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H.P. Lovecraft cinema has typically been a province of gruesome terror and straight-faced representation of the mythos—the wildly black-comic RE-ANIMATOR being the notable exception. Taking the opposite tack is THE LAST LOVECRAFT: RELIC OF CTHULHU (just out on DVD from Dark Sky Films), which applies a lighter touch to its story of three misfits trying to keep a talisman out of the hands of demons that can use it to unleash their ancient gods upon the Earth. The movie is the brainchild of Devin McGinn, an actor with several TV credits who wrote, co-produced and co-stars, and discussed with Fango the challenges of wearing so many hats and satirizing classic material beloved by myriad fans.
FANGORIA: You’re kind of in a unique position with this film, as a writer, producer and actor.
DEVIN McGINN: This is true. I don’t know if it was the smartest move; sometimes I think, “God, I should have just hired an actor,” you know? It’s difficult wearing all those hats, especially when it’s your money involved. I remember many days when I would literally be in the middle of a scene, thinking, “Why is this happening?” I don’t know if I would recommend it, but I certainly learned a ton from it. It was a great experience, but a difficult one—definitely a long road and a lot to juggle on set.
FANG: How did you first come up with the idea for the movie, and how did you go about getting it off the ground?
McGINN: I’ve always really enjoyed Lovecraft, especially the Cthulhu mythos and of course AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS. Initially, I was wondering whether we could do a serious low-budget Lovecraft movie—could we make a really inexpensive MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS, before Guillermo del Toro comes out with something amazing? And I came to the conclusion that it was gonna be laughed at for all the wrong reasons. So I thought about what I could do with the mythos and the money I had access to, and came up with, “You know what? Let’s do something along the lines of SHAUN OF THE DEAD.” Obviously, this is a lower budget than that, but I felt we could put some comedy into it while still respecting the mythos. Half the humor comes from the characters, but for the people who really appreciate Lovecraft’s work, there are enough nods just so they know, “OK, these guys get it.”
FANG: When you were writing the script and putting the film together, were you concerned that poking fun at the mythos might offend the purists?
McGINN: Definitely, because it’s got a huge following, and a lot of people take it very seriously—as you’ll read in any blog about my movie. Many of them had strong opinions about it before they’ve even watched it, which I appreciate and understand, but I tried to respect the mythos and not make that so much the joke as these characters who are kind of thrown into it. The grander ideas are preserved, and the comedy is born from these guys who have no idea how to deal with that. But it was a concern. When we had a rough cut, we took it to the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival to do a screening, because obviously, that’s a huge group of die-hard fans. We didn’t know how it would go, if we were gonna get booed or if people would like it, and thank goodness, they loved it. We left with Best of Festival and Audience Choice Awards, so that was some validation that, OK, at least some of the diehards will appreciate it for what it is.
FANG: Obviously, the granddaddy of Lovecraft horror/comedies is RE-ANIMATOR. Did you take any cues from that, or were you trying to do something different from what Stuart Gordon and co. achieved?
McGINN: I was trying to do something different. I remember loving that film as a youth, though I haven’t seen it for many, many years. The thing is, we didn’t rewatch it for that reason—because I did love it, and I wanted to go into LAST LOVECRAFT with the cleanest slate possible. But obviously, they did something right, and while I wouldn’t say I pulled anything specifically from it, that film was definitely on the forefront of injecting comedy into Lovecraft’s works.
FANG: Did you reread any particular Lovecraft stories for inspiration, or did you just come from a place of knowing the mythos well already?
McGINN: I did go back and read the Cthulhu stories and AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS again, and also “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” which is where the whole bit about Captain Olaf [Gregg Lawrence] dealing with the fish people was born.
FANG: How was THE LAST LOVECRAFT financed?
McGINN: Basically, my partner Mike McGinn and I started Outlaw Films, and this was our first feature and we basically financed it ourselves. It’s an interesting thing being on set when it’s all your money, and you’re kind of like, “Why did I do this?” [Laughs] But for the most part, I’m pretty happy, and I think that it worked out. You know, I wouldn’t roll the dice again—I realize that getting any kind of distribution these days is kind of a lottery win, and the prospect that I may make my money back on LAST LOVECRAFT with a little profit is such a miracle in and of itself.
FANG: How did you come to choose Henry Saine as your director?
McGINN: I actually knew Henry through another project, a pilot I had written with Kyle, who plays Jeff in the film. Kyle knew Henry and said, “This guy is a great artist, and I think we should bring him on for this. So I initially hit it off with Henry on that, and we’re both big-time geeks; we both love monsters and adventure and all of those things. It just seemed like a good fit, so I pitched him the LAST LOVECRAFT idea, and he was like “I’m in! I’m in!” I just knew he would be a good fit for the project.
FANG: His animated sequence is one of the highlights of the movie.
McGINN: It definitely is; it’s certainly one of my favorite sequences. Henry was originally a graphic designer, which I knew would be such an asset to this film. I told him we didn’t have the budget to create all the mythos in any practical way, so being that one of the characters is kind of a comic-book geek and wants to write comic books, I felt, let’s do a comics-style animated retelling. Henry actually did that all by himself, sitting in a room over a month just putting it together, and did a great, great job. It’s one of those things where even if you’re a hardcore Lovecraft fan, and maybe you’re upset that we made a comedy, you can always watch that. We’ve seen the mythos in comic books, but I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen Cthulhu in a cartoon, and I think it’s a fun twist that anybody can enjoy, including die-hard fans.
FANG: Did you write the two leads for yourself and Kyle Davis?
McGINN: I did; I always had Kyle in mind. Kyle had been a friend for quite some time; we met on some commercials we shot together, and we had also done a television show. And with Barak Hardley, who plays Paul, I had just done a large commercial campaign with him where we did a lot of improv, so I knew from that that he was really perfect for Paul, so I wrote that role with Barak in mind.
FANG: How about your makeup and creature FX artists, Kris Kobzina and Kimberly Graczyk—how did you find them?
McGINN: Well, that’s a bit of a nightmare story. We signed on an initial group that I won’t say the name of, but it went horribly wrong. Basically, we came in and looked at these things and realized we were in big trouble. It’s funny, there’s a scene where Paul answers the door and he’s got this weird fish head on, and that’s actually a product of these guys we first wanted to use [laughs]! That’s how wrong things went. Luckily, one of our producers said, “I know this special effects guy who’s been doing a lot of stuff,” and we went to him and said, “Hey, can you save us here?” He had very little time—we had to push the shoot back a month and a half, and he basically made everything in the movie within a month. For the amount of time he had, he did a great job, and he really kind of pulled us out of the fire, because we were in a bad place at that time.
FANG: The film has a pretty brief running time; was there a lot cut out, or was it intended to be short and sweet from the beginning?
McGINN: Yeah, we initially started trying to make it pretty lean and mean, and it was one of those things where the lesson learned was that we had to let go of some stuff I had originally written into the script due to budget concerns. In some ways, I wish I had written more scenes not involving those kinds of larger production elements, because in the editing room, the movie wound up really tight. We actually had to go back and add a couple of scenes, because we were hurting on our running time. We’ve gotten positive reviews for the most part, but one of the comments on the negative side I’ve heard a few times is, “Oh, the editing feels a little off,” and I would agree with that, because we were trying to lengthen the film to some degree instead of trimming it down, which is obviously the way to do it.
That was an interesting battle we had to fight. For example, that scene with Martin Starr, where he comes into the back and has that exchange, which always gets a lot of laughs—we initially didn’t have that in there at all. That was a product of needing to lengthen the running time, and it’s now one of my favorite scenes, so some good did come out of it.
FANG: Do you think your characters are going to return for more Lovecraft adventures?
McGINN: I would love that, I would love to come back and just act as Charlie, because it was so difficult doing so many things. It would depend on how the sales go—and I think it’s going to be one of those movies that hopefully will grow by word of mouth, even if it doesn’t have a huge launch. I know our distributor has expressed interest, and I actually have two treatments for a second and third movie, with much larger budgets in mind. I would love for the next one to start at the Mountains of Madness and go on from there; that would be a lot of fun.
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