PICKMAN’S MUSE – movie review

PICKMAN’S MUSE – movie review by Brian M. Sammons – author, editor, and reviewer of dark things.

You can buy Pickman’s Muse at Amazon.com.

Director: Robert Cappelletto

Cast: Barret Walz, Maurice McNicholas, Tom Lodewyck

Despite this film’s title, it’s not what you think it is. Sure, it’s based on the stories of one H.P. Lovecraft, and yes there’s an artist named Pickman in it, but that’s where the similarities between this movie and the ghoulish HPL tale ends. Sure it’s a bit of a bait and switch, but not in a bad way. You know, like how Ulli Lommel made the laughably bad H.P. LOVECRAFT’S THE TOMB that had nothing to do with Lovecraft and everything to do with low rent torture porn. Yeah, this is nothing like that (thankfully) and it’s done here as a good way to communicate that the film is based on Lovecraft, but it can then still provide surprises for even the most fanatical reader of Lovecraft. Besides, a rose by any other name and all that. So forget the title, it’s the movie that matters and that’s where this film shines.

PICKMAN’S MUSE is one of the most serious, somber, and scary films with ties to Lovecraft that I’ve seen in years, if not ever. While many movies based on HPL’s works give you the occasional wink and sly smile in between the spookiness, and oftentimes the splatter, this film plays things deadly straight. So if you’re seeking a good time Lovecraft film, like say RE-ANIMATOR, then you should look elsewhere.  However if you want to watch a young filmmaker who takes not only his craft, but the very idea of horror seriously, then this is the film for you.

MUSE is actually a sequel to Lovecraft’s “Haunter of the Dark”. The evil Church of Starry Wisdom still stands to this day and its baleful influence, much like Cthulhu’s call, has devastating effects on sensitive artists who look for something more than the mundane reality they feel mired in. One such depressed painter is Robert Pickman, who is just so sick and tired of life its self. One night, after contemplating suicide yet again, Pickman feels the pull of the church that rises outside his studio’s window, and the horrible secrets hidden within its rotting edifice. Suddenly his most recent bout of artistic block is broken and he starts painting like mad (ha, get it). However not only has his subject matter changed overnight from quaint landscapes to far darker and deeply disturbing vistas and subjects, but he is mimicking the style of another artist named Goodie Hines, right down to the individual brushstrokes. What makes this case of unconscious plagiarism truly dreadful is that Goodie went completely cuckoo for Cthulhupuffs and killed a whole mess of people and cut out their eyes. Could young Robert be on a similar path? Well psychologist Ambrose Dexter, who not only has been treating Pickman for his depression, but is also the shrink in charge of crazy Goodie, definitely sees warning signs and starts investigating the matter.

Pickman, once fully infected by the taint left over at the abandoned church, starts hearing voices demanding him to ‘pay’ for the images of otherworldly horror that he has been allowed to see and paint. And you can bet, those from the other side don’t take credit. The spiral of madness the young artist finds himself in starts swirling faster and faster, and the way he keeps eying that box cutter on his desk…well you can bet no good, but maybe something Goodie, will come from it.

Meanwhile, Dr. Dexter looks into the odd church, the secretive society who still owns it, and even visits the rundown ruin. Unfortunately once there the psychologist finds the one and only misstep I thought this movie made; a crucified octopus. Yeah, that was just silly. It was the only time I laughed in this very dark movie, and I don’t think that was the reaction writer/director Cappelletto was going for. Still, if that’s the one tiny flaw I can find in the brilliant, Shining Trapezohedron that is this film, then that should tell you just how good this movie is.

By now you should have a good idea of where this movie is going, but I won’t tell you what happens once it gets there. I will say that the climax is well done and suitably Lovecraftian.  That can be said for the movie as a whole. I thoroughly enjoyed PICKMAN’S MUSE. The acting, all done by unknowns, was surprisingly good, with Barret Walz as the sad, and soon mad Pickman being a standout. As for creator Robert Cappelletto, he proves not only to be a competent filmmaker, but shows that he has a keen understanding of what makes Lovecraft’s cosmic horror work. I look forward to seeing what Mr. Cappelletto does next.

As for PICKMAN’S MUSE, it takes the ideas of cold cosmic dread that Lovecraft pioneered and implements them masterfully without falling into the dreaded pit of pastiche. Nor does it just toss in some tentacles and goopy critters and call it good. Oh and don’t look for blasphemous big books o’ evil to be found here, either. Most of the usual tropes that have become shorthand for “Lovecraftian” in movies and even books are absent here, and this film is all the stronger for it by focusing on what really matters; atmosphere, dread, and inescapable horror. I cannot recommend this movie high enough.

You can buy Pickman’s Muse at Amazon.com.

PICKMAN’S MUSE – movie review by Brian M. Sammons – author, editor, and reviewer of dark things.

6 responses to “PICKMAN’S MUSE – movie review

  1. You and me both, Jack. Seems a ghoul can’t get no love in the movies. Or on TV for that matter. Anyone else remember the Night Gallery episode of Pickman’s Model? While not horrible, it was on the far side of being good. 😦

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    • Yeah, just watched that one recently. I have the Season 2 of Night Gallery that also includes their version of Cool Air. I think that one worked a little better. IIRC, they both departed from Lovecraft’s originals by replacing his male protagonists with female ones…

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  2. Dang, I was hoping to find it on NetFlix, but no love. Although an old favorite that is hard to find – “Rockula” – was there… Oh, well…

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