Reviews of “Pickman’s Model” (1927) and related work

“Pickman’s Model” (1927Text)

H. P. Lovecraft (writer).

text fiction

“Pickman’s Model” (2014Moving picture, 10 minutes)

Seen in 2015.

Misses almost everything good about the original, and not visually attractive, except for the cool design of the dungeon.

moving picture adaptation animation fiction

Pickman’s Model (2022Moving picture, 63 minutes)

Seen in 2023.

This is a loose adaptation. It doesn’t have Pickman’s painting of a ghoul and its focus is not on Pickman but on Thurber’s career and family life. That change has good potential to make the story adaptable to television. The director gets the symbolism of it right: After having been an active painter and cautious defender of newer painting styles in 1909, the middle-aged Thurber of 1926 is no longer painting and becomes, through his vivid experience of Pickman’s paintings alone, a conservative. The production values, locations and camera work are excellent. Known weirdo Crispin Glover steals the show with his awesome performance as Pickman.

Unfortunately, the director also decided to make a number of choices that are conventional in contemporary horror TV. This short film is an episode of Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities (2022), a showcase I will not review because I am not going to finish it. Its first episode, “Lot 36”, can be summarized as follows: An army veteran, like Thurber, pushes his luck and gets killed by a monster, the end. The monster is shown quite clearly, it is accessible through a little dungeon, there is a fire, and the presentation is full of conventional visual and audio queues so that the audience knows what to expect.

The same is true of this adaptation. Despite omitting the crucial painting, the adaptation’s Thurber does see the ghoul that Pickman’s had been painting. It’s an all-CGI creature, competently designed and animated but not scary in the least. The meeting happens under conventionally stylized circumstances, absent in the original: Thurber shoots Pickman and lights some of Pickman’s work on fire, in a dungeon. Before and after this exaggerated dramatic apex, Thurber sees other supernatural horrors. Those are mostly done with more practical effects, but they frame the meeting so that it’s no longer special. Lovecraft’s climax is good because it is elegant. This adaptation is inelegant, putting too much of the grotesque up on the screen with enough hand-holding cues to make it feel safe.

References here: Dreams in the Witch House (2022).

moving picture adaptation fiction