★★ out of ★★★★★
Further proof that Lovecraft-y movies just aren’t the same without Jeffrey Combs.
Directed by Robert Cappelletto.
I‘m always on the lookout for the next great film adaptation of a creepy H. P. Lovecraft story. For some reason, it seems like his stories are the hardest to bring to the screen. Many have tried! Some have even made it into the golden halls of Cult Movie Status, but most slip into obscurity never to be heard from again.
Writer/director Robert Cappelletto gave it a good shot, at least. According to IMDB, Pickman’s Muse was his first and, so far, last full-length movie. Using bits and pieces from Lovecraft’s short stories The Haunter of the Dark (1936) and Pickman’s Model (1927), Cappelletto put together a mashup for his screenplay. The abandoned church and sinister cult from Haunter, the paintings and names of the main characters from Pickman’s Model, and so on. Doing it this way allowed him to create something new-ish, but it also meant he had to leave out a number of fun things from each story in order to keep things coherent and not overly long.
Pickman’s Muse tells the tale of down-and-out painter, Robert Pickman [Barret Walz; Chicago Overcoat (2009)], who becomes obsessed with the old, disused church he can see from the window of his shabby apartment. This obsession comes with a surge of productivity in his art which verges on painting mania after he discovers a strange and unknowably ancient artifact hidden in the church.
His friend and psychiatrist, Dr. Ambrose Dexter [Maurice McNicholas; The Pale Man (2017)], notices disturbing similarities between Pickman’s new paintings and those of Goodie Hines [Tom Lodewyck; Incest Death Squad (2009)], a serial killer under his care. Determined to help his friend, Dr. Dexter begins investigating the church and all of the horrific events that seem connected to it.
Cappelletto does manage to put together a decent story and it’s obvious that he’s a fan of Mr. Lovecraft. Barret Walz does a reasonable job playing Robert Pickman; I was especially impressed with his reaction upon seeing the very first painting Pickman created while in a trance-like state. There’s also a great shot of the old church depicted on the floor of Pickman’s apartment… created using all the psychiatric drugs he was supposed to be taking. So, the movie is not without its highlights.
Unfortunately, Pickman’s Muse can be a pretty slow slog at times. There’s only so long you can sit and stare at someone who’s sitting and staring at an empty canvas. Sound quality in the film is very inconsistent as well; sometimes it’s decent and sometimes it sounds like the actors are on speaker-phone. Okay, I might be exaggerating slightly, but it’s noticeable inconsistencies like that which pull the viewer right out of the movie.
I can’t say I was a big fan of Willy Greer’s score, either. It was a bit too plinky-plunky for my taste, but at least it didn’t get used very often.
While I desperately wanted to like this movie — as I desperately want to like all Lovecraft films — I just couldn’t see past its flaws.
Oh, well. Guess I’ll just have to go watch From Beyond (1986) again…