The works of venerable horror writer H.P. Lovecraft have, in many ways, become the backbone of the genre, especially cinematic horror. An astonishing number of relatively contemporary horror flicks and genre TV shows--everything from 1965's DIE, MONSTER, DIE through Rod Serling's series THE NIGHT GALLERY (1970s) to Sam Raimi's THE EVIL DEAD (1981)--have either borrowed elements from Lovecraft's literary mythos or attempted to adapt one of his stories. But in spite of the writer's influence on horror cinema, few filmmakers have been able to accurately or faithfully translate Lovecraft's works to either the small or large screen. At best, most attempts to adapt Lovecraft either vaguely evoke the nihilistic subtext of the author's work (e.g., Stuart Gordon's 1985 classic RE-ANIMATOR) or pay simple homage by making a reference or two (as Raimi does by building his EVIL DEAD stories around Lovecraft's ubiquitous fictional book of the occult, the Necronomicon). Bryan Moore's COOL AIR is a standout exception to this rule.
Set sometime around the 1920s, COOL AIR tells the story of a young writer who befriends a mysterious and reclusive physician, Dr. Muñoz, who resides in his same tenement house. Though Muñoz has a medical condition that requires him to remain in his constantly frigid apartment, the two men visit together often and become very close. But when something happens to the cooling unit that controls the temperature in good doctor's apartment, the writer learns more about his friend's condition than perhaps he ever wanted to know.
Although the original story is devoid of any real dialogue--indeed, the Lovecraft's narrator recounts his experience in what is very nearly a straight soliloquy--the filmmakers, out of dramatic necessity, use dialogue to reinterpret portions of Lovecraft's written word. Still, the film is not dialogue heavy. The filmmakers also skillfully employ unusual camera angles, light and shadow, sound design, and music to skillfully recreate all of the subtle, almost intangible uneasiness--and, ultimately, the horrible denouement--of the Lovecraft work.
Of course, the actors also aid immensely in conveying both the art and horror of the original story. Vera Lockwood is delightful as the curmudgeonly landlady of the tenement house. And as the young writer who befriends the mysterious Dr. Muñoz, Bryan Moore--who also wrote the script and directed--creates a thoroughly convincing sense of credulity and naiveté. But it is the venerable Jack Donner, portraying Dr. Muñoz, who steals the show. Donner has created numerous characters over the years on everything from classic STAR TREK to BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER to a recurring role on the soap GENERAL HOSPITAL, and here he uses those skills to adeptly convey the grandfatherly and cultured facets of Muñoz while simultaneously maintaining the sense that something horrifying lurks just beneath the facade.
The DVD edition of Moore's COOL AIR is well worth the price of admission. It features a pristine copy of the film--be aware that the film as shot in black-and white, and faux scratches and grain were deliberately added to give the sense that the film was actually shot in the era in which the story is set--in its original Academy aspect ratio (essentially 1.33:1), and the soundtrack (in Pro Logic two-channel surround) is very crisp and clear. The disc is also chock-full of extras, including four other short films inspired by Lovecraft works, a making-of featurette entitled BEHIND THE MACHINE, an interview with Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi, and more. A must-have for Lovecraft fans and those who appreciate well-crafted, "old-school" horror cinema.