“Call of Cthulhu”—A Fresh Take On Classic Material

Frank Blocker and the idol of Cthulhu in "The Call of Cthulhu."

Frank Blocker and the idol of Cthulhu in “The Call of Cthulhu.”


Not to beat a dead squid, but the horror community in general has been pretty much Lovecrafted to the hilt for umpteen years now. Not so much in film and TV, where found footage, zombies, torture porn and slasher updates still reign supreme; nor in literature, where Sexy Romance Monsters crowd the pages like buffalo once swarmed the Great Plains. And not even really on stage, where character and depth are still in fashion and there’s a sense that we haven’t seen all the facets of the genre yet. But it’s in the general horror zeitgeist, along with plush Great Old Ones, controversies about lit awards having the head of author H.P. Lovecraft sculpted onto them, and so forth. The stars feel like they’ve been right forever, and the Cthulhu Mythos has largely degenerated into cliché much as the fishy folk of Innsmouth decay into their nonhuman forms. Ia, ia, they have the Cliché Look, don’t ye know?


So it’s a pleasure to say that Frank Blocker’s one-man performance of “The Call of Cthulhu” (the story that crystallized the Mythos and set it on its path to genre conquest) is a reverent but never tedious return to the source material. Ably assisted by puppeteers Marielle Michele, Milena Matos and Rosie Santilena, Blocker inhabits all of the characters found in the story: The narrator, the police detectives and academics investigating the Cthulhu Cult, and more. Though we’re in a single dark room with one actor on the stage, we’re really journeying across the world and into an earlier time, as Blocker takes the audience further and further into the labyrinth of both alien gods and one man’s growing horror. Blocker is impressively chameleonic, and when the time comes for the staging to enhance his storytelling, it does not—cannot—overpower his performance. Even the framing sequence, which outwardly smacks of the Mythos Cliches that have grown so tiresome in Lovecraft Fandom At Large, finally proves to be darker, more heartfelt and more meaningful than yet one more Black Mass With Green Froggy Masks.


In a nutshell, we follow the narration of a young scholar whose relative had attempted to piece together the facts about a mysterious and frightening international cult that worships a thing called “Cthulhu.” As he delves deeper and deeper, connecting the facts, the scholar discovers that an impossible and insane narrative arises: Mad and murderous people in completely separate parts of the Earth have pledged themselves to Cthulhu, a horrifying god that is older than time and resembles all the nightmares of the depths of the ocean. And both the cultists and Cthulhu itself do not like to be sought out by the curious…


Everyone who’s ever read the story knows what will happen, and that’s bound to be a lot of the audience for a show like this. So it’s a real tribute that Blocker and director Dan Spurgeon ensure that things are rightly focused on how we get to that devastating conclusion. In the end, all of Lovecraft’s “unspeakable horrors” are actually an equation of mind-destroying terror with religious gnosis, and so of course he cannot really tell us what they are—and neither can Blocker. (Though you will, most definitely, see Cthulhu in this show!) Instead, we follow a man in his unwitting journey to a very unwelcome enlightenment, in much the way we would any religious story. We can be shown the Promised Land—or in this case, the Threatened Land—but we cannot go in with our storyteller. It’s just as well; after all, Cthulhu will not dream forever, and sooner or later (when the stars are right) he will come to us…


As is customary for Visceral Company, the production values are superb and well suited to the needs of the show. Tyler Burton and Dan Spurgeon do great work on sound and music, Joshua Silva’s lighting is effective and Johnny Burton’s production designs (set, puppets and props) are exactly what you’d hope for. Kudos to the tech director (Ben Womick), costume designer (Moe Marks) and of course, producer Drew Blakeman.


If you’re an old Lovecraft hand, this is a strong and definitive adaptation of a favorite story. If you’re new to the Cthulhu Mythos, here’s where you jump in: It’s the best possible entrance to the whole convoluted interlaced body of stories, and this is a damn good version of it. Catch “Call of Cthulhu” now through (edit: Run extended!) December 7 at the Lex Theater in Hollywood.