Simon Rogers of Pelgrane Press was kind enough to send me a printer-mangled copy of Shadows over Filmland for my review, and it represents the last of my multiple reviews – here and elsewhere – that I wanted to finish this month. SPOIILERS are below.
In addition to my love of the Cthulhu Mythos, I’ve maintained an on-and-off interest in early horror cinema. I wouldn’t consider myself an expert on it by any stretch of the imagination, but I do enjoy old Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi films when I get a chance to watch. Nonetheless, I’ve never really embraced crossing the two genres, as often one gets lost in the other. In Shadows over Filmland, Robin Laws and Kenneth Hite attempt to bring the two together in a dozen scenarios, with Hite making a solid case at the beginning for elements that are common to both and handling the setting and tropes of these movies, defined here as “Backlot Gothic,” in a game.
The book provides a dozen scenarios covering many different elements. One could attempt to shoehorn them into conventional movie sub-genres – Dracula, werewolf, monster ape, mummy, etc. Nonetheless, each has at least a touch of Lovecraft and his ilk that takes it beyond pastiche and creates scenarios that combine classic horror movie sensibilities with the Cthulhu Mythos. My personal favorites include the vampire (?) encounters in “Dreams of Dracula,” the “Invisible Man” semi-takeoff that is “The Non-Euclidean Man,” the psychological thriller “The Night I Died,” and the surrealist atmosphere and personality clashes of “The Black Chateau.” Most of these make intelligent and interesting use of the Mythos while catching what made the movies so great.
Sometimes this mix works better than others, of course, . My least favorite scenario was “White Bokor,” which was written as a sequel to the classic Bela Lugosi film White Zombie but seems to take more of its cues from Night of the Living Dead. Another, “The Preserve”, is a blend of “The Most Dangerous Game” with one of those “Monster Mashup” movies. I find that it works, largely because I approached it with the sensibilities of what to expect from such a movie, but I’m not certain how players might feel coming into it cold.
Nonetheless, this is a solid collection of scenarios for the right group. As the mix is unusual, I’d recommend that Keepers discuss running these scenarios with their group first, so that they can gauge their sensibilities and pick something that pleases them.