Pickman’s Muse

As an unabashed fan of all things Lovecraftian, I was delighted to find another entry into the category of film adaptations of his work. I had never seen any production based on his short story, Haunter in the Dark. Alas, satisfaction was not to be mine.

There are three things that simply ruin this film. None of which are the lead, the script, or the camera work. No, all three of those are just fine. Matter of factly, the protagonist of the tale is portrayed very well, the script is fantastically written, and the camera work is top notch.

So, what soiled the bed for this film, you ask? Please allow me to itemize.

Firstly, the actor performing as the lead’s psychologist. I have never, and I mean NEVER, seen someone so hammishly overact in my life. I don’t believe this dime store thespian knows the meaning of the word “subtlety.” Every emotion is overplayed, every line is read with unnecessary emphasis… the cartoonish character is simply hard to watch. Imagine if Jim Carrey had played a role in a Clive Barker film in the same manner as Ace Ventura. Simply out of place, it jars the viewer out of the story. If anything, the head of a psychology department should be dialled back and reserved in nature. This buffoon might as well have been the doorman at the entrance to the Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz. Yes, he’s that bad.

Secondly, the protagonist’s landlady. Here’s one lesson anyone being filmed for their first movie should be taught. On stage, one has to gesture and amplify the character’s voice so as to convey the role to a seated audience far away. In film, the camera is mere feet away, if not inches from one’s face at times. The trick is to under-emphasize one’s character. Costume and facial expressions can be counted on to do much of the work that voice and movement are needed for on stage. This was obviously not explained to the actress portraying the landlady. Her characterization of an ethnically shaded older woman would have been more appropriate for a community theatre performance of Fiddler on the Roof, or possibly some random Adam Sandler comedy. However, in a horror film, this type of corny behaviour is absolutely inappropriate.

Lastly, I understand that this was a low budget production, and that fact is acceptable, but…

Allow me to encapsulate the story: Painter becomes concerned when he begins to lose track of time while painting terrifying images of otherworldly lands and their inhabitants that resemble the paintings of another artist prior to said artist’s gory mutilation and killing spree.

Got it? Great. Now, let me explain why this simply does not work. WE NEVER SEE THE RELEVANT PAINTINGS. We see the artist slaving away on them. We see observers’ horrified reactions to them. We witness the implications that the main character’s painting style has dramatically been altered – horrors! But, in a medium which relies so dominantly on moving photographed images, the main focus of the film, which centers on the painting of visualized ideas, lies flaccid and sterile if we never actually see the subject matter.

Had this film been made with two more talented actors, and had it actually shown the paintings, it would have earned an easy seven out of ten spooks. Sadly, this is not the case. I do not recommend that anyone bother watching it, as I would have loved to have seen a better made version, and am now sorely disappointed. Three spooks for the effort.

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