H.P. Lovecraft In Cinema

This article contains a small spoiler for the film Cabin in the Woods, for the three people who have not yet seen it, Tyler Durden and the Narrator are the same person.

With the recent releases of The Raven and Cabin in the Woods it’s easy to get excited for the coming change in regards to two of the horror genres most seminal writers finally getting big budget movie adaptations. While Cabin in the Woods was really only tangentially related to Lovecraft, his influence was felt far and wide throughout the movie, with the main antagonists being called “Elder Things” who will destroy the world, much like the characters creating in Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos. I was just as excited when I heard Guillermo del Toro was set to direct a live-adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness with James Cameron producing and Tom Cruise starring, and was equally as disappointed when Universal Pictures canceled the project, I won’t say I was surprised.

Lovecraft’s material has long been the bane of making a commercial horror film, with the horror more based around the psychological aspect and often very bleak outcomes where insanity is almost always a guarantee. There’s no romance subplot and no real way to work it in, not only that but his material is almost completely devoid of dialogue, often with the inner monologues of the protagonists who are not particularly well characterized. Not only that but his material is (sadly) dated, with very little relevance to today’s age and culture. While shows like Boardwalk Empire have proven to be successful for recreating a bygone age, the 1920’s is just at time period that doesn’t really click with most American audiences. All of these points are almost the antithesis of what horror means to the average movie goer, who have proven that they are more than willing to sit through the same movie seven times in a row.

I doubt we’ll get a big budget Lovecraft feature any time soon (although there are some rumors that 20th Century Fox is willing to fund Guillermo del Toro’s project), you can still see Lovecraft adaptations in the lower-budget circles. Here’s a list of my favorite adaptations of Lovecraft’s work.

  1. Dagon (2001)

    Don’t let the title fool you, while it may be named after Lovecraft’s 1917 short story, the film is actually more an adaptation of The Shadow Over Innsmouth. A young married couple is honeymooning off the coast of Spain (the home of the protagonist’s new wife) when their boat is damaged in a fierce storm and the man has to take to an old derelict town to seek help. However he soon finds that the town has a sinister hidden agenda and is under the control of a blood thirsty cult. It soon turns into a battle for survival, armed only with his wits and a small siwiss army knife, as he attempts to uncover the mystery behind this town and come out with his hide intact.

    The budget of the film is unfortunately low, but there is a skinning scene that puts all the Saw movies to shame. What the film manages to do right is to take the 1931 story and set it in modern times, but technology only plays a small role and only works to illustrate our unfortunate growing reliance on it. Well paced and loaded with copious amounts of gore and nudity, this film is a must see for anyone interested in B-horror and Lovecraft.

  2. In the Mouth of Madness (1995)

    Oh fuck yes! John Carpenter directing a film that is so unabashedly a Lovecraft epic is enough to sell most people right there, but the fact that it’s also just a really good movie makes the victory all the sweeter. The film really does play out more as a combination of Clive Barker/ Stephen King combination with a huge sprinkling of Lovecraftian undertones. Author insert characters, strange cultish towns, unspeakable horrors from beyond the veil of time and space, and the looming threat of insanity, this 1995 thriller failed to win at the box office (like all the good movies seem to do), but has since been considered a cult classic and one of Carpenter’s more underrated films. Make sure to pay close attention as the film is packed to the brim with clues and strange dream sequences that challenge the viewers very idea of reality.

  3. Reanimator (1985)

    I would be remiss to not mention this 1985 cult classic that adds a much needed dose of humor to Lovecraft’s formula. Coming around the same 5-year period of films like Evil Dead II, The Return of the Living Dead, and Fright Night the film is a spoof of Lovecraft’s 1921 story, which itself was a spoof of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus. Easily one of the more gory movies (at least until Peter Jackson raised the bar to new heights), the film features a lot of tongue-in-cheek jabs at Lovecraft’s mythos. Miskatonic University makes its first live-action appearance and the newfound comedic zombies idea makes another appearance. The film spawned a couple of sequels which I have yet to see, but if they follow the time-honored tradition of hasty sequels to unexpectedly popular horror films than they probably suck.

  4. The Call of Cthuhlu (2005)

    This 2005 indie film was shot completely in black and white and only features word cards, so for all the people who went to see that bland 2011 best picture winner The Artist this film will be a cakewalk as it’s only 45 minutes. It’s easily the most accurate adaption, changing nothing from the famous short story and manages to capture the same spine-tingling sensation the short story creatures. While the effects can be laughable, I think this was done intentionally to continue to ape the same time period the film was trying to be. What’s great is they didn’t just copy the aesthetic, but the shot composition, accompanying music, and overly dramatic facial expressions. As far as I know it’s still on Streaming Netflix in the United States so if you have that service (and really why wouldn’t you?) it’s definitely worth your time.

Honorable Mentions

I limited myself to only the films that I had seen in order to give a genuine summary on it rather than a disingenuous copy of someone else’s opinion. Here’s a couple of films that I have yet to see, but you may want to check out (I know I will).

The Dunwich Horror (1970)
Necronomicon (1993) – A collection of three short stories, namely “Rats in the Wall” (my personal favorite), “Cool Air”, and “The Whisper in Darkness”
The Resurrected (1992) – Based on “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward”

Next week I’ll be taking a look at the films from Edgar Allen Poe’s history and giving a rundown on the ones I think are worth your time.

LoathsomePete is just as the name sounds, a man who’s mad as hell and isn’t going to take it. You can follow him on Twitter @avengedpie, or on Tumblr

About loathsomepete
Avid reader/ writer of all things intelligent and thought provoking. Same goes for my music, any genre will do me as long as it conveys intelligence.

One Response to H.P. Lovecraft In Cinema

  1. cthulhuwho1 says:

    Did you know that the free unabridged readings and performances by SAG-AFTRA actor William E. Hart, of H. P. Lovecraft’s, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, At the Mountains of Madness, The Hound, and Fungi from Yuggoth are available free on the CthulhuWho1.com blog? Help yourself! And please let me know what you think of them…

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