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Originally published Friday, September 12, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

An amateurish take on the twisted mind of H.P. Lovecraft

"Cthulhu" review says Daniel Gildark movie of original work of H.P. Lovecraft misses the mark — again.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Movie review 1.5 stars

"Cthulhu,"with Jason Cottle, Cara Buono, Scott Green, Robert Padilla and Tori Spelling. Directed by Daniel Gildark from a screenplay by Grant Cogswell. 109 minutes. Rated R for language, some sexuality, nudity and violence. At Metro Cinema.

Of all the unspeakable horrors that sprung from the ingenious, twisted mind of H.P. Lovecraft, none was Tori Spelling.

Her unsettling presence is just one of the unusual things about "Cthulhu," an independent, Seattle-produced, gay-themed take on the late horror master's supernatural "mythos."

Sure, Lovecraft was a noted racist who shuffled off to the beyond in 1937 and may not have been first in line to march in a gay-pride parade. But there's never been a serious, faithful, satisfying film of his work so much as variations on his themes. And since you could argue that his rich mythology was a bizarre take on Christianity — which hasn't exactly rolled out the pink carpet — go ahead and bring on "At the Brokeback Mountains of Madness."

"Cthulhu" is more drawn from his tense story, "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," already loosely adapted in Stuart Gordon's entertaining but cartoonish 2001 "Dagon." To their credit, director Daniel Gildark and writer Grant Cogswell keep things consistently dark, and the only tongue-in-cheek is between gay Seattle history prof Russell Marsh (Jason Cottle) and his long-ago lover (Scott Green) on a trip home for his mom's funeral.

But it doesn't feel like home for Marsh on the island off Oregon's coast, where his estranged cult-reverend father (Dennis Kleinsmith) needles him about his homosexuality and inability to produce an heir.

This is where the joltingly incongruous Spelling, the film's only "star," comes in: a very small role as a seductress with a crippled husband, who both want Marsh to make her pregnant.

As a near-future environmental crisis looms, Marsh becomes drawn back into the sinister little town through a mysterious ceremonial cudgel that appears in his possession, the disappearance of children, an impending May Festival that doesn't sound like much fun and a very fishy Marsh family secret.

"Cthulhu" is a good effort on a million-dollar budget (and very troubled production). It's got a few effectively nightmarish images, uses location scenery well with some impressive photography and hits a handful of Lovecraft's marks — notably a chase through the town's dark sewers.

But too much about the movie is just amateurish: a fair portion of even the non-Spelling acting, spotty sound, long and inert shots that beg for editing. Even the phony news reports make the ones in "Night of the Living Dead" four decades ago sound professional.

"Cthulhu's" gay metaphor ultimately results in Marsh being forced to make an awful choice about who he really is. It may seem heavy-handed, but otherness was a Lovecraft staple, and it's hardly fantastical at a time when the current Republican vice-presidential candidate belongs to a church with a program to "pray away the gay."

The real problem after all Marsh endures is a maddening open-ended climax. Perhaps maddening enough that, like one of the master's protagonists, you just can't take it.

Mark Rahner: 206-464-8259

or mrahner@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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