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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Under the Snow: A Canadian Music Expose #10

The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets

Rocked PAX

Formed officially in February 1992, the Darkest of the Hillside Thickets are many things to the western Canadian music scene. They are legendary geek-rockers who have blazed a Lovecraftian trail through many styles of music, they are hard-rocking costumed performers, who have toured with the likes of GWAR, MC Lars, They Might Be Giants, Nomeansno and others, they are geek icons involved in many levels of nerd-dom, from RPG’s to podcast shows. The Thickets (as they are often called to shorten it up), have been making music since they released their first 3 song cassette (50 copies) out to friends back in 1992. Over the next 3 years, they would record a bunch of songs, and get included on a number of compilations, while the group itself fluctuated in size and membership, though, at the core has always been Toren Atkinson, Warren Banks and (after a year and a half of going through drummers, finally settled on) Jordan Pratt. By now (2011), the group has changed a number of times, they have dropped 4 full-length albums, played the Penny Arcade Expo and its predecessor Necrowombicon, and begun to start earning their due recognition.

Members
Toren Atkinson (vocals)
Merrick Atkinson (background vocals/bass)
Warren C. Banks (guitar)
Mario Nieva (back-up guitar, bass and vocals)
Jordan Pratt (drums)

Past members
Chris Woods, Devon Presseau, Chris West, Bob Fugger, Troy Zac

Pop-Punk meets Lovecraft

Their first real album, is 1995’s Cthulhu Strike’s Back, in it’s own way, it remains a classic. The album is definitely a punk-rock ride of humorous deviancy; Lovecraft’s artistic creation run through a surf-punk sound and delivered with punch and grim mischeviousness. The albums opening track, like the rest of the album show’s its age and the production (even the re-released version in 2003) is muddy and muffling. That said, it’s still a damn addictive track. Going Down to Dunwich references one of Lovecraft’s more famous tales (The Dunwich Horror) and has a very sing-along charm to it. Like the genre which they draw from, the Thickets early albums tend towards shorter, more intense tracks. The original release was a 15 track album, and the 2003 added 2 more tracks. This is no heavy listen, with each track having a certain charm and appeal that belies its downright disturbing subject matter. From the intense Unstoppable, with it’s pulsating guitars and bleak lyrical content, to the stand-out 11 minute electronic/ambient/post-punk track Cthulhu Dreams (the closest the band have come to sounding like other bands that worship Lovecraft). Of particular note, is the truly gruesome love song, Burrow Your Way to My Heart. Genuinely creepy, yet up-beat and addictive, it is one of the earliest examples of how well the band understands the idea of Brainworms…

Heads! IN Jars!

The bands second album, released the next year is entitled The Great Old Ones, and it carries on in the same manner. The album has a similar feel to it’s predecessor and this is not surprising considering it’s a compilations of demo tracks, live tracks and a few newly recorded tracks at the albums end. From the beginning you are treated to the same brand of simple-seeming punk songs, twisted around fantasy, sci-fi and horror themes, then delivered with a pop sensibility coating. Take for example the bounce-inducing anthem, Colour Me Gree; an ode to the Cthulhu mythos, and a truly pounding punk track that turns crowds into a frenzy of rhythmic bouncing and singing along. Or the delightful Big Robot Dinosaur, a tale about a tortured young geek in school, and the revenge he and his father enact on the world in their Giant Robot Dinosaur of destruction. There are two versions of the track Digging Up the World, of which I much prefer the haunting and strangely calming acoustic version. There’s the brutally grim yet cheerful Mustard Gas, a song that will burrow into your brain and leave you humming it for days on end. In short, this is the kind of album that any fan of fun engaging music with a sense of humour and nerdiness should be finding, despite being more of a B-sides album.

Geekrock for sci-fi RPG's...? Yup.

The band did not release another album until 2001, but there is no question that the 5 year wait, was more than worth it. Spaceship Zero, is the soundtrack to the independantly released RPG of the same name (courtesy of Toren Atkninson amongst others) and if you are ever in Vancouver and want to get yourself a piece of geek history, stop into one of the local used bookstores (or game-shops) and see if you can snag a copy. Better yet, as the book is still in print, order a new copy for yourself (www.greenronin.com). The album opens lightly, with the primarly instrumental title song, but is followed up immediately by one of the bands more famous tracks; 20 Minutes of Oxygen, a depressingly awesome song about dying because of a bad decision, which includes some truly catchy guitars and driving drums. Immediately after, you are seranaded by the bizarre Innsmouth Look, about going on a date in the demented town of Innsmouth. There’s the stand-out Math Song, which delivers a love-song in a very unique way, and reminds you that ‘you have a brain/and no one really needs another love song’. The album is flat-out full of hard to hate tracks, such as the truly addictive The Chosen One, which includes some plunky bass, stampeding drums and pulsing guitars, and a prophecy of sorts. The albums finale, End Credits, is an electronic instrumental that demonstrates how impossible it is to pin the bands sound or influences down.

An homage to the master of horror.

It took 6 years for the next album to the see the light of day, and the care and attention shown exceed any expectations. The Shadow Out of Tim is a tour de force of surf-punk, metal, rock and experimental/avant-garde moments. Lyrically, Toren has out-done himself, providing a poetic, evocative and occasionally chilling twist on the Lovecraft tale, The Shadow Out of Time. Musically, the rest of the band have delievered like never before. The album opens with a psuedo-primitive chant, complete with skin drums and vocal harmonies. It’s a feint, an opener that leads into something very different. Track two starts with a ripping guitar piece, and becomes a tale that opens up the rest of the album; entitled A Marine Biologist, it introduces the albums protagonist (Tim). The third track, Blackout, was nominated for an independent Music Award, and with damn good reason. Blackout is pounding, dark, depressing, catchy and surreal. Toren’s lyrical prowess is truly on display, while the drums and guitars truly lift him up and hold his unique voice out for admiration. There’s the fascinating Return to Melanesia, which starts out with a neat whistled piece, which turns into a vocal chorus backed by some very subtle instrumentation, and another demented piece of the tale. Its hard not to gush on and on about the brilliance of this album; this is a band at 15+ years experience, taking their time and crafting a real masterpiece. Not. To. Be. Missed.

Over the past 4 years, they have released two other tracks from the Shadow Out of Tim sessions (Shhh, and (We’re Gonna) Kill the Chupacabra (Tonight)), and from what I have been told, working their way into a new album. Given the bands attention to detail and care, the wait is pretty much guaranteed to be worth it.

Now, videos:

Shoggoths Away:

Some Things Man Was not Meant to Know:

Woship Me Like a God:

Kill the Chupacabra:

Walking on the Moon (Police cover):

20 Minutes of Oxygen (Official video):

As always, buy merchandise, see their shows, send them messages telling them how awesome they are. Support your independent bands.

This article has been edited to include the corrections Toren mentioned in the comments. 🙂