“Pickman’s Muse” is a 2010 independent horror movie based on the stories “The Haunter of the Dark” and “Pickman’s Model” by author H.P. Lovecraft, which does justice to neither tale.
In the film, Robert Pickman is a marginally successful artist known for his New England landscape and lighthouse paintings; however, despite enthusiastic requests from his dealer for more of the same, Robert is growing weary of his subject matter and is becoming restless for new inspiration. His dealer then encourages him to take a few weeks off to go on a vision quest of sorts to find some inspiring new sights to paint, but what Pickman finds instead is the Church of the Starry Wisdom which houses a transmitter of dark dreams from Stygian realms which fill his head with unspeakable horror and geometrical madness which quickly fill up the canvases of his studio. Wisely, the filmmakers chose to not show what exactly is depicted on Pickman’s canvases, for what may be horrifying to some most likely would just seem hokey to the average horror fan nowadays.
Pickman is hounded by voices that tell him what to paint and even though his new work horrifies even him, whenever the dark voices threaten to take away his new found “sight” he quickly yields because he cannot live without being able to “see” these ghastly visions; but the voices demand compensation for their “gift” to Robert and try to get him to give them a delivery boy who brings him some art supplies, which he refuses to do, so they take away his access to their world. He quickly regrets his hastiness and runs back to the Church of the Starry Wisdom to beg for a second chance. While groveling at the altar of the church, asking the voices to show him what he should do, he sees his answer in an old medication bottle, which once belonged to the artist Goodie Hines (a poor attempt at using an old New England name, the type which Lovecraft used so often in his stories; “Goodie” is generally a female name and was also used as a diminutive for “Goodwife”, a Middle English title for a widow), whose work Pickman’s keeps getting compared to. Hines apparently was also a patient of Pickman’s physician, Dr. Ambrose Dexter, so he pays the man a visit at the local asylum where he is being kept these days. Unfortunately, Hines doesn’t have any advice for him so Pickman kidnaps Dr. Dexter who was tailing him and also nabs his landlady’s niece both of whom he ties up in his studio. The young woman, fearing for her life keeps screaming so Pickman tells her she needs to shut up. She then asks him what he is going to do to her and her shows her one of his paintings (also actor’s P.O.V., so we can only guess what horrifying thing is represented on the canvas) and she screams louder. At this point Dr. Dexter tries to break free, so Pickman goes at him with a box-cutter, as he is trying to penetrate Dexter’s glasses with his blade, he is foiled by Dr. Dexter’s friend, Richard who arrives just in time to save the day. Pickman is then taken to the same asylum that Hines is in where he is visited at night by the voices who literally take away his sight for good for failing to come through on his second chance.
There are other minor subplots going on in this 1.25 hr film, like Dr Dexter’s investigation into the Church of the Starry Wisdom and the landlady who initially puts Pickman on a pedestal until she catches a glimpse of his new artwork, then she tries to have him evicted, but none of them are germane to the plot.
If the creators of “Pickman’s Muse” had just stuck with either original plot-line from Lovecraft’s stories they would have had a great film, but what they have is a weak hodgepodge of the two story-lines.
In “Pickman’s Model” (1926) Richard Upton Pickman (the real name of the artist in the story) is renowned for drawing horrifying images of ghouls and graveyards which get him booted from the Boston Art Club and shunned by everyone else. After his mysterious disappearance a former friend of his, Thurber, relates the frightening experience he had as a guest in Pickman’s studio. In the end of the story it is revealed that Pickman’s subjects may have been more than just the products of a diseased imagination.
In the “Haunter in the Dark” (1935-36) fictional horror writer Robert Harrison Blake, a thinly veiled reference to Lovecraft correspondent author Robert Bloch, becomes obsessed with the Shining Trapezohedron he finds while rummaging through the abandoned remains of the Church of the Starry Wisdom, a sort of scrying crystal which opens up cosmic vistas and gives access to other worlds to the gazer much like the Palantiri in Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”. The church, unfortunately, is also the home of “the Haunter of the Dark”, a foul smelling, bat-winged demon with a singular three-lobed luminous eye that dwells in the darkness of the boarded-up church. The Haunter, a possible manifestation of Nyarlathotep, catches on to Blake’s lust for the Trapezohedron, and begins stalking him. Since it cannot abide light of any kind, Blake is safe during the daytime to come and go at will as long as he leaves before dusk. However, during an electrical storm one night, which causes all of the street lights to go out, the creature leaves it’s lair to hunt him down. Recording in his journal the impressions he receives from gazing into said crystal, Blake can also see the Haunter as he approaches in between the lightning strikes; of course, things do not end well for Blake:
“I see it—coming here—hell-wind—titan blur—black wings—Yog-Sothoth save me—the three-lobed burning eye…”
Doctor Ambrose Dexter, a peripheral character in the story, ends up finding the Shining Trapezohedron in Blake’s things after his preternatural demise and throws the crystal into the “deepest channel of Narragansett Bay”. However, as with the hobbit Merry and the Palantir in Tolkien’s tale, the taint of the crystal lingers on in Dr. Dexter and provides Nyarlathotep access to the good doctor, whom he later possess for his own nefarious purposes in Robert Bloch’s sequel to this story, “The Shadow from the Steeple” (1950).
Now wouldn’t either of these story-lines have made better films than the script to “Pickman’s Muse”?