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"Do it, Russell! Make sacrifice! Look into the red eye of your god!"—Reverend Marsh
Russell Marsh, a homosexual professor of history in Seattle, returns to his hometown of Rivermouth, Oregon after a long estrangement from his family to execute his late mother's estate. He becomes reaquainted with his childhood friend and lover Mike, and over the next few days becomes aware that his father's New Age cult, The Esoteric Order of Dagon, is planning to bring about The End of the World as We Know It.
It should be stated straight up that Cthulhu does not have H.P. Lovecraft's most famous Eldritch Abomination in it -- the title was simply meant to grab the attention of his fans. Some find the gay themes distracting and irrelevant in a Lovecraft film, the movie lacking in true shock value, and the plotting uneven (the latter is acknowledged by the first-time filmmakers). Others like the general sense of creepiness, and argue that the homosexuality of the main character is not only a suitable metaphor for isolation but a relevant plot point. Cthulhu is loosely based on "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" with elements of "The Call of Cthulhu" thrown in, but overall it's best if you view this movie as one that simply draws on the Cthulhu Mythos rather than an adaptation of the above stories.
Tropes in this movie include:
- Absurdly Spacious Sewer: The catacombs which "go on for miles" beneath Rivermouth. Filmed in the real-life Seattle Catacombs where one of the producers worked as a tour guide.
- Anvilicious: Averted. Various anti-Bush, urban sprawl and gay themes were written into the script, but fortunately edited down to subtext level.
- Badass Longcoat: Worn by the cult leaders. We also see a line of candle-bearing figures In the Hood -- Russell is so freaked out he steals a boat to avoid them. It's implied that these were the Fish People.
- Black Screen of Death
- Black Speech: The Dagon cults' version of Ominous Latin Chanting.
"Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu Rl'yeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!"
- Body Horror: Averted, despite it being the main subject of "The Shadow Over Innsmouth". Unless you count the Fetus Terrible in the bathtub.
- Bury Your Gays: Well I guess that depends on what you think happened to Mike.
- Ceiling Cling: The Fish People in the catacombs.
"There were things, and they were everywhere! They were on the ground, they were on the ceiling, they were everywhere!"
"They ate children, DROWNING!"
- Creepy Child: The blind boy Kellin Miles, especially when he sits 'watching' the static-filled television set.
- Darkness Equals Death: Russell wakes up in an alley to find that something is dragging him into the dark interior of a doorway. Not surprisingly he runs like hell.
- Dead Man Writing: Russell is told his mother left a message for him hidden in her house. He instead finds it in plain sight on top of the TV/VCR. On the tape his mother starts to warn Russell that his life is in danger; she then hears a noise and quickly turns the camera off. The camera is then turned on again by Reverend Marsh, who implores his son to take his rightful place as leader of the Dagon cult. Russell is shocked to see his father has blood on his face and hands, implying that he murdered Russell's mother moments before.
- Doesn't Like Guns: When Mike suggests Russell take a pistol with him to investigate an Abandoned Warehouse in the middle of the night, he's annoyed that Mike even owns one.
- Double Standard Rape (Female on Male): Averted. Due to his sexuality Russell turns down the offer of attractive vamp Susan to impregnate her, only to be drugged and raped anyway. Russell first appears to have little reaction to this, but when he encounters Susan again he's noticeably angry.
- Everything's Worse with Bears: Inverted. We see polar bears swimming behind glass, and while it's not clear what they're supposed to represent in the movie, they do look beautiful.
- Probably has something to do with how a radio broadcast at the start of the film implies the last polar bear in the wild died so only those in captivity remain. One could tie that to humanity's situation by the end of the film...
- The End of the World as We Know It: Worldwide rioting and madness occur in the leadup to the apocalypse, as foretold in "The Call of Cthulhu" ("with laws and morals thrown aside, and all men shouting and killing and revelling in joy"). Best points go to the MP5-toting soccer mum.
- Fan Service: Yaoi Guys and Shirtless Scenes, and if that squicks you there's always Tori Spelling in Girlish Pigtails writhing over the protagonist.
- Floating Water: The liquid wall through which the Ancestor attacks Russell.
- Foreshadowing: Russell shaves his head and starts wearing purple quite early in the movie.
- Human Sacrifice: The cult of Dagon has apparently been sacrificing children (and other 'missing' persons) for some time. One Nightmare Fuel dream sequence shows screaming children crammed into a wooden cage for the Fish People to devour when the tide comes in.
- If Its You Its OK: Mike has an ex-wife and daughter, and regards his affair with Russell as simply an extension of their friendship.
- If Jesus, Then Aliens: Russell ridicules Mike's suggestion that the Absurdly Spacious Sewers are the legendary Shanghai tunnels (subterranean passages allegedly used to transport men kidnapped as slaves) and says sarcastically, "What other explanation could there be, UFOs?" Which is amusing given the origins of the Great Old Ones.
- Little Dead Riding Hood: Julia (a blonde girl in a red top) the liquor store clerk who tries to warn the protagonist and ends up tied to a bitthead with barbed wire as a sacrifice to the Fish People.
- The Lost Woods: Julia gets hysterical when Russell stops his car on a backwoods road at night to see what he just missed running over.
- Lovecraft Country: Averted. The events take place in the Pacific Northwest, though according to the backstory the town founders originally came from New England.
- Nightmare Sequence: Several of these. In the first one Russell wakes up to discover the stone cudgel he saw in his dream is lying on his chest.
- Noble Bigot with a Badge: The homophobic sheriff is determined to bring down the Marsh family, and beats Russell for the murder of Kellin Miles. When Russell encounters the sheriff after his escape he thinks he's going to be shot out of hand, but the sheriff just tells Russell to go home because he's not after him...whereupon he's Killed Mid-Sentence by Reverend Marsh.
- No Ending: As the Fish People stagger out of the ocean and the world comes to an end, Reverend Marsh offers Russell the chance to appease the Old Ones by sacrificing the man he most loves (Mike) thereby becoming the immortal leader of the cult. Although we see Russell raising the stone cudgel, the movie ends before revealing whether he kills his father or his lover.
- Rain of Blood: Kellin Miles is murdered and his body tied up outside Mike's house. They only realise this when his blood starts to drip on them.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: In the dock scene between Russell and Zadok, the U.S. Coast Guard cutter 'Alert' can be seen. No-one realised until editing that the name of the cutter was the same as the ship in "The Call of Cthulhu".
- Room Full of Crazy: The names of the missing (and soon-to-be-missing) are chalked on the walls and floor of the net shed.
- Scenery Porn: The Pacific Northwest is certainly beautiful.
- Shout-Out: Apart from the Cthulhu Mythos references, there are also homages to other movies like Phantasm, e.g. the Ancestor who was inspired by the Tall Man.
- The movie contains an estate auction that includes an item that might be the key to an ancient conspiracy. Its lot number is 49, of course. For an added bonus, the end of the scene makes sense as an alternate ending for The Crying of Lot 49.
- Stock Quotes: "And what rough beast" is quoted by the sheriff who arrests Russell. He claims he's the rough beast. He's not.
- Stranger in a Familiar Land: Inverted. Russell is only returning to settle his mother's estate, and intends to leave as soon as possible. His family have other plans.
- Ten-Second Flashlight. Russell uses his camera's flash to see in the pitch-black catacombs. It's no surprise that he runs into something nasty.
- Throwing Off the Disability: Susan's husband claims to have lost the use of his legs and testicles in a construction accident, so it's OK for Russell to impregnate his wife. Later, after he's raped by Susan, Russell confronts her in an alley, only for her husband to walk up behind him and jab him with a knockout needle.
- Torches and Pitchforks: An angry crowd with burning torches shows up at the police station after Russell has been arrested for raping and murdering Kellin Miles. He naturally thinks they've come to lynch him and desperately holds onto the door of his cell to keep it shut. In the morning he discovers the crowd (presumably Dagon cultists) have trashed the police station, unlocked the cell door and driven off the police so he can escape.
- Twenty Minutes Into the Future: Radio reports speak of Eskimo terrorists attacking U.S. arctic bases, guerillas on the 'former U.S border', rapidly rising sea levels, and the death of the last polar bear living in the wild.
- Uncanny Village
- The Un-Reveal: Russell and Susan's offspring in the bathtub. This is likely what pushes Russell over the edge. Also what happens to Mike. A deleted scene apparently has Zadok found floating, murdered by the cult for talking to Russell.
- When Trees Attack: The tree-like creature glimpsed on a couple of occasions is presumably Shub-Niggurath (The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young).