Portland, Oregon was the site of this years H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival & CthulhuCon. Roger Corman and Vincent Price’s daughter, Victoria Price, were the honored guests, and iconoclast filmmaker Richard Stanley made an appearance. They did not disappoint. Horror film fan Lisa Sumner offers a firsthand account of the festivities for PKM readers.
by Lisa Sumner
Alice Cooper says that Portland, Oregon is Edgar Allan Poe Country…and he isn’t entirely wrong. But on Oct. 4-6 this year, Portland became H.P. Lovecraft Country, a place where The Old Ones are called up from the depths of the Earth to witness and receive worship—at least for a weekend.
Among the Old Ones called up from the depths for this year’s H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival & CthulhuCon were Roger Corman, the 93-year-old “King of Cult Film”; and Vincent Price, one of horror cinema’s greatest and most prolific stars. Actually, Vincent himself wasn’t here—he was called to the heights in 1993—but his daughter, Victoria Price, made up for his absence by channeling some charming and chilling stories about growing up with her late father.
In case you didn’t get the memo, horror cinema and punk rock go hand in hand. Both embrace a unique view of life from the inside as well as the outside, and in both fields of play, looks can be deceiving. In my experience, some of the most unapproachable, perhaps downright scary-looking people I’ve encountered have been the kindest, most generous people I’ve come across in my entire life.
I wanted to find out the reason why this seems to be true. So, I attended the festival in hopes of asking Roger Corman and Victoria Price their thoughts on the matter. Unfortunately, I didn’t get that chance, but found out instead that this was a common question, and Victoria Price has at least some of the answers. In addition to her obvious physical resemblance to her father, Victoria is an author, motivational speaker and world traveler.
Her presentation surprised me, I wasn’t expecting to be as moved by it as I was. And although I appreciated her speech, I’m not sure it was the best fit for this event, overall. Her message is one we all desperately need to hear, but a Lovecraft Film Festival is an odd choice at best for potentially life-changing commentary, where a six-foot-tall Pickman’s Model creature (by Chris Walas) greets you at the door.
Make no mistake, it is a brave decision to enter into a highly concentrated world such as a horror-themed film festival. Particularly when you are not a fan of horror yourself—as Victoria says, she’s not a fan of horror film but she is a fan of horror fans. As she would tell us that evening, “My Dad used to say, we need to face our fears, and particularly now. My Dad used to say the world is an immensely more scary place than anything we can show in horror movies and right now would be a particular case in point.”
And at that point she won the audience over. Then, she said, “Because we share in the love of horror and as we share, we create safe spaces. When we create safe spaces, we begin to find out that we really do have much more in common that we may otherwise never realize.”
“Most of us don’t get to travel the world sharing that love with other people. Most of us don’t get to have other people come up to us and tell us they love the person we love as much as we love them. It is the most immense gift to me, that you guys love my dad as much as I do. And that I get to share him with you.”
So I was beginning to understand WHY she was at the horror-themed event, and then she blew me away with this:
“I felt like over the years as I talked to horror fans, nobody judged me. Everybody was just happy that I turned up, as I was to share the dad that I knew. And as I looked around horror conventions I thought ‘You guys have something kind of awesome going on. You all show up knowing that you have a place where you can feel safe because you all love the same thing, which is this genre. And frankly, I looked at that and thought, I want that. So I began doing more and more horror conventions, because it was addictive being around you guys. It felt so good to be so loved and so accepted.”
After these remarks, she entertained the audience with stories and anecdotes about her father’s life. It was a pleasure to learn that Vincent was an ambassador of the arts, and sometimes put that passion before acting ($1 million contracts be damned!)
After Victoria’s illuminating talk, Roger Corman tottered up to the stage and was Johnny-on-the-spot ready to answer any and all questions fired at him from this 300-seat theater. Victoria wanted to take the opportunity to ask Roger what it was like to work with her Dad, and this is what he had to say:
“Vincent worked very well with all of the actors, in every film. He brought the actors together, particularly in the film The Raven. In The Pit and The Pendulum, he worked very closely with Barbara Steele, who at that time didn’t have a lot of acting experience.”
Most of the questions asked of Mr. Corman were technical filmmaking questions, my favorite of them was this: “What was a particularly challenging situation on one of your films that you could share with us?”
Roger: “The Terror was only shot because it rained on a Sunday when I was planning to play tennis. I was finishing up The Raven with Vincent, Boris (Karloff) and Peter (Lorre) and having one more week to work with nothing to do on Sunday, I called a writer friend of mine and said I’ve got these big sets from The Raven, and I can keep them for a couple of days after we finish shooting before the studio brings in another picture. If we can work out a story line today, during this one week, I’ll take Vincent or Boris or somebody to play the lead, and I’ll have the sets for two days, next Monday and Tuesday. So he started writing, and I remember Monday morning I went in and talked to Vincent and asked him if he’d like to come back and do two days and play the lead. Now Vincent was a great art lover and historian, and he said, ‘I’d be happy to, but I’m going on an art lecture tour.’ So I went to the next dressing room and said to Boris, would you be interested in coming back for two days, and Boris said ‘fine I’ll come back’.
“Boris understood he was going to work two days, but I knew he had to be the star of the picture, so he had to be in a lot of scenes in two days. I think I shot 30 pages—15 pages a day for two days. Boris, he was a good guy, but he sort of joked on the second day. He said, ‘Roger, we’re all lucky you didn’t ask me to come three days, I’m going to barely make it through the first two days!’ So then I went to Jack Nicholson, who is a friend of mine, and said ‘look, if you’ll come in and play the young guy in the castle with Boris, I’ve only got the money and the sets for two days of shooting. Boris is going back to London, you’ll work with him for the two days, and then when I get more money, we’ll shoot the rest of the picture and you will emerge as the actual lead, although Boris will get first star billing.’ And I remember Jack said, ‘That’s fine, but can my wife Sandra play the leading lady? We really need the money.’ So I said, ‘Sure, she can be in the picture’.”
“So we ended up shooting in bits in pieces. Because I was a member of the Director’s Guild and I work with the full union crew and Directors Guild assistants the two days I shot. But for the rest of it, I only had a little bit of money, so Francis Coppola came in and shot a couple of days, then Monty Helman came in for a couple of days, Jack Hill shot a couple of days, and on the last day of shooting Jack Nicholson said, ‘Roger, every idiot in Hollywood has directed part of this film, let me direct the last day!’ And I said, ‘Go ahead Jack, you direct the last day.’ Alas, the film doesn’t quite hang together…”
If you have an interest in filmmaking and do not know much about Roger Corman, you would do well to take a look at any of his 400-plus films, if for no other reason than to learn how to maximize the look of your film for minimal budgets. And, you may want to check out a fantastic documentary called Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel that will give you an understanding of just how much of a DIY master he really is.
What I found especially interesting about Roger is that he would go out of his way to include his friends and peers who were perhaps in a career slump, into his new works. Kind of like a pre-Tarantino Tarantino. He not only became so well known for cult micro budget films, he served as a mentor to many of the most successful and famous actors and filmmakers that followed in his wake, including Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Bogdonavitch, Jack Nicholson, Martin Scorsese, Jonathan Demme, and James Cameron.
On the last day of shooting Jack Nicholson said, ‘Roger, every idiot in Hollywood has directed part of this film, let me direct the last day!’ And I said, ‘Go ahead Jack, you direct the last day.’ Alas, the film doesn’t quite hang together…
It was refreshing to see a large and varied crowd show such reverence to the venerable master. Apparently, he doesn’t do many appearances, so I felt lucky to have witnessed such a rare occasion.
This event was held in the Hollywood Theatre, nestled smack-dab in the middle of Portland’s Hollywood District; it has been a historic venue since 1926. As you might imagine, a tiny theater can get packed real fast. It boasts one large theater on the first floor, and two smaller theaters “upstairs”. But upstairs is a steep, circular uphill climb that many a flapper lady in heels had trouble scaling. It was up on this second floor where the lobby was transformed into the “Mall of Cthulhu”. Here, Lovecraftian wares were available in the form of horror T-Shirts, multimedia artwork of a fantastical and very dark nature, and even Victoria Price had a table of her books with a few copies of her father’s coveted cookbooks for sale.
In addition to esteemed special guests Roger Corman and Victoria Price, filmmaker Richard Stanley created quite a stir with a triple showing of his much-anticipated film Color Out Of Space based on Lovecraft’s “Cosmic Horror” short story of the same name. Richard’s standout films include Hardware (1990) and cult favorite Dust Devil which he both wrote and directed. Or perhaps you know Richard Stanley as the subject of the painful but intriguing documentary Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau. The slightly otherworldy vibe of the festival was sufficiently heightened because of Richard’s presence. As many will attest, he has a rather magical quality about him, and eyebrow-raising synchronicities seem to occur wherever he goes.
Complementing the festival were several events centered around famed scholar and ghost story writer M.R. James, who had been highly regarded by H.P. Lovecraft. From readings and enactments of his works to a documentary film based on James’ most famous work, Whistle and I’ll Come To You My Lad, these smaller gatherings were equally satisfying morsels offered on the festival’s menu, and enhanced the experience by making it interactive.
If you’re going to be in P- town next year and want to attend the 2020 Lovecraft Festival, be sure to get your tickets EARLY—they sell out quick. So quick, in fact, I had to enlist the help of my pal Dave at Darkside Media who was kind enough to give me one of his vendor passes. Dave publishes the fantastic graphic novel series Lovecraft P.I., now in its third issue.