THE DREAM-QUEST OF UNKOWN KADATH
A primitive but impressive
animated rendering of H.P. Lovecraft’s surreal novel THE DREAM-QUEST OF UKNOWN
KADATH that captures the dreamy ambiance of the text with uncanny fidelity.
Well worth seeing!
One of H.P. Lovecraft’s few novel-length manuscripts, THE
DREAM-QUEST OF UNKNOWN KADATH, completed in 1927, is among the maestro’s most
atypical works. It’s more fantasy than horror, although it contains its share
of macabre elements. It was part of Lovecraft’s Dream Cycle, and one of several
such stories featuring the character Randolph Carter. In TD-QOUK Carter travels
through an opulent dream world in search of the fabled city Kadath--along the
way he encounters all manner of strange creatures, including ghouls, shapeless
moon beasts, hordes of telepathic cats and the title character of Lovecraft’s
immortal tale “Pickman’s Model”, who’s been transformed into a winged gargoyle.
An equally important source for this film was the 1997 graphic novel
adaptation by Jason B. Thompson, from which the cash-strapped filmmakers took
the illustrations. Cut-out animation was superimposed over the
backgrounds--Thompson ended up redrawing nearly every panel to accommodate the
filmmakers’ needs--with sound effects, voice-overs and occasional CGI overlays
completing the package. Low rent though the film is, it took several years and
a fair amount of manpower to complete. It’s now available on DVD, so you can
judge the results for yourself.
Randolph Carter dreams of the fabled city of Kadath three times--and in
each is whisked away before he can properly enjoy his time there. In his next
dream Carter decides to embark on a journey to Kadath, against the wishes of
just about everyone he encounters.
He tramps through the city of Ulthar, where cats can talk, and sails to the
“Demon City of a Thousand Wonders.” There he’s hauled off by gargoyles to be
sacrificed to the dread god Nyarlathotep, a.k.a. the “Crawling Chaos,” but is
saved by the cats of Ulthar.
From there Carter sails over a sunken city and becomes trapped atop a high
mountain harboring a mysterious stone face. He’s carried off by a winged
monstrosity that drops him into a cavern of bones. There Carter searches for
the artist Pickman, an old colleague he figures will be able to assist in his
quest. Pickman turns up in a nearby cemetery, transformed into an ugly winged
demon. He warns Carter to abandon his quest, but the latter is steadfast.
Pickman elects to accompany Carter through dank caverns to where a race of
giants called Zoogs live. But Carter and Pickman overhear the Zoogs planning to
declare war on the Cats of Ulthar. Carter heads back to warn the cats, and ends
up leading them into war with the Zoogs.
More unearthly vistas turn up as Carter’s quest continues, including a town
where the laws of time are suspended and Carter has to relate three dreams to
gain entrance. There’s also the shadowy realm of Inganok, where cats won’t set
foot; a vast desert and even vaster quarry; mountainous statues; a gigantic
maze; and finally the temple of Kadath, where Carter meets the god Nyarlathotep
in the guise of a beautiful woman. She reveals to Carter the secret of Kadath,
and encourages him to meet the “Old Ones”...but it’s “unlawful” for men to see
the gods, as Carter is about to discover.
This film’s none-too-high tech animation admittedly takes some getting used
to--the mouths don’t open (or close) when the characters talk, and the whole
thing consists of still pictures through which only one or two elements move.
Other negatives are the laid-back Southern California-accented dialogue and
discordant avant-garde score, both far cries from the old world ambiance of
Lovecraft’s fiction. Taken as is, however, TD-QOUK is actually quite impressive
in its cohesiveness.
What flaws the film has are inherent in the original novella: an overly
subdued atmosphere and a monotonous narrative. Just as Lovecraft’s opulent
descriptions begin to sound the same after awhile, so do Jason B. Thompson’s
succession of fabulous dream cities tend to resemble each other.
Which brings us to Thompson’s black-and-white drawings. His renderings of
accursed creatures and surreal cityscapes are impressively visualized with a
real sense of style, although the central character of Randolph Carter is for
some reason portrayed as a squat personage with a largely featureless orb for a
head. I guess one can give any number of excuses for this curious choice, but
it clashes somewhat with the painstaking detail of the rest of Thompson’s
Yet the film is a pleasing concoction. In other words, if you give it half
a chance it will very likely win you over. It certainly did me.
THE DREAM-QUEST OF UNKNOWN
Director: Edward Martin III
Producer: Katrina Martin
Screenplay: Edward Martin III, Jason B. Thompson
(Based on a novella by H.P. Lovecraft and a graphic novel by Jason B. Thompson)
Cast: Toren Atkinson, Raymond Beckett, Jason Brooks, Andrew Hamlin, Shen Hinshaw,
Marky Kelly, Lev Koszegi, Leopoldo Marino, Edward Martin III, Katrina Martin,
Martin McClure, Enrika Newbury, Andrew Nicoll, David Palmer, Michael Pearce