It’s with a deflating sigh that I prod us into the second part of our expansion upon the adapted texts of Brian Yuzna’s Necronomicon…
If you’ve not been following our progress on Greetings from Yuggoth, then all you really need to know to get caught up, is our last article went to great pains in drawing your attention away from Christophe Gans irrelevant adaptation of HP Lovecraft’s magnificent novella The Rats in the Walls (the adaptation being part of Brian Yuzna’s Necronomicon). This week we’ll tackle the second of the three adapted stores with a closer look at the short tale ‘Cool Air‘ written in 1926 and published in Tales of Magic and Mystery.
There’s very little to the plot in this super-brief digestible, so lets just say -Nameless protagonist checks into a low rent dossing house where a chemical ammonia leak from his ceiling introduces us to the existence of the upstairs denizen who practices strange medicinal sciences, followed by our protag experiencing a near fatal heart attack which brings the two to be accidentally acquainted, only to discover in time that this Doctor (of strange medical sciences) is reclusive and mysterious and from certain angles not of this world.
What more can I say? This is perhaps one of HP’s most uninspiring pieces of work; its all too brief, thin on entertaining edible subject matter, tiresomely predictable and somehow draggingly slow despite its short length. Point of fact though, the protagonist and the situation he finds himself in mirror the author more closely than any other Lovecraft penned characters or situations – this short story after all was written during a time in HP’s life where we find him pried from the matriarchal comfort zone of home town Rhode Island and attempting a new life in New York with his abundantly patient wife.
This was a notoriously dark time for Lovecraft professionally and psychologically speaking, he experienced great difficulty adjusting to alien surroundings as cacophonous as NY and greater difficulty still in attempting to continue his career writing amid the chaotic and competitive flurry of the times. Ultimately Cool Air tells of a lone writer trying to make ends meet, writing copy and advertisement slogans while feeling generally whore-ish, downtrodden and uninspired. Something mildly fascinating and supernatural happens to him along the way, which is perhaps a prayer for rain on behalf of Lovecraft himself, who at the time struggled with crippling writers block as a result of the generally depressing situation which he faced.
Beyond the text you’ll notice instantly 90% of Cool Air adaptations take a weird fascination with lionising Doctor Muñoz into a misunderstood loner who’s lost his one true love and thereby become tragically cursed into a scientific pursuit of preserving human life through questionable treatment. Again, this is a strange move as the orig text constructs Muñoz in the third person as a twisted, cantankerous post-human crone who barely clings to life and soon enough disintegrates like a Skeksis emperor.
This is really the only interesting footnote to Cool Air, the rest is a legacy of lukewarm adaptations which frankly mystify this writer; why adapt it when every other story he ever wrote has been so much more inspiring? He already has a trademark Dr. Frankenstein template character in Herbert West. Lovecraft really doesn’t need to be remembered for this particular tale. So if you’re anything like myself then you’re certainly not going to let some internet Hemmingway critical wank (me) decide things for you -you’re gonna want to make your own mind up. So if you’re unable to source the text directly then you should at least find a good audio book retelling. Here’s a reading by internet audiobook renegade and Lovecraft lover Nick Gisburne:
So what else, comics yeah? Okay really quickly now, for a great starting point you’ve got a beautifully penned, lovingly faithful adaptation by Berni Wrightson, originally published in Eerie #62, 1975… to be honest its also a great stopping point, the other offerings aren’t offering much.
You’ve got an earlier short from Michael C. Smith published by the independent support darlings at Skull Comics (familiar from our previous article)… without sounding too cruel, its a backyard ink job at best, and at best should stay lost in the black hole of yesteryear’s golden age indies.
If daring to seek further, with your wayback machine set to 1951 you may come upon this adaptation by Graham Engles & Al Feldstein, first published by The Vault of Horror Vol.1 #17. Its in colour and sports some smashing panels with ahead of the curb artwork, yet it takes too many liberties in its deviation from the original text and turns out kind of laughable in plot.
How about an even simpler digest you ask? Again, strange as it may be, this super snore short story has seen a number of film and television adaptations over time, both commercial and independent. Its not especially necessary to cover them all in great detail, so why don’t we just skim through on our way to pay dirt?
To quickly cover the more mainstream attempts at Cool Air, you’ll probably come across Chill (2007) which aims for the modernisation school of Lovecraft adaptation, taken up by several other more prominent film makers in their own attempts to take circa 1800′s Lovecraft core narratives and adapt them into modern settings (Dagon, Re-animator, Lurking Fear etc.). Hopefully I can warn you off running afoul of this hunk of junk though, it clings only barely to the original plot, confuses its self with Re-animator and comes off feeling as low budget as something like Birdemic…
Going in the opposite direction and winding the clocks back to 1971 you may stumble upon an episode of Twilight Zone-clone thriller serial The Night Gallery (episode 12 of season 2 to be precise) in which Cool Air is adapted as one of three short segments… this one takes the borax of Cool Air to a new level of dragging, in which all manner of suspense is discarded in favour of a gaudy soap-opera froth and bubble. Of course there is also Shûsuke Kaneko previously covered adaptation The Cold, from Yuzna’s Necronomicon, which in light of the afore mentioned alternatives has more recently become emblazoned with ass loads of appeal in mine eyes.
If perhaps you’re more interested in patronising the arts then check out a couple of completely independent attempts; a two part backyard bash up, recently uploaded as the resulting entry in a 48hr film fest competition, and I might add not too shabby (as far as shabby 48 hr indie film productions go). I also particularly enjoyed this sharp edible little clipshow; Aire Frio compiled by students and put to the delightfull tune of Saint-Saëns Danse Macabre.
My personal recommendation above all else is that you skip the rest and try the best in acquiring The H.P. Lovecraft Collection Volume.1 on DVD, for a sensational short film adaptation of Cool Air. Initially released in 1999, this rendition of the text puts together authentic looking yesteryear sets and comes through with some quality performances, in particularly sterling is veteran character actor Jack Donner (Star Trek) as the eldritch (yuk yuk) Doctor Muñoz. For readers still curious at this point about Cool Air, the HP Collection should indeed be your first port of call.
Suffice to say we will no doubt end up mining the collected volumes of the HP Collection further in future articles.
A particularly interesting trope one may notice, in these adaptations, our anonymous protagonist is often named in order to separate him from a past tense narrator and better embed into the plot scenario. Often the name given bears some significant trivial intrigue, such as Michael C. Smith’s Skull Comics protag ‘Mr. Derleth’ (after August Derleth, author and second only to Lovecraft himself in terms of contribution to the overall Cthulhu mythos) or Bryan Moore’s protag in the The H.P. Lovecraft Collection rendition of Cool Air ‘Randolph Carter’ (after the character of the same name in the Lovecraft short story ‘The Statement of Randolph Carter’), incidentally Bryan Moore not only turned in a fine performance as said character, he also adapted screenplay and directed the whole feature.
For the dreary basic prose that it is (in comparison to the wider HP catalogue) Cool Air seems to have nonetheless gathered significant respect over time, seeing so many attempts at its expansion through adaptation, you might even go as far as to call it a key inspiration for the melt movie genre (The Incredible Melting Man, Body Melt, Street Trash etc.).
Having taken this brief moment to grasp at a silver lining or two, I’m afraid I still couldn’t spare more than one and a half unknowable horrors…
Come on back to the black planet with us next week dear readers! We’ll be rounding out our expanded retrospective of adapted texts in Brian Yuzna’s Necronomicon, with The Whisperer In Darkness: the first ever voyage to Yuggoth by Lovecraft himself!