Considered by many to be one of the greatest writers who has ever lived, H.P. Lovecraft still continues to inspire artists to this day.
From comic book writers and artists like Mike Mignola, to filmmakers like Guillermo Del Toro, you can see his influence all over pop culture. Lovecraft also pioneered my favorite sub-genre of horror, Cosmic Horror. Cosmicism is the literary philosophy developed and first applied by Lovecraft, positing that there is no divine presence within the universe and humans are insignificant. In turn, he would create new “gods” with their own mythologies who, for the most part, were indifferent to humans. These great and ancient beings couldn’t be bothered with our existence.
Another genre that I am fond of is Film Noir. Even though Noir Fiction is its own genre, the term originated as a cinematic one. Film Noir refers to movies based on hardboiled novels, typically revolving around a detective. I really enjoy the setting of the 1940’s-50’s post prohibition era, and the gumshoes that would lead those films.
So, what would happen if you took those two genres and put them together? Well, you end up with Cast a Deadly Spell, which proves that they go together like chocolate and peanut butter. It was produced by Gale Anne Hurd, HBO Films, scripted by Joseph Dougherty and directed by Martin Campbell. Exhibiting all types of mythology and creatures within its ninety-six minute run time, the plot revolves around Howard Philip Lovecraft, only in this world he isn’t some reclusive, nihilistic racist, but a good hearted private eye. Dougherty manages to weave a ton of great dialogue that makes you feel like you’re watching one of those old Noir Films, while simultaneously paying loving respect to Lovecraft and other fantasy writers. Campbell’s direction manages to create a style that somehow feels both familiar and unique. The contrast works, and I think a lot of that has to with the movie having a sense of humor about itself. It never takes itself too seriously and knows when to be self aware. This is also conveyed through the cast, and this is a cast worth talking about. Fred Ward plays Detective H.P. Lovecraft, and is clearly having a great time in the role. Lovecraft is written as a non nonsense, wisecracking private dick, and that’s exactly how he plays it. He never really breaks away from that archetype because Lovecraft never uses magic, for reasons.
No, Really, he never specifies why he doesn’t use magic.
Whenever another character asks him why he doesn’t use it, he simply tells them that he has his reasons. On top of that, you have Clancy Brown as mobster crime boss, and Julianne Moore as lounge singer and Lovecraft’s love interest. Even David Warner is in this. The all give one of the best performances of each of their careers and it really feels like this is something they all wanted to be a part of. The movie premiered on HBO on September 7th, 1991. I’m assuming it did well since HBO produced a sequel in 1994 entitled Witch Hunt. Joseph Dougherty would come back to write the script, but Paul Schrader would take on directing duties for the feature. Sadly though, none of the original cast would return, and Dennis Hopper would take on the role of Detective H.P. Lovecraft. To this day, Cast a Deadly Spell has only been officially released on VHS, and those are long out of print. Fear not though, because you can stream it in HD Widescreen through your HBOGO or Amazon Prime membership. I do hope we get an official Blu-Ray release someday, but HBO Films’ catalog hasn’t seen many releases in current formats.