Monday, September 30, 2013

Q&A with Stuart Gordon and Dennis Paoli during NecronomiCon-Providence 2013.

After a 33mm screening of Dagon in the RISD auditorium in Providence, Rhode Island, during NecronomiCon weekend, director Stuart Gordon and screenwriter Dennis Paoli fielded questions from the audience. The following is transcribed from an audio recording.

Gordon: That was a scary screening- when the film breaks, it scares the crap out of me! I don’t know how many prints are left of this movie, so I hope it’s okay.
Q: How was the film site selected?

Gordon: I went location scouting, and that town is called Combarro, and it really exists and on a sunny day it’s really picturesque… we made it look worse than it really was! It’s a medieval fishing village.

Paoli: They have great oysters, too!

Gordon: They also have a dish called Pulpo Gallego, which is octopus, and when we were working on preproduction, one of the things that occurred to me was trying to come up with a look for the Deep Ones and their half-human offspring, and everything we did kept coming up like The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Earlier today we had a panel on Lovecraftian films, and that was one we should’ve talked about because it has a Deep One in it – the creature has a distinctive makeup design that is hard to avoid repeating. It struck me that maybe the way to go with this movie was to go with the idea that the people were turning into some sort of octopus-like creatures, which in a way, ties in with Lovecraft and all his tentacles, so that was the direction we went.
Q: Why was there no domestic theatrical release of Dagon?

Gordon: It was released directly to video/DVD, which really upset me. Lion’s Gate released it in the States, and I think their feeling was that it didn’t have any big names in it, although Francisco Paco Rabal is an incredibly legendary actor in Spain, and the fact that he wanted to do this movie astonished me- it would be like getting Sean Connery to be in your film! It turned out that the reason Paco wanted to do the movie was he was a Lovecraft fan and he liked the script.

Q: Can you talk about some of the creature effects in the film?

Gordon: The company that did the effects, DDT, won the academy award a few years ago for Pan’s Labyrinth, and they’re brilliant. Our budget for this movie was not huge and they were able to do so much for so little. They were incredibly creative. I remember walking in one day and they were xeroxing a real octopus! They had this octopus sitting on the xerox machine to get the textures of its skin. They were amazing. David Marti is the name of the guy who runs the company.

Q: Was it difficult to work under so heavy rainfall?

Gordon: It was. Dennis and I had the idea that the movie should be as wet as possible, and when we were shooting it, it was the middle of winter and we were all freezing our asses off in the rain, and all I could think was, “what were we thinking?” In retrospect, I’m glad that we did, because it really gives the movie an oppressive atmosphere, which was appropriate for the subject. But yes, it was difficult to do all that latex in water.

Paoli: One of the other things that I think creates the atmosphere in the movie is there’s no music other than in the dream sequence and the credits; except for chanting from time to time, there’s no background music in the rest of the film. You only hear what the characters hear, and Stuart and the crew really succeeded in having you feel very much as the characters felt, and that’s what gives the movie the overall effect it has. I know it’s hot in here tonight, but that movie makes me feel cold whenever I see it, so I think it evened out the temperature in here.

Gordon: The music was by Carles Cases, an amazing composer. I also think the sound design is perfect in this film, too- they used a lot of natural sounds: sea creatures, whales, seals, and dolphins, and so forth. The idea I told the producers of people turning into fish, it sounds absurd, but really what Lovecraft was talking about is a sort of reverse evolution- that we all came out of the water originally, and some stayed in the water, like the whales and the dolphins and other marine mammals, so the idea of going backwards, of regressing- he makes us believe it.

Q: What kind of direction did you need to give the extras to have them act in the fishy and jerky way they did?

Gordon: We actually had a troupe of mimes employed to play most of the extras, and they worked for a long time on the body movements. We talked about the different stages of the transformations- the ones who are most human are the ones who are visible, like the guy who runs the hotel and the priest. The idea in the story is that the more fishlike they become, the more they have to be hidden away, so we referred to them as level one, level two, and level three, and the movement guys developed ideas on how each would move.

Q: Have you considered filming a Lovecraft movie in his own city of Providence?

Gordon: The last time that Dennis and I were here together was when we were location scouting to film “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.” They took us on a tour of Providence and brought us to the house that Lovecraft grew up in and I noticed there was no plaque on the house, there was nothing to indicate he’d ever lived there. I mentioned that to the film commission guy, and he said, “If you make a film here, we’ll put a plaque on the house.” We didn’t make the movie here and I believe they tore down the house.

Paoli: I thought they did a very good job of staying close to the original script for a location in Spain; originally, of course, I wrote the script for a location in the Northeast, either here or we were looking at a town in Maine, where it would’ve worked perfectly. We did have to make some adaptations to the script, but actually very few. Stuart and Brian (Yuzna), who we worked famously with before, were dedicated to shooting that script, and I actually thought that the fact that there was Spanish spoken in the film- lines originally written in English- made it more alienating and disturbing, in a way, and just as there were level one, level two, and level three movements, there were three levels of language: English, Spanish, and Lovecraftian; you know, “Ia, ia!” I thought that ultimately lent something to the film, as well.

Gordon: The language actually is not Spanish, it’s called Galego. In Spain they speak five different languages. We were funded by the Galician Film Arts Commission, and I got a call one day that they had a couple of problems with the script, and I was going, “Oh, boy, here it goes…” and they said, “in your script you refer to Galego as a dialect, and it’s actually a language; it’s not a dialect.” And I said, “yeah, okay…” and I was waiting for the rest and there were nothing else, that was it! The thing that was interesting was that if we’d shot this film in America, it’s hard to imagine a community today would be so cut off from the world that you could have something like this going on, so the idea of setting it in a remote part of Spain, for us, somehow made it seem more real. Although, I have to say, to the Spaniards, they thought it was ridiculous there could be such a place in their country.

Paoli: There’s a long-standing Welch tradition in Galicia. If you notice, especially early in the film, there’s some Celtic influences in the music- Galicians are the Celts of Spain. They play bagpipes, they wear kilts from time to time… they are Celtic in origin and so partly is their language.

Q: Can you talk a little about how they skinned their victims, since that wasn’t in the original story?

Gordon: No, it’s not in Lovecraft’s story, at all. Lovecraft, being who he is, talks about the horrible things that were done to the people in the village, but doesn’t tell us what those horrible things are. When we were doing research on this- the thing I should tell you and I think some of you probably already know this- is unlike Cthulhu, Dagon is a real god. Dagon is the god of the Philistines and he appears in the Bible several times as the opposition’s god. There were a lot of battles between the god of the Jews and the god of the Philistines, Dagon, and he was, as Lovecraft must have known, a sea god- half human, half fish- and when Christianity came into being- you know they have a fish symbol? One of the reasons they did that was to bring in the Dagon worshippers. The whole thing about eating fish on Fridays- that was part of the Dagon religion! And the hat the Pope wears? It’s the fish head the Dagon priests wore, with the skins of the fish down their backs, like a cape, so if you‘ve ever wondered why the Pope wears such a strange hat, it’s actually a fish head that comes from the Dagon worshippers. We decided to take that idea and flip it; instead of skinning fish and wearing them, they’re skinning humans and wearing them.

Paoli: And then, of course, the idea is they shed their skin when they go into the sea for eternity- they shed their human skin. I thought of it as anthropological- it’s a tribal thing. Sometimes when you’re doing an adaptation, you have to find things that are faithful to the ideas of the story that reach back to the roots, as we did reaching back to the imagery of the mythology; to find not perfectly-faithful, but faithful-in-idea concepts that will feed the story, and we thought this worked. Plus, it’s horrible!

Q: What’s your favorite movie of yours?

Gordon: What’s mine? You know, it’s like saying which is your favorite child, because you love them all for different reasons, but I have to say that Dennis and I have collaborated together on all of the Lovecraft films and it’s hard for me to imagine doing Lovecraft with anyone else besides my old pal Dennis here. We have a Lovecraft script we’ve been trying to make for twenty years. When Billy Wilder was asked what his favorite film was, he would always say, “my next one,” so I guess my favorite film would then be The Thing on the Doorstep, yet to be made.

Q: Any plans on as to when that would be made?

Paoli: No… do you know anybody? I’m kind of partial to From Beyond, too. If you look at Dagon and Reanimator, they are really full-tilt start-to-finish stories, they have structure and they tell a mythologically-sized tale. From Beyond was the craziest movie we could make for the budget we had; it was no-holds-barred. From Beyond is a very short story- we had gotten through the short story by the credits, so we just went on from there had had some fun. While the story is short, the idea is gigantic, that there are other dimensions out there that we impinge upon, and if we open that door, this can happen; the story simply opens the door we walk through.

Gordon: Also, the thing about Lovecraft, he never believed in the supernatural; if anything, he would’ve considered himself a science fiction writer because there’s always a scientific basis for everything in his stories. From Beyond is one of those stories where the idea is that the five senses are limited, that there’s so much more going on than we can perceive; it’s a brilliant concept. When Lovecraft first started writing, his stories were very short, and "From Beyond" is one of his earliest ones- it’s only, like, seven pages long. "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," which is one of his last stories, is a novella at sixty or seventy pages, and I think it’s one of his most accomplished stories.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

East Coast and West Coast conventions

Con poster by Jason Thompson
After the first issue of Cthulhu Commune's release at NecronomiCon-Providence 2013, arrangements have been made to make this zine about the Lovecraftian community available to audiences that may not have been able to make the pilgrimage to Rhode Island last month.

With great excitement, I'm pleased to have Cthulhu Commune #1 available at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival and CthulhuCon in Los Angeles this weekend, September 27-29, 2013. My thanks to convention organizer Aaron Vanek for accepting the copies; I hope they find the readers it was created for!

My friend and zine Production Guru, Rickman, will also have copies of Cthulhu Commune #1 during his appearance at Monster Mania XXVI in Hunt Valley, Maryland, this weekend. A talented writer and comic book artist, Rick is promoting his all-ages Meet the Monsters book series and will have prints and original art of unspeakable horrors for sale, so please take the time to look at his work when you seek out your issue of Cthulhu Commune.

There is more material from NecronomiCon to present here within the next few days, after which I'll share plans for Cthulhu Commune's second issue. Stay in touch on Facebook or email us for more information at

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Providence Athenaeum

Arriving in Providence early afforded me time to explore the city before the convention monopolized my time and attention, and I set out on a brief walking tour with my sketchbook to capture some key sites of Lovecraftian interest.

The drawing above is of the Providence Athenaeum, the oldest member-supported library in the United States and the site of Edgar Allan Poe's courtship of Sarah Helen Whitman. As I sketched the library standing on the city courthouse's steps across the street, a sheriff came out, locking up for the day. Instead of chasing me off the steps, he shared with me some local history and invited me back the following day for a tour of the courthouse. He told me that College Hill was riddled with tunnels from Colonial days when the wealthy Brown family secretly imported slaves. I'd read about the fabled tunnels and the ghost stories around them, but he insisted on their existence, for how else to explain the numerous residential complaints and police reports he'd taken over the years of sounds and criminal mischief in the area? (I wonder if the legend of tunnels in the neighborhood fired Lovecraft's imagination and influenced his writing- there are many stories of his that involve tunnels and subterranean cities.)

A postcard of the Athenaeum, 1906

 In front of the Athenaeum is a water fountain that Rory Raven mentioned in his book Haunted Providence: Strange Tales from the Smallest State. Apparently, there are some who say that to drink from this fountain "condemns the drinker to be forever trapped, unable to leave the city," and I thought, what an excuse that would be to stay in Providence! Though I'm not sure my wife would be convinced of the curse... Upon closer examination, I was disappointed to find the water fountain dry and in apparent disuse.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

A Picnic with Wilum Pugmire, part II

Hours before the NecronomiCon began on Thursday, August 22, 2013, a group of Kickstarter supporters walked with Wilum Pugmire, the convention's Poet Laureate, to St. John's Churchyard for some poetry and refreshments. As Mr. Pugmire read material prepared for the occasion, I sketched the church grounds  and considered the poems read.

Below is an audio recording of Wilum reading August Derleth's poem, "Providence: Two Men Meet at Midnight," during our churchyard picnic.

"Derleth wrote that in 1948," Pugmire explained afterwards. "The poem speaks to me, that’s why I wanted to read it, because as Lovecraftians gathered here for this amazing convention, I feel that all around us still stands a kind of hollowed ground. As a Lovecraftian artist and an obsessed Lovecraftian fanboy, the very air seems enchanted, and it’s because I read Lovecraft non-stop; I’m always returning to his work. These places and things here take on a kind of mythic reality. I’m so familiar with Lovecraft’s Providence, Lovecraft’s New England, even the towns he invented- they all feel like a part of my psyche. To actually be here in this churchyard, to know that Poe walked through here, that Lovecraft and Barlowe sat on those slabs and wrote their acrostics to Poe… it blows my mind! Yet here we are!"

Lovecraft once sat in this very graveyard to write an acrostic poem dedicated to Edgar Alllan Poe, and in that tradition, Pugmire led the group in composing our own acrostic we hoped captured some aspect of the moment. Each member in the group wrote a line in some fashion of meter and rhyme, and when it was left unfinished by the end of our picnic, Wilum promised to finish it at home and post a reading of it on YouTube sometime in the future.

"In a Sequester’d Providence Churchyard Where Once Poe Walk’d"
By H. P. Lovecraft

"Eternal brood the shadows on this ground,
Wilum Pugmire and our group.
Dreaming of centuries that have gone before;
Great elms rise solemnly by slab and mound,
Arch’d high above a hidden world of yore.
Round all the scene a light of memory plays,
And dead leaves whisper of departed days,
Longing for sights and sounds that are no more.

"Lonely and sad, a spectre glides along
Aisles where of old his living footsteps fell;
No common glance discerns him, tho’ his song
Peals down thro’ time with a mysterious spell:
Only the few who sorcery’s secret know
Espy amidst these tombs the shade of Poe."

After we'd composed the poem and finished our ice cream, Pugmire answered questions about his work and what it meant to be a Lovecraftian today. "I’ve been a Lovecraftian since the early 1970’s, and now is the finest time ever to be a Lovecraftian. We have so much and a lot of it is due to ST Joshi, my hero; it’s his obsession to get as much of Lovecraft in print so the next ST Joshi has the resources to study the man and his work."

When asked if he’d taken any notes while in Providence and if he kept a journal, Pugmire answered,
“I don’t keep a journal, but I bought this little book in 2007 at the NY Public Library. I was having a whole lot of health problems and this was meant to be my health and sanity journal… it lasted two pages- screw health and sanity! I stopped writing in it but I brought it with me to this convention because I want my next solo book of short stories to be set in Providence. You will probably all be in it- I’ll do a story of a bunch of cultists having a picnic in a cemetery! When I was here in 2007, I kept a partial diary of experiences, like walking through that little park on Benefit Street; I even counted the steps because I knew I’d write about it in a future story. Yet I didn’t record enough, so now I’m recording every hour, every moment, every breath I take of this enchanted elixer... Yog Sothoth!!! I just need to experience this week, and when I return home, I’ll let it all percolate, I’ll dream about it. I’ve had seven books published in the last two and a half years, so I think I need to just chill out. I thought I was gonna die of a heart attack- seriously, I’m such a drama queen! But I thought, I can’t die until I’ve written three more books, I’ve got to write! And I went completely crazy and didn’t stop writing books because I knew I was gonna die, but then, alas! I did not die!"

Shortly after we took the above group portrait, the rain I'd left in NJ several hours earlier finally caught up with me, and as it began to drizzle we packed up our things and headed back to the hotel. Thunder rumbled in the distance, which Pugmire attributed to having read a Derleth poem on such a momentous occasion. Passing by the hosta garden on Benefit Street, Wilum wanted to spend a few quiet moments there to gather his thoughts and write a few words, and before we continued onward in the increasing downpour, he posed for a timeless photograph among the lush growth of late summer.

It was a wonderful way to kick off the convention and I wish we'd had more time to spend there,  and when the thunder boomed overhead as we walked over the Providence River and our clothes became waterlogged, I thought of no better way to enter Lovecraft's city, washed clean by a New England storm and newly initiated into the mythic reality of which Pugmire spoke.

Friday, September 20, 2013

A Picnic with Wilum Pugmire, part I

When the NecronomiCon Kickstarter launched in early December 2012, devoted fans able to make the trip to Providence, Rhode Island, considered at which reward level to pledge. Once I'd decided how early I could be in town, I committed to "the Keepers of the Crypt," which was described as follows: "Enjoy a cozy picnic (we'll provide the food) the afternoon of Thursday, August 22nd, with our Poet Laureate, Wilum H. Pugmire, alongside ye ancient graves at St. John's Episcopal Church - where you'll pen and recite Poe-inspired poetry and rhymed acrostics, just like Lovecraft loved to do at this very site!" I've been a fan of Pugmire's weird fiction since his first chapbook, Tales of Sesqua Valley, was published by Necropolitan Press in 1997, and leapt at the opportunity to spend an hour with one of the most unique voices in today's mythos fiction, and how weirdly appropriate it was to have our meeting in a graveyard!

Rhode Island is a four hour drive from my house in northern New Jersey, so I left the morning's light drizzle behind with time to make our group's noon appointment that had been co-ordinated via emails by Pugmire and the convention's generous organizer Niels Hobbs. A small group gathered in the Biltmore Hotel's lobby at 11am, and I was surprised to recognize familiar faces from Facebook groups, Google + circles, and the Lovecraft eZine's video chats, and we fell into easy conversation about the convention weekend ahead. Mr. Pugmire gathered the half-dozen of us and led us on a short walk across Kennedy Plaza and the Providence River to locations of Lovecraftian interest, pointing out the Fleur de Lys house described in "The Call of Cthulhu," the Providence Art Club (where the convention's art exhibit was held), and we stopped at at 135 Benefit Street, notoriously known as "the Shunned House." Next to that old fungi-ridden building there was a small hosta garden that we recognized as the setting of one of Pugmire's tales in his recent Enoch Coffin book. As we continued down the street, I asked our author if he'd mind if I photographed and recorded him. "NecronomiCon is an important occasion and it should be documented as throughly as possible," he said, and, in hindsight, it was- there are enough photos on Facebook and videos on YouTube to make all absentee Lovecraftians feel as if they were present. 

St. John's Churchyard, our destination, was described in Lovecraft's "The Shunned House:" ""I have reared a marble urn to his memory in St. John's churchyard - the place that Poe loved - the hidden grove of giant willows on the hill, where tombs and headstones huddle quietly between the hoary bulk of the church and the houses and bank walls of Benefit Street." The spot was a favorite destination for Lovecraft to bring friends he hoped to frighten, as he mentioned in a letter to Helen V. Sully in October 1933: "About the hidden churchyard of St. John's - there must be some unsuspected vampiric horror burrowing down there & emitting vague miasmatic influences, since you are the third person to receive a definite creep of fear from it ... the others being Samuel Loveman and H. Warner Munn. I took Loveman there at midnight, & when we got separated among the tombs he couldn't be quite sure whether a faint luminosity bobbing above a distant nameless grave was my electric torch or a corpse-light of less describable origin."

As the group settled around a picnic basket of crackers, cheeses, sparkling cider, and a variety of ice cream (coffee ice cream, we were told, was Lovecraft's favorite), our host spoke of Lovecraft's and Poe's association with the churchyard, and he read David E. Schultz's "In a Sequester'd Churchyard" from Crypt of Cthulhu #57 which tells Helen Scully's version of her visit to the graves with Lovecraft. 

“It was dark, and he began to tell me strange weird stories, and despite the fact that I am a very matter-of-fact person, something about his manner, the darkness, and a sort of eerie light that seemed to hover over the gravestones got me so wrought up that I began to run out of the cemetery with him close at my heels, with the one thought that I must get up to the streets before he or whatever it was grabbed me. I reached the streetlamp trembling, panting, and almost in tears, and he had the strangest look on his face… almost of triumph. Nothing was said.” 

"When ST Joshi recounted that, he added, 'What a lady’s man!'" Pugmire laughed. "I think that’s a very appropriate way for Lovecraft to date; I highly approve."

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

NecronomiCon-Providence 2013 and the Cthulhu Commune

Two weeks have passed since I drove up to Rhode Island to attend NecronomiCon-Providence 2013, and I'm still processing the events of that weekend. Of course, photos are downloaded, books unpacked and stacked to be read, art hung on walls and statues set upon shelves, and business cards sorted, but even all this considered, most of the work by myself and others has taken place on social media where I've become Facebook friends with more Lovecraftians than I'd thought existed. 

Yet there is still more that remains undone. I recorded several hours of audio I hope to transcribe and post, there are drawings I did in the streets of Providence I'll soon scan and post, and hastily scribbled notes made during lectures and walking tours will be contextualized in some form of essay or narrative.

Two weeks ago I also received a box of the first issue of the Cthulhu Commune, a publication I spent the summer piecing together. I have referred to it as a zine for and about the Lovecraftian community, since I am enamored not only with Lovecraft's fiction, but the artistry and enthusiasm of all those who have followed in his footsteps, as well, be they artists, academics, or readers and fans. I didn't want to be a mere observer of HPL fandom, I longed for active participation, I wished to enter into a dialogue and experience its sense of community.

The zine's genesis lies in NecronomiCon's Kickstarter campaign during December 2012, seeing fans as excited as I was about the event, what I thought might be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If the stars will be right, I would be there, and I didn't want to go empty-handed.

And so it was fitting to time the zine's debut with the convention, presenting it to perhaps the only audience that will see in it any value. If it seems at all familiar, it is likely in the way it pays homage to other Lovecraftian chapbooks I have cherished, such as Bob Price's Crypt of Cthulhu and the very special publications that Necronomicon Press put out.

Welcome to the Cthulhu Commune blog, where posts about Necronomicon-Providence 2013 are to be expected shortly, followed by art and photos and an emerging game plan for Cthulhu Commune, copies of which I hope to make available to those who weren't able to join our community in Rhode Island this year.