On Bryan Moore’s 1999 short adaptation of HP Lovecraft’s “Cool Air”, produced through Arkham Cinema and scheduled for home release sometime before the end of this year.
If you are familiar with the original H. P. Lovecraft short story “Cool Air”, you know this is not one of the most terrifying tales he’s ever written. You will not find tentacled gargantuans and chittering humanoid ocean beasts. There is still the Lovecraftian stamp of disturbing graphic weirdness, but it doesn’t come in a larger than life form where the fate of all mankind is on the razor’s edge. The sloshes are smaller, but never fear, a-sloshing we will go all the same. Lovecraft still speaks to the fear of death and our drive to stall fate for as long as we can as well as the true-to-form bubbling and sloshing nastiness that seeps and creeps into everything he wrote.
Consider that in your average Lovecraft piece you don’t necessarily care about the well-being of the protagonist. I daresay that most often we are waiting with baited breath for them to meet some terrible doom. A large part of the thrill of reading these stories is wondering, “Just how bad will it be this time?” while either rubbing or wringing our hands about the possible terrors ahead. With director Bryan Moore’s adaptation we begin with much the same experience: when will we reach the part where someone loses their mind or becomes overwhelmed by cultists? As Lovecraft’s original story unfolds we simply dont have reason to feel personal affinity for anyone. The promise of dark horror is what holds us in our seats. In Moore’s Cool Air, not only do we have interest in our protagonist Randolph Carter (played by Moore), we can instantly adore the humor and vigor of landlady Mrs. Caprezzi (Vera Lockwood). But when the mysterious Doctor Muñoz (Jack Donner) enters, that is when we are given that excited expectant chill of, “Okay, someone is going to be revealed as a doppelganger alien life form soon, right?”. Well, there is more to Moore’s Cool Air beyond that promise of horror and a few palatable personalities.
Without revealing the full changes in Moore’s work from the original, I can say that it is easy to enjoy each of these characters for their individual charms. The Doctor Muñoz of Moore’s film is a figure far beyond the fellow described in the original. On his arrival to the story in both the film and the original we can immediately sense that our horror hinges on him. Unlike the character in Lovecraft’s original, Donner masterfully shifts between putting us ill at ease and tugging at our sympathies with even the slightest change of his face and tone so that we are continually guessing as to Muñoz’s true intentions. In the original, he is a sophisticated mad science sort and this does the job, but he’s fairly one note. With Donner’s portrayal and a significantly more developed story, we learn enough about him to become invested in his fate. We wonder what he is hiding and whether he is a victim or the monster itself. There is always a monster.
There is just enough insight into the lives of each of these 3 characters that we can experience empathy for each, foregoing the typical Lovecraft detachment. Although there is some kitch to their mannerisms and dialogue in the film, it’s well suited for the era the film is fashioned after and is nostalgic for the old-timey character portrayals of the past. These bits could have been a distraction from the atmosphere, but the heart of the work beats strong (no doubt pumped in large part by Jack Donner’s incredible performance). Although there is a gruesome end with the inevitable Lovecraftian sloshing nastiness, there is a tender innocence in the overall presentation that is rare in modern film. Even the slosh has it’s tragic beauty.
Ultimately Moore’s film was a standout because it was about humanness using the monstrous as a foil rather than the reverse that Lovecraft consistently employs. That someone could find sweetness in those pages is a special thing. I highly recommend it as not simply a contrast to analyze but to enjoy it as an successful piece of cinema in its own right.
If you want to keep an eye on this movie, you should follow Arkham Cinema on Facebook.
If you’re a fan of the horror genre we’d also suggest following writer and artist Annebelle Lecter, who kindly provided this review to the site.