to describe the music at this portion of the film).  Keever himself appears with his fiddle in some scenes.

I watched this amazing Lovecraftian film spellbound, and then I read the story and that spell was enhanced.  The language of the film is Lovecraft's.  The story is Lovecraft's.  But Lovecraft has been perfectly realised and evoked within a medium that has rarely done him justice.  The Curse of Yig, quite simply, is one of the finest Lovecraftian films ever produced.  I cannot praise it highly enough.

4 comments:

  1. You are most welcome my wonderfully weird brother! I was pretty sure you'd love it as much as I did. I am glad I was correct in that assumption. Great review!

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  2. Sounds very intriguing. Is this just released? I'll have to wait till it hits home video to get a look.

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  3. The film is not yet released, but will be soon.

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  4. "Yig" is my favorite of the stories Lovecraft ghostwrote for others, and what you've described here sounds remarkable. I'll definitely be adding that one to my DVD library, just as I'll be picking up the HPLHS' "Whisperer in Darkness" as soon as it's available, and plan to get "Die Farbe" very shortly. Cthulhu stories don't need a huge budget -- they simply need people who truly enjoy and understand them.

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