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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!

The Package
     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.

The Story
     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.  

The Direction
     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 artwork.
     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.
 

Vital Statistics 

THE DREAM-QUEST OF UNKNOWN KADATH
Guerrilla Productions 

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
 


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