A Horrifying Weekend in Portland

This post is late.

Like, really, really late1.

Back in October, I went to Portland, Oregon, to attend the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival. It’s run by a couple of friends of mine, Gwen and Brian Callahan, and they’ve invited me a few times over the years, so I figured it was about time for me to visit. I booked a long weekend off work, flying out on Thursday, and spent Friday taking a look around Portland before the opening of the festival at 7:00. I had sussed out the light rail system on Thursday getting from the airport to my hotel, so it was pretty simple to catch a train downtown to get on a guided tour of the city.

I passed this sculpture on the way from the train stop to Pioneer Square, where I was catching the tour bus. I thought they were cool, but you may notice that the eyes look a little weird.
The weird thing about the eyes is that some dedicated person put googly eyes in them.
All the seal sculptures had googly eyes.
Also, the beaver sculptures.

That whole bit just amused me far more than it reasonably should have. Plus, the sculptures were pretty cool in and of themselves.

Anyway, I made it to Pioneer Courthouse Square in time to grab a quick bite of breakfast and get on the tour bus. Actually, it was a pink trolley2 from this tour company.

I’ll be honest. As a Canadian – from Winnipeg, no less – I’m a little reluctant to admit this, but the open trolley tour in the morning was uncomfortably cold. I really was surprised at that. Obviously, it’s a question of humidity rather than actual temperature, but that damp breeze was unpleasant. I mean, that temperature in Winnipeg is a pleasant late-summer day. But I was kind of chilled when I decided to get off the trolley.

The tour itself was pretty good. The history suffered a bit in comparison to the tours I’ve taken in Ireland and the UK, but it was about as deep as you’d get in Winnipeg – going back maybe two-and-a-half centuries, and focusing on the exploration and settlement by Europeans. Also, a lot of discussion of house prices in the various neighbourhoods, which didn’t interest me at all.

There was some significant construction going on along a couple of the main routes for the tour, which resulted in some spontaneous detours and a little more meandering than I think the guide liked. But, what can you do.

Anyway, I got a bit of interesting history about the city, and got to see a lot of temperate rain forest. And then we reached a stop I was interested in seeing.

Part of the reason I got off the trolley was the aforementioned chilliness. But I also find that I quite enjoy zoos.

Now, on the tour, there had been a lot of talk about the elephants of the Oregon Zoo. There’s a whole history of acquiring elephants from circuses and breeding them3, and building a new, very elaborate habitat for them. The habitat was big enough that I wandered around it a fair bit without really seeing any elephants. My timing was off – it was feeding time, or nap time, or wander away from all the screaming little people time. Fair enough.

I did see some cool things, though.

This black bear might as well have posed for me.
A neat sculpture of fish leaping up a waterfall. I love the way the sculpture is incorporated into the natural feature of the rock wall. No googly eyes, though.
A condor. These things are HUGE. That log it’s on is about the thickness of my lower leg. And man, do they look EVIL.
It’s not a good picture of them, but these ducks have weird, painted-looking faces. It made them look like the henchmen of some waterfowl-focused supervillain.

I didn’t take a picture of the sign telling me what these ducks are, and a half-hour searching online hasn’t shown me a picture that looks very much like them. So, the identity of the criminal ducks remains a mystery.

This is a mandrill. As he sat crouched there on his rock, he was about three feet tall. So, he is much bigger than I had thought mandrills and baboons were. And he was quite good at ignoring all of us gawkers with a quiet dignity.

After the zoo, I got back on the trolley, waiting for the stop at Powell’s Books. And I got off there, of course4.

The less said about my time in Powell’s, the better. I overspent, and still lamented that I didn’t get enough. What a place.

I caught the last trolley back to the beginning of the tour, grabbed a sandwich, and hopped on the train back to the hotel, and the opening of the festival.

This is the Hollywood Theatre, where the festival was held. If it looks familiar, you may have seen it on an episode of The Librarians this season, where it stands in for a theatre in Hollywood.
It looks even cooler at night.

Pretty much the rest of the weekend was spent watching Lovecraft-inspired films. Some highlights:

  • Book Return – A fun and silly little short about the problems of overdue books.
  • Home Education – Weird and creepy and recommended.
  • Caecilia – A short retelling of a Japanese ghost story in a medieval European setting.
  • The Black Gloves – A feature film that is apparently a prequel to a film I haven’t seen. Nice gothic vibe.
  • God’s Cellar – A short about a man with God’s cellar in his backyard, and the filmmakers who come to interview him.
  • There is No Door – Another short, maybe my favourite of the short films. A young girl growing up with a strange and surreal family curse.
  • Itch – A short about an adventurer trying to uncover the secrets of a strange object she’s found and brought home.
  • The Thing on the Doorstep – not a film, but a live radio play presented by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society.
  • They Remain – A feature-length film based on Laird Barron’s short story “-30-” Two people5 in an isolated remote site examining strange animal behaviour at the site of cult murders.
  • The Dreamlands, HPL’s Inspiration – Again, not a film, but a panel featuring Heather Hudson, Scott Glancy, Ken Hite, and Nathan Carson, as they discuss the Dreamlands in H.P. Lovecraft’s work.
  • Mary & Marsha in the Manor of Madness – An absolutely charming and delightful animated short about Mary helping her girlfriend Marsha escape her parents’ Gothic mansion.
  • Gut Punch – My god, this short is so stupid and silly, and I loved it. A quote from the schedule’s description: “It’s The Hangover meets Rosemary’s Baby with a splash of Evil Dead all wrapped up in a HP Lovecraftian Cthulhu themed party-glass!”
  • Ray Bradbury’s The Homecoming – Animated short based on the Ray Bradbury story. Horrific and heartwarming at the same time.
  • The Ningyo (ep. 1) – I don’t know the whole history of this film, but it looks like the pilot to a weird science/horror series about a scientist in the early 1900s  hunting a mythical Japanese creature.
  • Howard Lovecraft & the Undersea Kingdom – I had no real plan to see this. It’s an animated feature aimed at kids, turning the Cthulhu mythos into child-friendly adventure. But Gwen told me I should see it, so I did, and it was awesome. It was so good I ordered the DVD when I got home, plus the DVD of the first one in the series.

I didn’t get to see everything I wanted to. There were two blocks of short films that I just couldn’t fit into the schedule. And I decided not to go see The Keep, which is an awful movie, but then heard that F. Paul Wilson, the author of the novel and guest of honour at the festival, gave a running commentary on the film, RiffTrax-style, and he hates the film more than anyone in the world, so I’m sorry I missed that.

And then, Monday morning, I got up and took the train back to the airport and flew home.

It was a good weekend. I got to see some friends I normally only see at GenCon, and got to watch a bunch of interesting films. Watching a bunch of genre movies in a compressed time-frame really does interesting things in educating you about the cinematic tropes and language of the genre as you spot similar shots and compositions and begin to see how they work.

With the Ireland trip this year, I don’t think I’m going to get back again until 2019 at the earliest. But I am pretty sure I’m going to go back.

It was fun.

  1. There’s a story here, that you may or may not be interested in, so I’m putting it down in the footnotes. Last year, my plans to go to Ireland fell through, but I still wanted a bit of a trip, so I decided to visit the HP Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland, Oregon. Then, middle of September, my father died. With the festival falling on the first Thanksgiving following his death, I was torn about going or not. But I had already paid for the plane tickets and the hotel and the festival pass and everything, and Mom told me I should go, because wasting money is one of the cardinal sins in her book. So, I went, but I really wasn’t much in the mood to write about it, because Dad was always a fan of this blog. I kept putting it off, and now I’m finally writing it. []
  2. Not really a trolley. []
  3. In fact, in 1962, Packy was the first Asian elephant born in the Western hemisphere since 1918. He died in February of 2017. []
  4. Pretty much the first questions I got from Scott Glancy and Ken Hite when I saw them at the festival was, “Have you been to Powell’s yet?” It’s like they know me. []
  5. One also plays Chidi on The Good Place. []