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Monday, December 19, 2011

H.P. LOVECRAFT'S PICKMAN'S MODEL -- DVD review by porfle

There have been several adapatations of this H.P. Lovecraft short story over the years, including a segment of Rod Serling's "Night Gallery" and a collection from Lurker Films (reviewed here) which includes three different ones on one DVD.  Fierro Films' H.P. LOVECRAFT'S PICKMAN'S MODEL (2008) offers yet another unique interpretation which remains faithful to the original story while condensing or omitting much of the colorful detail.

As usual, the story begins with a severely shaken Thurber telling his friend Eliot of his recent experiences with Richard Upton Pickman, a strange man whose sick, grotesque paintings have gotten him expelled from a high-brow art club ("Ghoul Feeding" being the last straw) while fascinating Thurber with their dreadful realism.  After being invited to Pickman's secret studio in Boston's North End, Thurber sees artworks that go beyond any imaginable horror, and then discovers Pickman's true inspiration for these ghastly visions after visiting the sinister artist's dark cellar.

This twenty-minute short is shot on video, using some particularly well-chosen locations, and the direction and cinematography by Gary Fierro are good considering the miniscule budget.  There are some exceptional moments, including a cool closeup of Pickman's wicked grin as tendrils of cigarette smoke swirl through his nicotine-stained teeth, and another shot of his face slowly emerging from the darkness to leer over Thurber's shoulder.  The camerawork and lighting during the scenes in Pickman's cellar, pitch dark save for the flickering flame of a lantern, are very atmospheric. 

Jesse Murphy as Thurber and Derek Meinecke as Eliot do a capable job with their exposition-heavy dialogue.  But Conor Timmis (KREATING KARLOFF) is the main attraction here, clearly relishing the chance to portray the cackling, repellent Pickman with an old-school acting style similar to that seen in the early Universals.  He's very good here, and I'd like to have seen him get the chance to develop the character over a longer period of time.

A little more time might also have helped in laying the groundwork for the story and building up to its surprise conclusion; as it is, I'm not sure how effective the ending will be for someone unfamiliar with Lovecraft's story.  In it, Pickman is a talkative loon, and the things he tells Thurber give the tale much of its flavor, along with Thurber's horrified descriptions of the subject matter of Pickman's work (nicely represented here by some suitably grisly paintings by Fierro himself).

Justin Tacchi's script, co-written with Fierro, skims over many of the juicy details that might have given richer meaning to Pickman's strange past, the mystery of his cellar, and the reason why Thurber will no longer ride the subway.  And just as this film was starting to grab me with its spooky atmosphere and its effective portrayal of Pickman, it was over. 

A twenty-minute "making of" documentary featuring the cast and crew is informative, though rather static.  More entertaining is "Creating a Villain", a look at the process by which makeup FX artist Norman Bryn (CLOVERFIELD) turned Timmis into the vile Pickman, and a commentary track featuring Timmis, Fierro, and Tacchi.  Also included are a brief behind-the-scenes slideshow, a trailer, and, last but not least, the entire text of Lovecraft's original short story.

H.P. LOVECRAFT'S PICKMAN'S MODEL is neither the best nor the worst adaptation of the story that I've seen.  But for a production whose budget totaled little more than a few hundred dollars--and despite a rushed ending--it's a respectable effort, and worth a look if you're a Lovecraft fan.

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