I've read just enough of legendary horror-fantasy author H.P. Lovecraft's work and seen enough film adapations of it--which vary wildly in tone, faithfulness, overall quality, and just about everything else--to find the prospect of a CGI-animated adventure starring Lovecraft as a small boy in a dark, monstrous world of his own future imagining to be rather irresistible.
As it turns out, HOWARD LOVECRAFT AND THE FROZEN KINGDOM (2016), based on Arcana's graphic novel of the same name, may not be the greatest CGI cartoon you'll ever see, but it does yield more than sufficient rewards for fans of Gothic horror, particularly if they're either very young or, as in my case, young at heart. (Not to mention just a tad twisted.)
The richly Gothic atmosphere is thick as molasses from frame one as we visit Lovecraft's boyhood home, which would suit the Addams Family just fine, and then accompany young Howard and his mother to visit his father Winfield Lovecraft at the Arkham-like asylum where he's under the care of a sinister-looking Dr. West (Christopher Plummer, BARRYMORE).
It's here that the crazed Winfield first tells Howard of dark kingdoms and mystical runes and evil creatures, among other scary things, which the boy will later experience firsthand after his mother gives him Winfield's journal to read before bed.
As this book happens to be volume one of the Necronomicon itself, Howard inadvertently opens up a portal to another dimension in which he finds himself wandering through a vast frozen land, beset by all manner of surreal and sometimes hostile creatures as he tries to find his way back home.
This quest resembles a cross between "The Wizard of Oz" and a Tim Burton rarebit dream as Howard first encounters a huge and initially hostile tentacled beast with wings who calls himself Thu Thu Hmong (Howard simplifies this to "Spot") with whom he becomes fast friends, and then spends a charming evening in the home of four winsome squid-kid orphans who share a nice cold meal that tastes best when it's squirming.
The boy is instructed to first journey to a remote mountain cave to recover another volume of the Necronomicon from the dreaded Shoggoth (Ron Perlman, HELLBOY, MUTANT CHRONICLES), one of author Lovecraft's more fearsome creations, so that the icy curse upon her kingdom can be lifted.
This leads to the film's big finale, a thrilling free-for-all battle between good and evil with Howard and his friends beset by night-gaunts, govlins, and other Lovecraft creatures--including an appearance by none other than Cthulu himself--which is excitingly staged within Algid's lofty palace by writer-director Sean Patrick O'Reilly (PIXIES), who has ardently worked as much fan-pleasing Lovecraftian arcana into the script as possible.
The character renderings and animation are very well done (like a Viewmaster reel come to life) and the settings intensely atmospheric. The script, for the most part, manages to maintain just the right balance between kid-friendly spook stuff and elements that are pretty much as dark and morbid as one might expect this material to get.
The 2-disc set from Shout! Factory (which features a lovely reversible cover insert) includes both the Blu-ray and DVD discs along with a code for downloading a digital copy. The feature is in 1.78:1 widescreen with 5.1 audio and stereo, and English subtitles. Extras include a substantial behind-the-scenes featurette, a trailer, and a chatty, informative director's commentary that I found quite enjoyable.
I'm not sure how well the average dyed-in-the-wool Lovecraft purist will receive HOWARD LOVECRAFT AND THE FROZEN KINGDOM but I can't imagine anyone with an inner "Monster Kid" not getting a kick out of it. One thing's for sure--any day you watch it will feel like Halloween.
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