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Reviewing the Very First Episode of HBO’s ‘Lovecraft Country’

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I tuned in to HBO’s Lovecraft Country.  Well, it didn’t take long to get excited by what I was seeing on the small screen.

I’m not sure if it’s a monster movie with racial overtones or a movie about black people in the 1950’s along with some monsters.  When it was over I realized it didn’t really matter, because both elements stand out in this fun adventure.

Here’s a full review by Verne Gay of Newsday.

WHAT IT’S ABOUT Just back from the war in Korea, Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors, “Da Five Bloods”) gets a strange letter from his father, Montrose (Michael Kenneth Williams) who’s gone missing from their hometown of Chicago. Montrose seems to have headed off to a place called Arkham, Massachusetts, and wants Atticus to follow. Informed of this, Atticus’ uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) asks, with blasé directness, “home of the corpse reanimator?”

Yes, that Arkham. Because it’s difficult — an understatement — for a Black man to travel cross country in ’50s America, Uncle George agrees to accompany Atticus. He’s published books about “safe Negro travel” and knows the byways. Atticus’ childhood pal, Letitia (Jurnee Smollett-Bell, “True Blood”) agrees to go with them, too.

This 10-parter from Misha Green (“Underground,” “Sons of Anarchy”) and Jordan Peele is based on Matt Ruff’s 2016 fantasy horror novel of the same name, which yoked the history of Eisenhower America with the fiction of horror master, H.P. Lovecraft.

MY SAY A pair of the most promising TV newcomers of 2020 — “I May Destroy You,” “P-Valley” — have all-Black casts, Black showrunners, Black perspectives, and a defiant embrace of Black Lives Matter. Equally promising “Lovecraft Country” has all that plus a little bit more. As an inversion of “The Wizard of Oz,” instead of Oz “Lovecraft” has the flat menacing Midwest sprawl of Jim Crow America. Instead of the Munchkins as a welcoming committee, “Lovecraft” offers the shoggoths, which are …

Well, best let Lovecraft himself describe them: ” … shapeless congeries of protoplasmic bubbles, faintly self-luminous, and with myriads of temporary eyes forming and re-forming as pustules of greenish light …” He might have added that they have an enthusiastic and insatiable appetite for human flesh.

There’s a touch of “Stranger Things” here, but also “Thelma and Louise” and both “Evil Deads,” which means cars play a key role — one scene, in particular, based on the inexpressible cruelty of “sundown laws.”

To call “Lovecraft Country” “wildly original” seems almost a quaint understatement. But it is wild. And original. Little doubt about that.

Like most effective horror, “Lovecraft” unfolds on familiar terrain — that Midwest sprawl, that real history with real voices (James Baldwin’s, for example, that tracks over another memorable and brutal scene). Then, there’s the abrupt transition to the phantasmagoria — those shoggoths, those multitudes of pustulating eyes, those unrestrained appetites. “Lovecraft” wants to keep us off-balance and does. What’s real, what’s not, gets scrambled together. Like the intrepid travelers in search of Arkham, you’re left with no signposts, certainly no reliable road map.

You too are on your own, but ultimately forced to come to the same unsettling conclusion: That Jim Crow America and Lovecraft Country had more in common than even Lovecraft himself could have imagined.

BOTTOM LINE Terrific newcomer that should wake up this sleepy TV summer in a hurry.

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Posted by on August 18, 2020. Filed under MOVIE-TV-BOOK REVIEWS. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry
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3 Responses to Reviewing the Very First Episode of HBO’s ‘Lovecraft Country’

  1. Glenn Geist Reply

    August 20, 2020 at 11:12 am

    I watched the first episode with a different kind of horror, because it’s a different kind of horror movie. Think Uncle Tom’s Cabin meets Godzilla. Think of The Dukes of Hazzard mixed with Poe. It’s a melodramatic Chimera of cliche’s. Let me mention that I’ve read all of Lovecraft. A good deal is cheap junk he wrote to pay the bills, although his best is unequalled even though a good editor would have served him well. Racist yes, as was common but it was not rural south racism. He was from a rich New England family that lost it all. He was bitter. He was familiar with decaying glory.

    I’m very familiar with Lovecraft and his bigotry which centered on Eastern European immigrants as biologically decadent people who crossbred with amphibians and fish in the worship of Dagon who was half man half fish and all god. He rhapsodizes about rotting waterfront houses with Gambrel roofs, about rotting docks under gibbous moons in decaying new England towns and haunted forests. H writes about people who carry the genetics of sea creatures and worship strange gods and make human sacrifices, not people who won’t let blacks eat at the lunch counter and chase them through deep south rural roads shooting. Like Poe, he loves the creepy sounds of certain words and place names. His mythos revolved around ancient gods waiting to come back, and not flying saucers. His monsters aren’t just monsters, they are gods.

    The only trace I can find of his having any interest in Black Americans was one poem written in 1912 when the N word was rather common usage. In short he’s been miscast. The term African American, by the way would have seemed odd in 1954.

    Strange bedfellows so far but I fear that for the majority of us who do not remember the 1950’s this will not seem like hyperbole and exaggeration and who won’t even flinch at the anachronistic usage of “African American” in the Early 50s.

    Yes, there’s some James Baldwin read aloud. Thanks to Professor Glaude there’s a renewed interest in him although I tend to associate him with his expatriate life in France and with the alienation of a homosexual of a past era, not with the nor very intellectual characters in this series.

    But history this is not and horror it is not either, nor is it an attempt at sympathetic characters facing a sad reality. Is it really all about race baiting and rage mongering? Remains to be seen. The only engaging thing I’ve found is the wonderful 48 Packard station wagon which I wish were treated with more respect.

  2. Michael John Scott Reply

    August 20, 2020 at 5:36 pm

    I thought you would appreciate the car. I appreciated the monsters, and the characters, especially Courtney B. Vance who I have been following for years and first saw him in Hamburger Hill, a Vietnam movie about young soldiers (cherries) first introduced to the war. So, all in all, I liked the first episode and am looking forward to the rest of them. I’m going to wait until they are all done airing so I can binge-watch them. At my age, I find myself forgetting what happened in each episode and being forced to go back and check for a refresher.

  3. Glenn Geist Reply

    August 21, 2020 at 2:29 pm

    Oh, I will probably watch it all, but with so many monsters, real and imagined, these seem so out of place. I’d have chosen something more Southern like the Rougarou.

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