Eldritch Adaptations: ‘Out of Mind’ (1998), a Mindful Lovecraft Pastiche

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.

Cine Qua Non Films

Cine Qua Non Films

Fans of H.P. Lovecraft and his fiction are in a golden age—in terms of quantity—for loose adaptations and pastiches. If you are a fan of heavy metal, buckets-of-blood horror, or even stuff you like recast with Old Ones, then you have a lot to choose from. Kickstarter alone returns 109 results for “Lovecraft,” ranging from a Blu-Ray re-release of Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown (see review above) to Lovecraft: A Minecraft Love Story Web Series.

While all of those things are valuable (well, I’ll reserve judgement on the Minecraft web series), there is a dearth of adaptations and Lovecraftian fare that capture the aspects of Lovecraft’s work that enthrall fans of his work: the themes, the style, the ideas. So few adaptations and pastiches are interested in engaging or expanding upon the body of work that has influenced so many of us. When a piece of fiction does, though, it’s a cause for celebration, even if the result isn’t perfect. Enter Out of Mind: The Stories of H.P. Lovecraft.

The title relates the film’s ambitions. Playing on “Shadow Out of Time,” Out of Mind takes a Lovecraft work and alters it, rooting itself in his stories while avoiding direct adaptation. More importantly, it emphasizes a focus on Lovecraft’s psychology and the way that shaped his stories. Although writer/director Raymond Saint-Jean forgets this conceit on occasion, he often returns to and emphasizes it by having H.P. himself (played warmly and intelligently by Christopher Heyerdahl) discuss his philosophy to the camera, quoting the real Lovecraft’s letters. One of Lovecraft’s greatest literary features is his massive correspondence (he’s claimed to have written nearly 100,000 letters), and therein one can find the humanity of a guy who’s famous for scary monsters. Saint-Jean made an excellent choice in including their contents here. He avoided Lovecraft’s unfavorable qualities, like his virulent racism, but I can’t criticize Saint-jean for not touching on every aspect of Lovecraft’s life.

Whenever Out of Mind focuses on Lovecraft himself, it stands out not only in the context of Lovecraft movies, but as an interesting and nuanced character study. However, when Saint-Jean explores the world of Randolph Carter (Art Kitching)—Lovecraft’s most famous recurring human character, here presented as a 20- or 30-something dude in the 1990s—the movie falters. The film-making and acting are incredibly amateurish. Peter Farbridge plays several different characters, but his accent and delivery are inconsistent in every sense excluding their complete lack of plausibility. The production values and directorial decisions also seem haphazard: in one conversation between Carter and Warren (Farbridge) at a diner, the camera gets uncomfortably close to the actors’ faces, injecting a sense of unease and claustrophobia that is not warranted by the nature of the scene. Similar haphazard cinematography appears frequently.

Cine Qua Non FilmsStop circling him. Ugh. It just looks ridiculous. Stop.

Cine Qua Non Films
Stop circling him. Ugh. It looks ridiculous. Please, just stop.

Further, the character of Randolph Carter is mercilessly dull. We know nothing about him before he is bequeathed a book by his mysterious uncle’s will, so we have no sense of motivation or insight into his turmoil surrounding the book. Carter is a boring version of Lovecraft’s stock characters, who could kindly be described as cardboard in several cases. While I understand that Lovecraft often did this with his characters—forsaking backstory in order to focus on the narrative at hand—Lovecraft had more interesting narratives to place his protagonists in, and interwove his themes into the story to make up for the flat characters. Out of Mind returns to the more interesting themes and frame device with H.P. only on occasion.

When Saint-Jean combines the worlds of Carter and H.P., though, the result is moving. (Spoilers in this paragraph and the next one.) Carter’s story initially appears to be a parallel narrative in our world, with the typical trope that Lovecraft’s stories are based on reality. However, when Carter and H.P. find themselves in a shared dream, we understand that reality and time are fluid. H.P. tells Carter that he wonders if dreams might be the “real” world—our daily lives, a mere fabrication. Lovecraft often had vivid dreams, and the nature of Carter’s world makes us question just how fictitious or “real” his existence is. Carter, H.P. explains, is a character in the author’s works, and everyone in Carter’s world stems from Lovecraft’s fictional universe: Carter’s uncle is George Angell of “The Call of Cthulhu”; he meets with Henry Armitage from “The Dunwich Horror”; Miskatonic University comes up in passing. Clearly, Carter’s world cannot logically coexist in a world where Lovecraft’s works are real.

Cine Qua Non FilmsStop circling him. Ugh. It just looks ridiculous. Stop.

Cine Qua Non Films
Lovecraft seems too odd for the real world as-is.

Yet, Lovecraft had no idea he would become well-known outside of the world of pulps, and he certainly couldn’t have guessed so accurately what the 1990s would look like. So, where does reality end and fiction begin? Are the two at all distinct? This theme expands upon one utilized by Lovecraft himself, who encouraged authors to use his monsters and creations in order to make people think that, for example, the Necronomicon is real. Lovecraft himself wanted to blur the line between fiction and reality in order to emphasize the underlying cosmic principles in his stories. Out of Mind accomplishes this, but also uses the narrative trick to emphasize Lovecraft’s interests, ambitions, and humanity. The main character of Out of Mind is Lovecraft himself, and the notion that the Carter story was a dream does not feel cheap, but rather significant in what it reveals about a man who is often viewed as stoic and cold. (End spoilers.)

Out of Mind is incredibly flawed in its execution, but inspired in its aims. Perhaps my standards are just abysmally low after watching so many Lovecraft adaptations and pastiches, but I found it easy to look past Out of Mind‘s faults because it desires to tell an interesting story and focus on ideas rather than monsters, gore, and objectified women. It desires to paint a psychological portrait of a man whom many idolize or demonize, but few consider in all of his complexities.

I don’t know if Out of Mind would interest those who are entirely unfamiliar with Lovecraft. However, it will interest those who desire to understand an important literary figure—one who deserves to be remembered not only for his stories, but for all of the people he affected on a much deeper level during his lifetime, and well after.

You can watch Out of Mind free (and legally) on Saint-Jean’s website.

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