H.P. Lovecraft stories are often called un-filmable because of the way they are written; partly because of the grandiose descriptions of ancient cities and cultures, partly because most of his stories are told with multiple flashbacks and partly because much of his stories are the contemplation of ideas and concepts thought about by the main characters. But that doesn’t stop filmmakers from trying. Most Lovecraft stories adapted for film are re-written, quite often completely, leaving only the title, character names, and most basic concepts in their wake. However, there are some that get enough of the story and atmosphere right – making them true Cthulhu Mythos worthy.
Consideration is given for the following elements: The movie as an entertaining piece of cinema/film – the movie as an HP Lovecraft adaptation and how close the elements come to Lovecraft’s tales.
Here’s My Top 10:
Directed by Stuart Gordon
Although Dagon was a very short tale with barely a plot, this adaptation seems to combine Dagon with Lovecraft’s “Innsmouth” tale. It is different from the original story(s) but, director, Stuart Gordon, successfully captured the true fear, atmosphere and mood of Lovecraft terror. When a young couple’s yacht runs aground, they become stranded in a strange, backward town on the coast of Mediterranean Spain. The feeling of isolation and terror grow, as the strangely deformed townspeople close-in on the unwelcome intruders. In this film Gordon left behind much of the campy comedic elements from earlier films, From Beyond and Re-Animator, which for this film, I think was effective. He learned how to creep you out without grossing you out and I think Lovecraft fans appreciated the more serious approach to his adaptation.
From Beyond (1986)
Directed by Stuart Gordon – produced by Brian Yuzna
Two scientists build a resonator in experiments to stimulate a gland in the center of the brain called the Pineal Gland. The gland effects the wake/sleep and dream cycles of the human consciousness. Quite unexpectedly, when stimulated this gland enables them to see into another dimension. Strange creatures in this dimension drag the lead scientist, Dr. Edward Pretorius (Ted Sorel), off into this strange world. Dr. Crawford Tillinghast, (Jeffrey Combs) struggles to continue the experiments as his pineal gland takes over his conscious mind and demands more stimulation from the resonator. A side effect of this stimulation causes intense sexual energy, mostly provided by Barbara Crompton as Dr. Katherine McMichaels. Dr. Pretorius comes back as a shape-shifting monster determined to swallow Katherine whole for the ultimate pleasurable experience. This is gory, grotesque, weird and bizarre, just what you would expect from a Gordon/Yuzna collaboration.
Dreams in the Witch House – Masters of Horror (2005)
Directed by Stuart Gordon
This is the film adaptation to Lovecraft’s story of the same name set in modern times. For me, this was one of the creepiest episodes from the Masters of Horror series. A young student, Walter Gilman, attending the Miskatonic University discovers that his boarding room contains the exact angles to produce a dimensional doorway used by witches. A large rat frightens his young female neighbor, Frances. Gilman chases the rat away to save the young lady and her child but the rat comes back for him. The large rat is the witch’s elemental, and has a human face. It calls to Gilman in his dreams but soon Gilman can not distinguish dream from reality. The rat leads Gilman into the witches lair where the witch seduces him and exacts a particularly nasty deed that Gilman will have to answer for.
The Whisperer in Darkness – HPLHS Films (2011)
Produced and directed by Branney and Leman
After the Vermont floods of 1927, Professor Albert Wilmarth of the Miskatonic University, begins to receive letters from Vermont farmer, Henry Akeley, who claims to have evidence of strange creatures and omnipresent rituals near his farm. When Wilmarth goes to investigate, he is witness to a plan for an ancient race to enter our world and destroy mankind in the process. This film is modeled after early horror films, such as, Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, and Dracula. The crisp B&W Image is outstanding to fans of that golden age of horror films and all aspects; music, effects, script, are congruent to a film from that time period. It is also an outstanding Lovecraft adaptation using all the elements of the Lovecraft story and the settings are well anchored in the time period that the story had been told.
Quatermass and the Pit (1968)
Directed by Roy Ward Baker –
Aka: Five Million Years to Earth
This fantastic film suggests that a great insectile race, on the verge of extinction, came to earth many years ago and left a machine that would help them revive their species through the actions of man’s own curiosity. A previous unknown race of intelligent beings similar to the Great Old Ones is definitively Lovecraft influenced. The film is a smart science-fiction mystery that unravels to the unique climax. This film is my favorite Quatermass film of the series.
In the Mouth of Madness (1995)
Directed by John Carpenter
Sam Neil stars as John Trent, an insurance fraud investigator who is hired to find a missing horror author, Sutter Cane and deliver his final manuscript, In The Mouth of Madness. The reading of Cane’s books seem to have a negative affect on his readers, turning them into psychotic killers and believers in supernatural forces. Trent finds a clue in Cane’s book covers and believes that Cane is hiding out in an obscure New England town, Hobb’s End. There is no such town on the map but Trent and publishing exec., Linda, take a road trip to locate this mysterious town. Once they find Hobb’s End, the town’s people turn into slimy tentacled creatures and attack Trent, Linda, and each other. Although the film has some plot holes and pushes the limits of suspension-of-disbelief, I find it extremely creative and ambitious. Its cutting and jarring scenes mirror the psychosis that is befalling the characters in the film. It is not a Lovecraft story but the Cthulhu Mythos influence is quite evident.
The Night Gallery – Season 2, episode: Pickman’s Model (1973)
This is one of the better episodes of Night Gallery in its short three season run on TV. An art teacher, Professor Pickman, at a Boston college is fired for his unnatural and violently disturbing work depicting creatures in, amongst other places, the local church grounds. One of his students, the lovely Miss Mavis Goldsmith, has taken a liking to the professor and joins him for lunch to express her adoration upon him. She is summarily rejected and the Professor departs in a huff, leaving behind his latest painting. With help from a friend, the young Miss Mavis deciphers what part of town is depicted in the painting and decides to pay Mr. Pickman a visit. He is unduly agitated by her appearance and begs her to leave. She lingers as he attends some disruption in his home and is then attacked by the strange rat-like creature depicted in the professor’s paintings.
Several other Night Gallery episodes featured Lovecraft stories or Lovecraft themes including: Professor Peabody’s Last Lecture, Cool Air, and Mrs. Lovecraft Sent Me.
The Necronomicon (1993)
Anthology includes three stories; The Drowned (based on Rats in the Walls), The Cold (based on Cool Air), and Whispers (very loosely based on The Whisperer in Darkness). There is a a wrap-around story which features Jeffery Combs as H.P. Lovecraft, sneaking into a monastery library in order to read excerpts from The Necronomicon, thus revealing the stories. I like all three stories and all of them have some great special effects. The monster in the first segment, The Drowned is worth the price of admission! The Cold is probably closest to the Lovecraft tale it is adapted from, followed by The Drowned.
The Call of Cthulhu – HPLHS Films (2005)
Produced and directed by Branney and Leman
The 1st film by The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society is a nostalgic throwback to the silent era of filmmaking. If you have an appreciation for the black & white image and silent movies, Cthulhu is a silver screen gem of chromatic artistry and beauty. The music is a top-notch symphonic score, perfectly matched to the films imagery. The grainy, old style film seems to add a convincing realism to the story. The stars are aligning and Cthulhu is poised to cross the threshold from his world into ours. If you are a H.P. Lovecraft enthusiast you would definitely want to check this film out.
The Unnamable (1988)
Directed by Jean-Paul Ouellette
Some films I like for the plot and story, some films I like for the cast and great acting, and let’s face it, for some films, I’m just in it for the monster. This tale is one of a creature so disturbingly ugly, its horrible image has forever been fixed into the glass of the attic window where it lived in hiding. This adaptation offers some campy-ness in usual 1980‘s style but fails to reach the black comedy status of the Gordon/Yuzna films. The only thing that really saves this film from total failure is the horrifically-beautiful female monster. She is really a masterpiece of make-up effects – cloven hooves, gnarled teeth, sinister eyes, but definitively feminine. Acknowledgement to Katrin Alexandre for her portrayal of the creature: it is her awkward and creature-like movements that help bring this beast to life.
Evil Dead – Not a Lovecraft tale but uses the Necronomicon, a book often sited in Lovecraft tales. The film also refers to the evil entities in the woods as the Great Old Ones.
Reanimator – Although a great movie, it is far from the original Lovecraft tale of the same name. This is another gory, bizarre culmination from Gordon and Yuzna. At some points it could even be considered a black comedy or morbid humor.
The Dunwich Horror – This version captures the Lovecraft atmosphere but it’s a bit on the slow side. The mediocre acting and melodramatic music don’t help. 1960’s psychedelia, cultism, sexual platitudes, and isolationism.
The Trollenberg Terror – The creatures in this movie are definitely Lovecraft influenced with one eye, giant tentacles and high intelligence.
The Thing – John Carpenter stated that his version of the Thing, with its tentacles and Trans-morphing physical aspects were influenced by Lovecraft ideas.
Theater Bizarre – Mother of Toads segment – One of six stories in this ambitious anthology. It deals with a witch-like woman insuring her strange offspring will thrive. Has a definitive Lovecraft feel.
Castle Freak – Although this is supposed to be Lovecraft inspired, I don’t really see a big connection. The story is very close to the Unnamable, only set in Europe. Decent film but just barely Lovecraftian.
Hellboy, Hellboy II – – Although based on a comic, Guillermo Del Toro will profess that some of the creatures in these films are Lovecraft inspired.
Die Monster Die (1965) – Boris Karloff and Nick Adams star in this film which is loosely based upon the Lovecraft tale, The Colour Out of Space. The film is not bad but a bit on the slow side to make it into the Top 10.
This post has gotten so big, I decided to put more of the pics in a gallery, in a seperate post:
click here: Lovecraft Film Gallery
None of the following 3 films seem to have redeeming values for the Lovecraft Fan.
Beyond The Walls of Sleep (2004)
Dark Heritage (1990)
The Shunned House (2004)
Films I have not yet seen:
– The Resurrected (1991)
– The HP Lovecraft Collection – Lurker films –
(several films – collection from the HP Lovecraft Film Festivals)
– Pickman’s Muse (2010)
These two following Spanish films look awesome. Currently, they are only available in Region 2 format. I’m hoping some US distributor will rectify this and release these films for US dvd/blu-ray players (region 1) and with English subtitles.
– La Herencia Valdemar (2010)
– La Sombre Prohibida (2011)
Did I miss anything?
Let me know in a comment below…