Today Colleen and I only had time for one lecture so we picked “The Armitage Talks: The Bishop Letters”. Hosted by Andrew Leman and Sean Branney this panel showed off 37 newly discovered letters written by Lovecraft to a woman named Zealia Bishop. These letters were kept by a suburban family in a box for years and found pretty much by accident when a friend of the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society wore a shirt with Cthulhu on it to the family’s Thanksgiving dinner. When the family saw the shirt, they asked the wearer if they were fans of Lovecraft and showed them the 37 letters their ancestor had received from him over sixty years ago.
After all the talk of misogyny and racism, it was interesting to hear and see the contents of this correspondence as it painted Lovecraft in a very different light. What started out as a business relationship (Lovecraft was editing Bishop’s stories for her through the mail), turned into two people inspiring each other to write better stories (Bishop gave Lovecraft the ideas for some of his stories), and eventually turned into a friendship. During their writings, Bishop mentions that she is also receiving editing help from another mail service editor which Lovecraft at first encourages, until he realizes the other person is overcharging her. Not only do we learn of Lovecraft’s defensive side we also see his sensitive side as he inquired into her life, takes an interest in her fatherless son, and eventually asks her if he can write to her son to serve as a role model.
Honestly, this seminar really sealed the deal for me. Up until this point I had not seen much in the way of humanizing Lovecraft as a person (to be fair I may have just missed out on those lectures) so this really helped to put a different spin on his life. I realize that one good deed does not overturn all the bad things he has said or written, but everyone lives in grays and it was nice to see that side of someone who is such a great writer.
At this point the seminars were nearly done for the day and all that remained was to kill time until the final event. Before we grabbed dinner, we toured the Lovecraft Emporium for our final time.
Having eaten, we started on our way to The Black Box Theatre to see the short films. To begin, the theatre is not easy to find. We had the address and still we walked right past it without ever even realizing that the door there in the wall was in fact the way into the theater. Eventually, after realizing we had gone way too far, we spotted the entrance portal and passed over the threshold into what might be the most surreal experience I had at the NecronomiCon.
The entryway lead into a stairwell that reminded me of the car lots that were built in the 1980’s. These are the stairwells where something bad happens. To our right was a door that had a small window, but the window was entirely black as if there was no light in the room. Looking at my watch, I realized we were late, so maybe they already dimmed the lights, but still, I cannot say I expected there to be actual short films playing in that room. Looking up and down the staircase yielded no better of a result so we decided to pick door number one.
When I opened the door a little sliver of light from the outside illuminated a man sitting in a chair amidst the blackness who motioned for us to come inside and grab a seat beside him. Even though I could barely see the seats he had motioned towards, I took him up on his offer, grabbed my wife’s hand to lead her in, and headed past him towards what I hoped would be a chair. Even with the little bit of light coming through from the still open door, I had to grope in the darkness until my hand hit a chair and then move past that chair in the wild hope that there would be another one just beyond. Then, the door clicked shut and the inky blackness of the room enveloped us.
As I fumbled forward in the wild hope that my hand might find purchase on the metal back of a folding chair, I could hear ethereal music playing and hear rustlings coming out of the blackness. I was finally able to see the screen to my left, but I could not tell how big the room was or make out any other people occupying the space. My eyes snapped back to the right when my outstretched arm finally hit something solid and cold though I still could not determine exactly what I was touching. Reaching down, I made sure that I was in fact touching a seat and slowly lowered myself into its cold embrace. Using my now free hand, I grabbed Colleen’s hips and guided her down into the chair next to me.
The otherworldly music continued and our eyes were treated to a strange, already in progress, claymation feature. The bright colors of the film did nothing to cut through the pitch blackness of the room and the score only further highlighted the unseen movements emanating from the shadows. The film concluded with the claymation character’s maddening laughter and, somewhere in the darkness, we heard hands slapping against each other in applause.
I am not sure if my eyes adjusted or if I had somehow become an unwitting member of this darkened cult, but somewhere around the third or fourth short I found myself able to see the other people in the room. Now that I had attained the vision, I was able to fully relax and appreciate the variety of films they had on offer. The mixture of shorts catered to all tastes whether one wanted something light and comedic (“Eldritch Sign” (2009), “Antique Roadshow Arkham” (2007), “H.P. Apology” (2012), and “Eel Girl” (2007)) or one was seeking something of a darker nature (“To Oblivion” (1991), “The Music of Erich Zann” (1980), “The Crimson Robe” (2007), “Static Aeons” (2011), and “From Beyond” (2006)).
When the shorts ended and the house lights came up, I saw that the size of the room was even smaller than I had originally envisioned and resembled more of an unfinished basement than an actual movie theater. While I very much enjoyed the shorts be they funny or haunting, the unnamed claymation short stayed firmly lodged in my mind as it so well characterized my entry into this strange and darkened experience. The man who ran the projector (who also happened to be the gentlemen ushering us in) stood up front to answer questions so I was able to learn that we had walked in on the tail end of Toei Animation’s adaptation of “The Festival”. I had to laugh at the realization that the information I thought I would never learn (the name of that first short) had been attained while the knowledge I thought I had (the size of the room) had been entirely incorrect.
Exiting the theater we had one event left to close out our NecronomiCon experience: “The Dunwich Horror” Picture Show. I had only heard of the Roger Corman produced adaptation of “The Dunwich Horror” by reputation so I knew we were in for a bizarre and psychedelic treat. The fact that the NecronomiCon had hired a live band and planned to include in theater monsters only added to my anticipation.
The movie was being shown at the Columbus Theatre which has nearly as big of a reputation as the film itself. What started off as a mostly second run theatre with occasional pictures that catered to the strong ethnic population in the neighborhood devolved into a pornographic theatre sometime in the seventies. The lurid history of the venue vanishes from the mind immediately upon entering the theatre as we are treated to ceiling mosaics, a full stage complete with orchestra pit, and a classy chandelier.
My brother, Wes, decided to join Colleen and I for the experience as he was interested in seeing this weirdly notorious film. Niels Hobbs, wearing a cultist’s robe, kicked off the night by giving us some callbacks to yell at the screen, encouraging us to make up our own whenever we saw fit, and said, “This is your Dunwich Horror Picture Show so just have fun with it!” That being said the lights dimmed, the band began to jam, and the movie began to play.
I am not going to attempt to describe the movie itself as my words could do it no justice. To put it simply, most people say that it is near impossible to make a good and faithful adaptation of an H.P. Lovecraft story and after viewing this, I can see why. If it were not for the band, the callbacks, the actors as cultists (who may or may not have been nude), and the ridiculous foam monsters that whacked audience members in the head, this movie would be nigh on unwatchable. I think Wes summed it up best when at the end he said, “I was following the story pretty well and then I suddenly had no idea what was going on. I tried for a little while to pick up the threads again, but figured there was no point so I just gave up. It made no sense but it was fun.”
Looking back on the whole of the event I can honestly say, it was a blast. The mix of the academic to the fun was perfect and provided a little bit for everyone. The people I interacted with were passionate about weird fiction and it showed. Since this convention provided a little something for everyone, I would easily recommend it for not just fans of Lovecraft, but those who have any sort of interest in the science fiction or horror genre. Heck, as I more than proved when I missed the seminars on Friday, even those who just want some entertainment can make a solid evening of the event.
At the end of the day, I think the most glowing praise I can offer is from my wife, Colleen, who said on our drive back, “I really want to read more of Lovecraft’s stories.”