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

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World War I In Video Games

For most of the last decade, the European or South Pacific Theaters of World War II were used as the setting for most First-Person-Shooter games. It was where the now famous Call of Duty and Battlefield franchises got their start and where longtime veteran Medal of Honor ran around until they were unable to compete against the playing experiences the two new kids brought to the table. Despite dominating the setting, the sheer number of horrible cash-ins, as well as the desire to see a modern world rendered in all the lovely shades of brown and gray that current generations graphics were triumphantly boasting.

Five years since Call of Duty: Modern Warfare abandoned the World War II setting, we’ve now in the midst of doing the same thing with the modern setting, running it straight into the ground. With Activision proudly releasing yearly map packs, the modern warfare setting has been done to death in just five-years, what it took the World War II setting to do in about 8-9 years. Companies are largely unwilling to explore more recent wars like the Vietnam War because of the unconventional style of fighting as well as the ambiguities and atrocities committed during that war. The recent modern games all take place in fictional countries with fictional leaders and motives that hover somewhere just above a James Bond film. There is one setting that hasn’t been explored at all by any major video game developer, or even really any indie publisher, and that’s World War I.

It’s not exactly hard to see why it’s been ignored. It gets glossed over during most American high school history classes because of the United States’ committed mentality towards isolationism. All of the veterans are now dead, and the starting date is quickly approaching its 100th anniversary. Besides all that though, the ambiguity of the war is even more prevalent than in other wars, with no clear “good vs. bad” like with World War II. It was a war was largely brought on by the linger effects of 19th century colonialism, empiricism, arms race, and the shells left over from former monarchies.

As for the not so obvious reasons, the war was largely a defensive one, which turned into a massive blood-letting after the German’s failure to take Paris in 1914. Trenches were set up and fortified with barbed wire, mines, shells, and machine guns. The shells made it possible to laud highly destructive explosives as the enemy to psychologically break soldiers, and machine guns made it possible to mow down entire platoons, suicidally sent by commanders still using techniques imposed by Napoleon. Most offensive weaponry like aeroplanes and tanks were still in their infancy and in most cases never really proved to be effective. Blood-letting is the only way to really describe it, four long years of sending wave after wave of young men to their death for reasons that nobody really understood.

All of these reasons showcase why we’ve never seen a World War I video game, however ironically also showcase why we need a World War I video game. Video games are really the only entertainment medium that never fully implants the message of the horrors of war, because in reality war isn’t fun, but a video game is a game, and games are fun. It’s a hard line to walk, because it can give kids the wrong impression of what war is all about. Especially as newer games try so hard to create a realistic atmosphere, while still staying within the realm of video game logic. It’s the reason why you’ll never see a video game where you get shot once and die, or get dragged off the battlefield to spend months recovering in a hospital. That being said, most recent games have always coyly skirted around the true horrors that accompany war.

It would be absolutely impossible to create a game about World War I and not include every single horrible blight against humanity that accompanied the war. It’s the game that, if done right, would shake the FPS genre to its very core, and perhaps even force publishers and developers to give more thought into the messages they wish to part with the gamer. Imagine a scenario where you’re controlling your character, and the unmistakable sound of a shell coming is heard, however this shell is full of mustard gas. Your character fumbles for their gas mask and just as the gas begins to seep out, the screams of soldiers closer to impact is heard. The shrieks as the gas enters their lungs, turning into hoarse coughs as it poisons and kills the cells, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do. Or perhaps doing a mad suicidal charge against machine gun fire, where whenever your avatar dies you quantum leap into the body of another soldier only to be cut down. This would easily illustrate the sheer perversion of sending those waves against machine gun fire. There could also be air combat sections, where your plan’s engine is held to the frame with string.

There’s no mistaking that it would be an absolutely brutal game and probably impossible to beat, but there’s also no denying that it would leave a profound impact on the players. If done correctly, it could be considered a classic in the same way as Silent Hill 2, for delivering an emotionally impacting story that leaves the player drained in a way that passive media rarely do.