Written by Roger MalcolmBorn August 20, 1890, Howard Phillip Lovecraft contributed greatly to the literary world of horror fiction, which even more after his death on March 15, 1937 he has inspired generations of story-tellers to retell and borrow elements for their own tales of terror. However most film directors tend to struggle when directly adapting Lovecraft to screen as much of Lovecraft’s exquisite prose gets lost in the translation, yet others have found more success it seems when only borrowing elements to compliment their more original tales. Regardless, Lovecraft has infiltrated our modern culture to degrees only he would have believed his Cthulhu mythos to have reached in his world of literary fiction.
Lovecraft is much more well-known and respected today than he was in his day, however, I do believe the average human still doesn’t know of him as one would of Stephen King. King who is still alive has sold more books, has had numerous successful films and has even been honoured by the government for his literary contributions. Lovecraft is honoured by the ones he has inspired which has fortunately led to his posthumous recognition and re-evaluation. Certainly his writings have not seen their last days of light and with future generations of eyes will come future visions of Lovecraft’s work that are only dreams of today. Thankfully artists have been shining a bright light onto the works of Lovecraft and his Cthulhu Mythos, causing them to continually grow into our culture’s consciousness. Here’s a look at some of cinema’s Lovecraftian influence.
Based off Lovecraft’s ‘The Case of Charles Dexter Ward’, starring Vincent Price and Lon Chaney Jr., and directed by Roger Corman, The Haunted Palace derives it’s title from an Edgar Allan Poe poem. Notably the credits purposely misspell Poe’s middle name “Allan” to “Allen”. The studio American International Pictures forced Corman into changing the film’s title to connect it to Corman’s Poe films of previous success. From the pit came a horror of unknown origins, which would lead to a curse on the New England town of Arkham.
John Carpenter – Writer/director
H. P. Lovecraft greatly influenced John Carpenter’s “Apocalypse Trilogy” consisting of The Thing, Prince of Darkness and In The Mouth of Madness. Carpenter has said his father bought him a copy of Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural which contained two Lovecraft stories, The Rats in the Walls and The Dunwich Horror, which his father would read aloud to him as a child. Carpenter called it “Mindblowing.”
The Fog – A cursed sea-side town is haunted by ghosts in The Fog, written by John Carpenter and Debra Hill. John Carpenter has said he came up with the visual idea while visiting Stone Henge and witnessing a fog move in across the plain, yet it “was meant to be an homage of sorts to H.P. Lovecraft, M.R. James and other writers of great ghost tales and the supernatural.” In The Fog a broadcast about the search for the missing Seagrass mentions “a sweep south from Waitely Point around Arkham Reef”. The fictional city of Arkham appears in Lovecraft’s Chthulu Mythos, and Waitely (spelled Whateley) appears as a surname in The Dunwich Horror.
The Thing – Based on the novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr, which shares similarities to Lovecraft’s At The Mountains of Madness published two years beforehand, The Thing certainly embodies elements of Lovecraft’s writing, whether directly intended or not. The story is about a cosmic horror from space that has come to earth some 100,000 years ago, which replicates itself after devouring it’s host body.
Prince of Darkness – Written by Martin Quatermass aka John Carpenter, a pseudonym intended as a nod to Nigel Kneal’s character Bernard Quatermass. English writer Kneal is another Lovecraft influenced. The story revolves around an ancient-evil green liquid that has been contained inside of a church. The green liquid thought to be a demonic force by the church, is only theorized to be Satan. The Professor opens the film speaking to his class rather prophetically stating “Maybe he’s anti-god, bringing darkness instead of light.”
In The Mouth of Madness – Written by Michael De Luca and directed by John Carpenter, In The Mouth of Madness is a masterwork of Lovecraftian ideals. Creatures, characters, town, cathedral, all very Lovecraftian and one writer at the heart creating it all as he writes. Sam Neil stars as an insurance fraud investigator that has been hired to track down the missing horror novelist Sutter Cane.“The whole thing began with a conversation I was having with this woman where I complained that all anyone wanted to make was vampire movies, and I wanted somebody to make a Frankenstein movie. She suggested that I read H.P. Lovecraft’s Herbert West: Re-Animator, which I had never heard of even though I knew Lovecraft pretty well. I had to seek it out—it was no longer in print—and when I read it I started thinking about how to adapt it.”
Stuart Gordon – Writer/director
Stuart Gordon is to H. P. Lovecraft as Roger Corman is to Edgar Allan Poe, each director having adapted multiple works of their respective writer.
Re-Animator – Based on the Lovecraft’s episodic novella ‘Herbert West-Reanimator’, Re-Animator stars Jeffrey Combs as Herbert West, Barbara Crampton and Bruce Abbott with direction by Stuart Gordon. A medical student attempts bringing the dead back to life at Miskatonic University in Arkham, New England.
From Beyond – Based on the Lovecraft story of the same name, From Beyond stars Jeffrey Combs as Crawford Tillinghast, alongside Barbara Crampton and Ken Foree with direction by Stuart Gordon. A scientist attempts to stimulate the pineal gland with a device called The Resonator.
Castle Freak – Based off Lovecraft’s The Outsider, Stuart Gordon directs Jeffrey Combs in this surreal story set inside a castle of horror. A family moves into a castle they inherit, yet unknown to them is the resident that has been locked away deep inside.
Dagon – Based off Lovecraft’s The Shadow of Innsmouth yet named after a short story of his, which the film borrows some elements from. Two couples out at sea get caught in a storm that sends their boat crashing into a rock. One of the women gets pinned under the wreckage and the other couple takes the rescue raft into an unusual fishing town for help. Dagon captures the most Lovecraftian atmosphere that I have seen on film. The bizarre world borderlines the hysterical, leaving laughs followed by haunts immediately one after another.“Alien was certainly my most successful venture into Lovecraft turf. Some Canadian reviewer said it best when he wrote ” Alien is Lovecraft, but where Lovecraft set his stories on Earth, Alien went to the home planet of the Old Ones””
– Dan O’Bannon – Writer/director
Once collaborating at USC with John Carpenter on the cult classic Dark Star, O’Bannon would borrow from Lovecraftian lore himself writing and directing in his future projects. O’Bannon has said that he first read Lovecraft’s The Colour Out of Space during the winter and after staying up all night reading the story about vegetation growing out of season, he went outside the next day and discovered a rose growing out of the snow covered ground spooking him severely. This event would lead him to search out all the Lovecraft he could.
Alien – Written by O’Bannon and art design by H.R. Giger, both heavily influenced by Lovecraft’s body of work, masterfully craft together with Ridley Scott’s direction another fine piece of cinema horror in the vein of Lovecraft. Rarely do we get the opportunity to view such class in the horror genre, such pristine fear penetrating from the vast unknown. Regarding O’Bannon’s initial Alien storyline, H. R. Giger stated, “I liked it particularly because I found it was in the vein of Lovecraft, one of my greatest sources of inspiration.” The commercial spaceship Nostradamus receives a distress call from an unexplored planet, after searching for survivors they depart with more than they came with only unbeknownst to the crew.
The Resurrected aka Shatterbrain – O’Bannon directed, the story is based off of Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. The story is dark and serious as a private detective investigates the activities of a woman’s husband, who she is concerned about over his interest in the occult as of late.– Brian Yuzna – Producer/Director
Brian Yuzna has produced 6 films based off Lovecraft’s works including; Re-Animator, From Beyond, Bride of Re-Animator, Dagon, Beyond Re-Animator and Necronomicon: Book of the Dead. Yuzna has directed Bride of Re-Animator, Beyond Re-Animator, and Necronomicon: Book of the Dead wrap-around segment ‘The Library’ and part 3 ‘Whispers’.
Necronomicon: Book of the Dead – A horror anthology in the likes of Creepshow, three stories The Drowned(directed by Christophe Gans), The Cold(directed by Shûsuke Kaneko) and Whispers(directed by Brian Yuzna) based off Lovecraft’s stories The Rats in the Walls, Cool Air and The Whisperer in Darkness respectively. A wraparound story called the Library(directed by Brian Yuzna) consists of a fictional H.P. Lovecraft character, played by Jeffrey Combs, visiting a library in search of a copy of a Necronomicon.
The Mist – Based off the novel written by Stephen King and written for the screen and directed by Frank Darabont, The Mist is unsettling in it’s ending yet enthralling all the way up to it’s polarizing climax. Originally intended to be filmed in black and white, to appear more like a B film, however the studio intervened and it wasn’t released theatrically as Darabont intended until the Director’s Cut DVD. A mist moves into a town and the survivors barricade themselves in the local grocery against the many things in the mist itself.
H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society
The Whisperer in the DarknessThe Whisperer in Darkness is based on H. P. Lovecraft’s short story of the same name and distributed by the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society. Filmed in Mythoscope®, which is a term the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society has coined for their “technique of using modern technology and vintage filmmaking techniques to create a film that has the look of old movie film. The glow, flicker and noise you see in the footage are part of the Mythoscope process and they are added to the film after editing is complete.” courtesy of http://www.cthulhulives.org/cocmovie/faq.html . An instructor of literature investigates a mystery after strange things start turning up in the towns river.