Eldritch Adaptations: The Importance of ‘Call Girl of Cthulhu’

Eldritch Adaptations

Eldritch Adaptations is a series of reviews of movies based on or heavily inspired by the works of Howard Phillips Lovecraft—better known as H. P. Lovecraft—an American horror writer who produced numerous stories during the 1920s and ’30s. His works have influenced the horror genre and inspired major writers and directors like Guillermo del Toro, John Carpenter, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, and many more.

Midnight Crew Productions

Midnight Crew Productions

Lovecraft fans, hear my cry: Call Girl of Cthulhu is the perfect representation of how Lovecraft is perceived and treated by its fanbase in the modern age.

That should upset and frighten you.

Call Girl of Cthulhu is a pet project that was Kickstarted by Lovecraft fans. It tells the story of a Lonely Virgin who falls in love with a Hooker with a Heart of Gold, and she appreciates his Sensitivity. Sadly, she is meant to be a sacrifice that will bring Cthulhu to our world and catalyze our destruction. There is much other directionless zaniness in the story, but I will do you a favor that the screenwriters, Jimmy George and Chris LaMartina, do not: I won’t waste your time telling you about it because it’s inconsequential and irrelevant to any potential plot. Call Girl of Cthulhu, when it comes down to it, has nothing at all to say—and, as a result, says a lot.

Presumably anyone reading this who is a fan of the works of H. P. Lovecraft appreciates, you know, his works. There are the dark stories of untold and unnameable evils and the musings on humanity’s meaningless in the universe, to name two of the biggest draws. But if that’s the case, then how did we get to this point? Why is Lovecraft basically the go-to name drop for people who think violence plus tentacles is the end all be all of his works? The filmmakers say in their Kickstarter that this is meant to be an homage, but in what sense? In the sense that the word Cthulhu shows up? Perhaps the most indicative aspect of their intent is this line:

The entire screenplay is one giant Easter Egg for Lovecraft fans.

This is the problem with the present state of Lovecraft fandom (and a lot of fandoms, I imagine). It’s no longer about the horror, or the ideas, or the stories at all; it’s about name-dropping. I counted ten character name references to Lovecraft stories (there’s a porn star named  “Miss Katonixx,” if you’re in need of a good eye roll), and some other references to monsters and such not. Beyond that, though, there is not an ounce of Lovecraft in here, spare maybe a narrator who is considered insane while he tells his story—a device, mind you, that adds nothing to the story whatsoever. This movie isn’t an homage to Lovecraft any more than a bowel movement is an homage to last night’s banquet.

Midnight Crew Productions

Midnight Crew Productions
“But…but…there are tentacles!”

The plot is so hackneyed that it alone betrays the lack of actual influence from Lovecraft—who, for any clichés he might have used, told stories that were unique when he was writing his best works—but the specifics of it shatter any illusion that this is a Lovecraft film. First of all, everything is visible, nothing left to the imagination. The writers/director clearly just wanted an excuse to use a budget on excessively violent effects to avoid any of that pesky storytelling business. Lovecraft 101 is that the unknown produces true terror, but that would require actually reading a single sentence of one of his stories.

Secondly, the protagonist is so disgustingly representative of a troublesome modern archetype—what head writer James Melville accurately called the “Sensitive White Boy Needs a Beautiful White Girl to Love Him and Remind Him That He’s a Sensitive White Boy Who Should Be Loved” (SWBNBWGLHRHTHSWBWSBL)—that the influence is clearly more in George and LaMartina’s desires to tell another story about the difficulties of being a sensitive young white boy than any desire to reflect the works of ol’ H. P. Hell, I was a SWBNBWGLHRHTHSWBWSBL growing up (and might still be one) and I’m sick of this troublesome narrative. Lovecraft’s characters were meant to present to readers the fact that we are meaningless specs in a vast universe. George and LaMartina’s characters say to viewers that we really don’t appreciate sensitive virgin white boys enough.

Midnight Crew Productions Also, non-sensitive white boys are objectively terrible. This guy's nickname is actually

Midnight Crew Productions
Also, non-sensitive white boys are objectively terrible. This guy’s nickname is actually “The Dick.” I’m not joking.

Add in the tired story of saving the Hooker with a Heart of Gold (which has all the associated pangs of needing to save a woman who is clearly more put together than the protagonist), along with a pseudo-damsel in distress story, and you have what is decidedly not a Lovecraft homage other than on the most superficial level. To me, this shows how low we have let perception of Lovecraft fall. I don’t mean to say that you can’t enjoy some good fun based on a decidedly not fun (in a “Yippee!” sense) writer—I know that things evolve, and it’s often better to adapt than stick your feet in the mud—but this movie is entirely indicative of fan culture surrounding the man. It’s all about violence, misogyny (I know that’s a strong word, but I will expand on it in a moment), and name-dropping. We let this happen by having no standards. I see people make fun riffs on Shakespeare all the time, but they at least understand what they’re mocking, e.g Dirtbag Shakespeare. That’s because we have established that Shakespeare is an intelligent writer, and we recognize what made him so skillful. The parodies, homages, and jokes are perceptive, rather than haphazard.

But maybe, just maybe, you don’t care whether or not this represents Lovecraft. You just want some good ol’ fun with references thrown in. The issue is that this movie, as I have hinted at, is just awful. Every line and character is a cliché, and it is so clearly an excuse for excessive, disgusting violence. Maybe that’s your jam, and if that’s all you need to enjoy a movie, then I guess you’re all set. However, characters never sound like real people, the acting maxes out at non-distractingly terrible, and the narrative unfolds with the logic of a four year old’s story about how he saved the world with none of the charm. My favorite example of that is how, when the Hooker with a Heart of Gold doesn’t call the protagonist back after a little bit (less than a day!), he decides she just wasn’t the one and out of absolutely nowhere starts revealing romantic attachments to his roommate, who was previously a chiding buddy-buddy type. “No, wait, I want to be a firefighter astronaut instead!”

Midnight Crew Productions

Midnight Crew Productions
“Listen, I know we hired you to be a main character, but you’ve already appeared nude on camera, so we don’t really know what else to do with you.”

And then, there is the blatantly horrid depiction of women in this movie. I do not exaggerate when I say that over half of the women that appear in this movie are strippers or prostitutes, and each one of them is naked at some point; half of the named characters are prostitutes, and every single woman—prostitute or not—ends up dead (excepting one character in the frame device who is implied to be killed). Now, most of the characters in this movie end up dead, but the really troubling part (besides the fact that most of the women are prostitutes in a movie that is about the sanctity of being a sensitive white virgin who “values” sex more than others because of his emotions, and thus the women exist purely as negative contrasts) is that LaMartina is obsessed with both capturing horrid violence committed against these women, and in sexually objectifying them. Scenes will bounce back and forth between women taking off their clothes for men and then getting murdered; the first death is a prostitute who, after carefully stripping for a man who will soon kill her, gets a dildo jammed down her throat, causing her to bleed. Hilarious!

The director appears to think that women are mostly good for titillating men and dying; hell, there are two female characters who are meant to be sidekicks for another woman, and basically all they do before getting their heads chopped off is make out with each other. I get the sneaking suspicion that LaMartina and George were just looking for a way to film some sexual fantasies, like the anti-socialites in college who lament the fact that women are “sluts” in college, but are really harboring a mix of narcissism and no social skills. The alternative to my “sexual fantasies” theory is that LaMartina and George have zero respect for women, or could care less about having them in a movie unless they will show their breasts. The impression I get from Call Girl of Cthulhu is that they are the dudes who say, “I’m not a misogynist! I love bitches!”*

Midnight Crew Productions

Midnight Crew Productions “You mean there’s more to women than their bodies?!”

For more evidence of this movie’s problematic depiction of women, let me return to the male character: he has this exchange with two women, and it is worth noting that they are the only two (not including the frame device character) women who aren’t sexualized:

“There are some things man was never meant to understand.”

“Yeah, I call them women.”

That, to me, speaks worlds about the film’s perceptions of women. First of all, the main character—who we are 100% meant to sympathize with and support—just referred to women as things. Second, note that the main character desperately wants sex and only interacts with two women before this conversation: his roommate, whom he condescends to because he could only have sex with someone he loves, unlike her, and the titular call girl, whose line of work he disrespects but attempts to tolerate. He paints prostitutes, apparently reflecting on how he respects their bodies more than most clients or some hogwash like that, but doesn’t realize that he’s judging them and their line of work in a snobbish way as a result. He thinks he knows what their bodies are good for better than they do.

Also, he watches porn of the same woman consistently, which he probably counts as interacting with a female. The “quip” about not understanding women is a rendering of this Cyanide and Happiness comic, but without any of the self-awareness. On Call Girl of Cthulhu‘s IMDB page, under the  “If you like this movie, then you might also enjoy…” section, it should list “a good therapist.”

Midnight Crew Productions This monster is a transformation of a porn star's breast, which is so hilariously representative of the writers' mindsets that I'm almost willing to lend credulity to Freud.

Midnight Crew Productions
This monster is a transformation of a porn star’s breast, which is so hilariously representative of the writers’ mindsets that I’m almost willing to lend credulity to Freud.

I cannot communicate how much I loathe Call Girl of Cthulhu. As a Lovecraft “homage,” it is despicable. As a movie, it is horrid—although, to be fair, the one compliment I can give is that the camerawork is above other amateur movies with a similar budget. As a piece of good ol’ cheesy horror fun, it falls completely flat for anyone that doesn’t think such fun is sustained by bloody effects (largely used on women) flashing on the screen for 90 minutes. Worst of all, this isn’t even inoffensively bad; its implications and depictions of women are overtly representative of misogynistic mindsets. Oh, and for added flavor, there are two non-white characters! One is a younger black woman who plays the hardhitting assistant (angry black woman trope is in full force here), and the other is a flashy pimp who speaks the way white people think flashy black pimps speak. Good times.

To return to my point from way back in the introduction, Call Girl of Cthulhu is incredibly important. These types of movies should be treated as they are: pieces of trash. That is true for Lovecraft fans or film-goers of any sort. If we continue to accept movies like this as “just a good old bit of fun for Lovecraft fans,” then we are doing a great disservice to a man whose work we supposedly love—someone whose life, ideas, and stories stirred up some complex emotion and thoughts in us. Let’s give Lovecraft the treatment he deserves, and give him some respect. Until we do, Call Girl of Cthulhu will be what we are served, and I can honestly say that starvation would be better.

*Note 1/13/15: In retrospect, this comes across as more mean-spirited than comedic, and I should note that I’ve actually spoken to LaMartina and he does not at all seem like a sexist prick.

7 thoughts on “Eldritch Adaptations: The Importance of ‘Call Girl of Cthulhu’

  1. I posted this over in /r/Lovecraft, but am also putting it here to get your thoughts:

    I completely agree that this movie looks like a bastardization of cosmic horror as a genre – but to claim the movie is non-Lovecraftian because it treats women or characters in general as disposable narrative tools is simply incorrect. Lovecraft himself was not particularly good at (or comfortable with) writing women, and even his best-developed male characters tend to be vehicles for the horrible events of the story, rather than full personalities in their own right.

    I don’t disagree with the core of the article, which is that this is not what Lovecraft wrote about, but neither would better characterization change that.

    • I agree that Lovecraft was not good at representing women, but I think you missed a key transition in this article: in the paragraph above the one where I start talking about how this movie treats women, I say, “But maybe, just maybe, you don’t care whether or not this represents Lovecraft. You just want some good ol’ fun with references thrown in. The issue is that this movie, as I have hinted at, is just awful.” The discussion of women in this movie is an expansion on that, adding in that the movie is not only terrible, but offensively so.

      If I were to bring it back to Lovecraft, though, I would say that at least Lovecraft knew not to write female characters because he didn’t really understand people, no less the various ways one can be a woman. While I wish he’d made a better effort to reflect in his fiction the women he knew in his life, like Sonia Greene or his aunts, I don’t think his depictions of women are problematic on the same level as this movie’s.

    • Hi, S.T. Joshi. Call Girl of Cthulhu has been going around the country slowly via festivals and screenings, as you’ve indicated; I do not think there have been plans to release it for direct purchase online, which is in my opinion a mistake, because they could probably make a fair amount of money by doing so. CGoG is borderline handcrafted for those who would pay to watch this type of movieon demand.

      I hope you enjoyed the article, or at least found it interesting. It’s rather incredible to imagine an author of whose works I have read so much, reading something that I wrote. Well, besides emails, anyway.

  2. Pingback: Latest Lovecraft links (November 9, 2014) - The Scrawl of Cthulhu

  3. I actually worked on this film, and I figured I’d comment on your article and offer some insight from someone who contributed to the film. I want to clarify that I do not speak for Chris and Jimmy, or any other member of the cast and crew.

    First off, you are a hilarious writer. While I disagree with your interpretation of our film, I found your entire review very funny (perhaps a bit harsh), engaging, and it brought up some good points that I definitely expected some viewers to have.

    That said, I want to address the part of the review that focuses on why Chris and Jimmy made the film, and what kind of people they are. In the kindest way possible, I’d have to correct your character assessment on both of them. They both are very kind and mature individuals who approached every scene that could be seen as offensive and misogynistic, very delicately and carefully. I can assure you that even the most brazen scenes were taken very seriously, despite the over-the-top nature of the film. Where you see a film that comes off as misogynistic and offensive to women, I see the complete opposite. A film with weak-willed and very flawed men, off-set by much stronger, and more powerful women. Yes, women are highly sexualized in the film, but I think we all need to keep in mind that this is a film about call girls (it’s in the title after all), and is a very specific kind of horror-comedy that has a demographic which follows Troma and 80’s films of the same genre.

    While I am not a huge Lovecraft fan myself (I did read a few of his works in preparation for my role), I also feel that Chris and Jimmy pay tribute in their own way. While this film is a far-cry from a Lovecraft work, I don’t necessarily believe it is meant to be a Lovecraft work. It’s a Chris LaMartina and Jimmy George work, which just so happens to pay tribute to Lovecraft (once again, this is all my own opinion).

    There is so much more I’d love to comment on and discuss about the film, but realistically, I wouldn’t even know where to start! I can say most assuredly, that I had an absolute blast working on this movie, and never once did anyone to my knowledge feel discriminated against or insulted with the material we were working with. I think at the end of the day, breaking down each character in the film is key to understanding where their flaws come from, what they represent, and why they say and do the things they say and do. Granted, you are reviewing the film, and reviews are meant to simply give an opinion and an idea of the content, and that’s understandable.

    Anyways, I enjoyed the review. It’s nice to see the negative things that people have to say, as well as the positive things.

    • Thank you for the added insight! I admit that my character analyses of LaMartina and George were more so intended for hyperbole and comedy than realism; the blokes have reached out to me on Twitter, and seem perfectly nice.

      That being said, if the final product is a result of great care taken during those scenes, then I still find that disconcerting. I won’t reiterate what I already wrote, but it’s not so much that the movie dared to be about call girls; it’s about the way women are characterized in this movie, the way they are captured by the camera (sexualized and then brutalized, in that order, or sometimes simultaneously), and the way other characters talk about/treat them. And really, regardless of the way they /approached/ it, the final product speaks for itself all too clearly, here.

      But again, I am very happy you contributed your comment; I think that the human element that I’ve seen in response to my review has shown how these types of movies get made in the first place. Y’all are pretty amicable. 🙂

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