Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom (2016)

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“For Howard, things are about to get R’lyeh crazy.”

Directed by Sean Patrick O’Reilly
Starring Christopher Plummer, Ron Perlman, Jane Curtin, Sean Patrick O’Reilly and Kiefer O’Reilly

Howard Lovecraft (Kiefer O’Reilly) is a melancholy boy, troubled by his father’s descent into madness, which has left as his only caregiver a mother who thinks that taking a small child to visit his dangerously unstable father in an Arkhamesque asylum (it may in fact be the original Arkham Asylum) run by dodgy occultist snarkmeister Dr West (Plummer) is a grand plan. Likewise replacing a bedtime story with just handing him his father’s journal of increasingly deranged scribblings to read as he goes to sleep.

Reading out loud, Howard opens a door to the Frozen Kingdom of R’lyeh, where he meets a half-humanoid, half-octopus, half-dragon that he befriends and names Spot (Sean Patrick O’Reilly), unable to pronounce Cthu-thu-h’mong. Spot introduces him to the most adorable family of Deep Ones and then leads him to the citadel of R’lyeh, where the vizerial Algid Bunk (Curtin) tells the story of how the land was frozen in a war with the Great Old One Cthulhu, and can only be unfrozen using the Necronomicon, which prophecy says Howard will retrieve from the lair of the Shoggoth (Perlman).

Seriously, the most adorable Deep Ones ever.
Seriously, the most adorable Deep Ones ever.

This, Howard does – despite Spot’s reluctance – with the aid of a talisman given to him by his father bearing the mystical Elder Sign. He returns to R’lyeh, but discovers that Algid Bunk is actually the half-human, half-squid, half-zebra mad poet king Abdul al-Hazred, intent on ruling all the worlds with the Necronomicon, once she uses it to awaken Cthulhu from its slumber within the relatively inoffensive form of Cthu-thu-h’mong.

Fortunately the Deep Ones show up and Howard retrieves the book. Spot and the Deep Ones battle al-Hazred’s munchkins and Byakhee Nightgaunts (thanks to gonzohistory for the catch), and Howard ultimately defeats the poet king by shooting lasers out of the Elder Sign. Then he goes home and gives the Necronomicon to his dad, restoring Winfield’s sanity.

What’s wrong with it?

I mean... what is that thing? Some sort of goblin? An attempt to deracialise the Tcho-Tcho?
I mean… what is that thing? Some sort of goblin? An attempt to deracialise the Tcho-Tcho?

The animation in this film is just plain bad. The basic design is mostly okay, but the computer generated action has no flow; no dynamism. It also seems to be aping the style of Paranorman or even Corpse Bride, rather than the more unique and distinctive design of the source comic.

While the graphic novel Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom took a lot of liberties with Lovecraft’s work and ethos, it retained a certain dark weirdness. The movie makes everything explicable, from the castle of R’lyeh looking like a castle built in Minecraft to the cutesy monsters.

Algin Bunk is a weird addition to anything, as is having her ‘Abdul al-Hazred’ form be a tentacle-haired version of her human shape with blue and black stripes.

The central cast are terrible, delivering their lines with a leaden disregard for emotional context or resonance.

What is up with the pop culture references? Bad enough to have Howard bullet time dodge snowballs, without having Spot drop a huge snowball on him while quipping ‘dodge this.’ It’s around about the year 1900, people!

What’s right with it?

The supporting cast is shit hot. Like… way better than this film deserves.

The music is good, if a little too obviously sub-Elfman.

How bad is it really?

"Wait. Let's play in the snow and do homages to movies that won't exist for almost a century."
“Wait. Let’s play in the snow and do homages to movies that won’t exist for almost a century.”

I think it’s telling that so many people involved in the film are called ‘O’Reilly’. Written and directed by Sean Patrick, I am pretty sure that the Michelle who co-produced with him, Kiefer and the various O’Reillys in minor roles are all related. It’s pretty clear that this is a labour of love for Sean Patrick, co-owner of Arcana studios and editor for some of the original trilogy of graphic novels, which makes it even more of a shame that it fails so utterly. The style is too derivative, the pop culture riffing too distracting and the feel of the world too domestic and familiar.

Best bit (if such there is)?

I laughed my arse off when Mama Lovecraft gave Howard his dad’s knock-off Necronomicon to read at bedtime, but that may not have been the effect they were after.

What’s up with…?

Howard (right) and Spot on the cover of the graphic novel.
Howard (right) and Spot on the cover of the graphic novel.
  • The pop-culture references? It’s not even as if The Matrix were all that hip, and the talking shoggoth drops a line from The Empire Strikes Back.

Ratings

Production values – This film represents the worst case for CG animation I have seen in some time. Undynamic and lacking in detail, its attempt to mimic the design and style of bigger-budget stop-motion projects leaves it looking especially poor in comparison. 18
Dialogue and performances – This one is a mixed bag. There is some decent dialogue, some very poor. A lot of the latter comes from weak homage, either to pop culture or to Lovecraft himself. The acting is also highly varied, with some excellent supporting players failing to make up for an uninspired central performance from a child actor working within the unenviable constraints of voiceover work. 14
Plot and execution – A strong central arc hold the story together, although the Deep Ones are an odd digression given that they then vanish for most of the movie and return only to aid Howard with an almost-totally unheralded rebellion. 12
Randomness – A talking shoggoth? Laser Elder Sign? 8
Waste of potential – The strength of the source material and the degree of personal commitment to the project really deserved a better outcome than this. 15

Overall 67%

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