October 1st, 2008 5:33 pm | by AARON MESH News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP

Astoria Horror: An Interview with Cthulhu's Dan Gildark

Tags: gay

Time may have temporarily run out to see Cthulhu, one of the year's more inventive movies (I'm crossing my fingers that it will be revived this fall), but it leaves the Hollywood Theatre to make way for the film fest where it premiered: The H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival. As a form of encouragement to indulge your tastes for Rhode Island horror, I offer the interview I conducted last month with Cthulhu director Dan Gildark, a former Portlander who now lives in Seattle.

WW: So when did you get the idea for this movie?
Gildark: It was... I had this close friend of mine who was staying with me. I was living in Portland off of Grand at the Oblivion Apartments over there, off of Burnside, and the war had just started, the current Gulf war had just started, and it was a pretty bleak time when he was sleeping on my floor, and I was going to film school at the Film Center, and I asked him to write a film, and this is kind of what spawned out of that dark time that we were both at, in our lives in that period, what came of it.

So you siezed upon H.P. Lovecraft as sort of a moment-of-our-times kinda thing?
Yeah, absolutely, we felt like, um, well, my friend and partner Grant had done an article for The Stranger up here. They traveled with the Black Block Party out during the WTO, watched the WTO, and they were all reading Lovecraft. And that's when he was exposed to it. And really, for him, it really spelled out the dark times then, and then he came back to it when this war started.

I think one of the most interesting things about Cthulhu is that you use the cult of Cthulhu as sort of a symbol for religious fundamentalism. Is that an intentional parallel?
Yeah, not necessarily religious fundamentalism as much as just closed-mindedness. I thought the story really reminded us of close friends that we had known who were either gay or artists or both and had moved away from small town America to the big cities. And so, kind of, to us, it represented that small-mindedness kind of force that works against people who might be outside the norm.

So was this based at all on your own experiences, or on friends'?
Yeah, it was definitely based on people that we know. We had several friends that had kind of left the small town America, the American towns where they had lived, that had to go back to take care of someone that was sick or dying, or it might be that the house is being sold or whatever, and they have to go back and deal with their families and it's a recurring theme of Lovecraft and the whole inevitable horror of heredity. You can't really escape your own genetics and who you are, and you ultimately have to deal with that. So we tried to tap into that whole feeling and vibe that Lovecraft kept coming back to.

Everyone's parents screwed them up somehow, but in this case they're trying to kill the hero as well.
Yeah, well, they're trying to bring him back into the fold, y'know, so, they want him to realize his identity and potential, so it's like any other family, but they want to, y'know, pull you back in. Ultimately, they love him for their own reasons.

So how much did the movie cost to make?
It was right about a million dollars.

And it seems that, looking through the credits, a lot of Northwest filmmakers really rallied around your project. I see Gus Van Sant on there and Robinson Devor and others like that.
Yeah, as with any film it was all just building blocks, getting people attached to the film that were excited about it, building it up and really taking advantage of what the film community had already built on here. Y'know, working with Robinson, people that he's worked with before, and then getting other people excited, so, um, yeah I feel very fortunate and part of what I'm most proud of with the whole film is the team that we assembled to make it.

You did a really nice job making Astoria look like a creepy place. How'd you pick the town?
The town? When you make a low budget independent film, a lot of your production value comes from really taking your time with location scouting. We really felt that Astoria just really captured that feel, that working class working town fishery feel that was in the original story, and we stray from that story a little bit, but we wanted that undercurrent. There's just very few cities in the country that have that feel. The city itself is almost iconic in its imagery.

What do you think H.P. Lovecraft would think of your movie?
That's a good question. I think he would like the feel and tone of it, but he might be upset that we have a gay character in it.

Yeah, he wasn't very comfortable with sex in general.
No he wasn't, he wasn't. We did try to... The whole film really is very much a mis-adaptation on his work. He didn't talk about [sex] or money or things weren't really...those kernel things weren't really in his story, but we really wanted to update it to the modern times, really make it our own. And we felt like the story lines had a place in our story. Yeah, I think he'd be mixed. I think he'd like the creepiness of it, but he wouldn't like a couple of the themes. I'd love to watch with him.

What's your next plan?
Well, I'm wrapping up a short film right now, and then we have another monster film, kind of like a scary Bigfoot. Our big project we wanna do is this post-apocalyptic film we wanna make in a couple years, but it'd be pretty high budget, and we're trying to get a couple films under our belt before we tackle that.

Did you have certain inspirations for your mood, or people you're looking toward?
Well, yeah, my influences are definitely the creeping horror, mostly that I've seen in J-horror. Kiyoshi Kurosawa's one of my favorite directors, and he was a big influence on the film, and you can't really describe his stuff as “horror,” so much as much as just creeping horror, y'know, they're not slasher films, it's just this creeping, psychological aura that moves throughout the film. I think we can't shoot, sunny action flicks here in the Northwest, and I think we're playing to the strengths of the location: having the cloudy, misty coast, using it to full effect. I think The Ring did a little bit. Unfortunately, I don't think they used enough Astoria out of it. I was really shocked they didn't use a lot more. It came out right as we were making ours, and I was afraid they were gonna use all of our locations, and they didn't. But yeah, this is an amazing, amazing place to shoot certain types of films. I think we really need to embrace that.
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