Dan Gildark is a veteran television and film production assistant and documentary producer who makes his feature film directorial debut with Cthulhu, an independently financed Lovecraftian thriller opening August 22, 2008.
The title Cthulhu immediately conjures up the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Just to clarify, though, this movie isn't an adaptation of a Lovecraft story, correct? Was there one particular story that served as its inspiration?
We prefer to say, "Based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft," but the inspiration largely came from The Shadow Over Innsmouth. What the story reminded us of was friends, typically gay or artists or both, that had fled small-town America to head for larger cities in order to find like-minded individuals. What generally happens a decade or so later is something calls them back -- a death in the family, or someone gets sick or married -- and they have to go back to a life they thought they left behind.
This gets to the heart of Shadow and a reoccurring theme in Lovecraft that you cannot escape your heredity. This was to Lovecraft the most disturbing thing imaginable, this "unavoidable horror of heredity": not being able to escape what is in our own blood. That said, our film is only loosely based on the actual story. We strayed considerably from the original but tried to stay true to the spirit of Lovecraft and the dark tone of cosmic horror in his stories. While there is a place for the camp of the Stuart Gordon adaptations, we wanted to do something truer to the source material. So what we have really is an amalgamation of all his work, the mythos and hopefully the deeper spirit of Lovecraft.
Should we read into the apocalyptic tone of the movie? Is there a message about the state of the world? (For instance, are the rising waters in the film a statement on global warming perhaps?)
I don't want to tell the viewer what to read into the film. I will say I grew up in the Cold War, knowing the Earth can be destroyed at any second. This film was originally penned during the opening weeks of the Gulf War, and polar bears are drowning as we speak, but read into it what you will.
A unique element of the story is the fact that the protagonist, Russ, is gay, and his sexuality is dealt with frankly and openly, including a sensual love scene with another man. Was it a conscious decision to feature a strong, positive portrayal of a gay man? What's the reaction been so far from the heterosexual male-dominated horror viewership?
The fact that Russ is gay and a strong character fit into the story we wrote. He is a protagonist who just happens to be gay. We really hope to someday live in a world where a person just happens to be gay or whatever race and it doesn't have to be part of a marketing plan. Russ is gay because it was important to our story, and he reflects real people we have known in our lives.
The horror community has been amazingly accepting about this. There have of course been a few comments on some blogs, but overwhelmingly people accept Russ as a character that is believable and even if they do not share his lifestyle, they accept it and can usually see why it was important to our plot. We don't really consider our film to be a "gay" film per se and don't believe the gay community will see it as such. It is a human film with human characters that we hope everyone can relate to.
Are you a horror fan? Did you think your first feature film would be a horror movie? Do you see yourself revisiting the genre?
That is a funny question because at one of our first Q&As, someone asked if we were huge horror fans and I said we weren't huge horror fans (past tense) when we started and that we are now. That was transcribed by someone as us saying we aren't huge horror fans.
For the record: I am a huge horror fan. I think I was an average horror fan when I started this project, but it was through the process of going back and watching all of the key horror films that shaped who I am now that I realized that I am in fact an enormous fan of the genre. I am a fan of the classics but more so a fan of what horror and sci-fi can do as an artistic tool, the way it can get to the heart of social issues and our very humanity in a way straight narrative cannot. I knew I wanted my first film to be horror because of the latitude in the form to deal with societal and psychological issues metaphorically. I felt I could be experimental and explore the boundaries of filmmaking and also felt the horror audience would be more forgiving if we were sincere in our efforts, and I believe all of that proved true.
I would certainly revisit the genre. We have another monster flick on the docket as well as an ambitious post-apocalyptic film that we hope to tackle a few years from now.
The movie is very striking visually. What was your inspiration for the dreamlike imagery? Do you have an artist background?
The overall visuals are testament to my cinematographer Sean Kirby, who is one of the finest young DPs in the world and is a rising star. We worked very hard together to achieve the look and feel of the film. When we first started talking about the project, I mentioned El Greco and specifically the painting Laocoon as reference. My screenwriter came upon it in the National Gallery in Washington D.C. when he was there with the film at a festival and called me, said the shadows, the color of the sky, are exactly the same. I do consider myself an artist, much like a painter of moving pictures, and try to live my life as such. It is important we all try and live this way, staying constantly aware of our aesthetic interface on the planet and continually questioning the existential meaning of it all. I also want to say my production designer is a fantastic artist, as is my partner and screenwriter and so many others. I like to think that an army of artists made this film.