10 films based in Lovecraftian Horror:
The mission: Come up with a list of ten movies with a decidedly Lovecraftian feel while keeping away from any direct adaptations. HP Lovecraft, as a writer, developed a mythos and style that he encouraged others amongst his contemporaries to explore which resulted in fantastic stories from Robert Bloch, Robert E. Howard, and August Derleth. Later writers would also explore elements of Lovecraft, including Cliver Barker, Edward Lee, and Stephen King. But his influence on the medium of film has also been absolute, despite his total disdain for the art in general. Actually, Lovecraft as a creator is an amazing visionary but I don’t exactly look to the man as a source for inspiration on how to live my life.
Anyway, so my project this week has been to build a list of Lovecraft films to recommend to others… films that are NOT based on Lovecraft’s writings, but rather just films that carry a feel or style reminiscent to HP Lovecraft in some way or another. If there are others you think should be added, feel free to comment below. I think the more people know about and share with others, the better the market will become and the wider the influence will be.
1. Lucio Fulci’s “Gothic” trilogy:
Okay, technically I’m cheating here by throwing a total of 3 movies into one pick… but it’s my list and I’ll do it again later on. Get over it!
There are three movies that act as a sort of trilogy from director Lucio Fulci, though none of the three movies have a connecting storyline of any real sort. There are a couple of interesting little tidbits scattered about, most often in reference to the doors through hell… basically portals scattered across the globe, connecting our world to that of a desolate hell. All three films have a strange atmosphere of fear, dread, and a number of confusing plot threads that dangle with uncertainty. They also include aspects that find a strong connection with the writing of H.P. Lovecraft including cults, books, inter-dimensional portals, and sanity-breaking revelations.
Including all three on the list with separate numbers seems a little redundant. So if you have a chance you should check “House At the End of the Cemetary”, “The Beyond”, and most assuredly my favorite in the series “City of the Living Dead”.
2. The Descent:
A group of women descend into a deep cavern, get lost, and ultimately find long-twisted humanoid monsters in the deep dark. This movie (director Neil Marshal is excellent!) has a number of connections to Lovecraft, including a strong similarity to “The Beast in the Cave”, “Rats in the Walls”, and of course “The Lurking Fear”. The movie also features a fantastic cast of women, and shows that much of this may simply be crawling through the head of a character broken by an earlier trauma and trapped beneath the earth by the friends who are trying to help.
3. In The Mouth of Madness: and other John Carpenter works.
Have you read Sutter Kane? The story of a detective on the trail of a writer whose works may have become more than just fiction is like something you’d imagine Lovecraft stories to be. John Carpenter has long been influenced by several of Lovecrafts writings, which becomes obvious with his vision for “The Thing” and even with the unstoppable and unrelenting nature of Michael Myers in “Halloween”. Carpenter preceded “Mouth” with another story that people often overlook, and that film is “Prince of Darkness”… check that one out sometime, you won’t regret it.
A giant monster of unknown origin rises from the deep sea and there is just flat out nothing the story’s main protagonist can really do about it. That’s as Lovecraftian as it gets… that’s cosmic horror right there. There is nothing to do, you are helpless in the face of the terrible horror, and it really has nothing personal against you but you may just wind up in its path. That’s horrifying. I wish I was more of a fan of the film technique or that they had decided to not shoot the film in “first person”, but the story is still really well done.
5. Paranormal Activity: (most of the films in the series)
I’m hoping enough people have seen this entry so that what I write isn’t so much a spoiler, but this is not just some random ghost story. This is a family specifically targeted because of their familial connection to something darker and far more evil than they understand. Now when I was thinking of movies with a Lovecraftian “feel” to it, I had to debate myself on this one because I don’t really like the film. I think it’s largely a lazy effort, but it tells a solid story and it does so in a manner that is very reminiscent of Lovecraft.
6. Evil Dead: Series
Sam Raimi has discussed his influence from Lovecraft when it came to developing the script for the original film. The sequel went a little more for the humor, and the third movie just threw the whole Lovecraftian formula out the window… but the recent remake brought the Lovecraft right on back into the project and delivered the goods. I also happen to think that the first Evil Dead may have come the closest to expressing the soul-wrenching insanity of Lovecrafts work without being based on anything in particular.
Often surreal and dreamlike, Phantasm isn’t exactly known for being “Lovecraftian” in nature. But here’s the thing… a mysterious force is snatching the bodies of the dead, shrinking them, and sending them across the galaxy to an unknown planet where they are forced into slave labor. We learn, throughout the series, that the floating spheres contain the still living brains of people forced into slavery by “The Tall Man”… there’s a very “Mi-go” feel to some of the revelations within the film and I think the atmosphere is very Lovecraftian when you really think about it.
8. The Ruins
Based on a novel of the same name, there are still a number of elements that are very Lovecraftian in nature… a somewhat benign seeming element hiding an unknown horror, ancient ruins, a lost civilization trying to protect the world from the looming threat. The sense of dread as everything the characters do only makes their situation worse.
This one may be the one that gets the most head shaking from Dear Faceless Readers, but allow me to explain: Much of Lovecrafts’ horror came from the minds inability to cope with the horrors of a persons’ reality. In some cases, the narrator may not really be the most reliable of story-tellers and these are often their reasons for committing some heinous acts. Bug is a drug-fueled nightmare of suspense with self-immolation, fear of “secret societies”, and it delivers a downward spiral through the nightmare perceptions of its two leads. HP Lovecrafts’ horror didn’t depend on a man in the rubber suit, it was always about the reaction and I think Bug fits the bill to a “t”.
10. Alien : (I’m going to include Prometheus in this one)
Absolutely the BEST film to capture the feel and flow of Lovecraft, and I firmly believe that the story for this film and the recent “Prometheus” prequel are strongly based on “At The Mountains of Madness”. I’m not sure if this really violates the “adaptation” rule I’ve set for myself, which is why I’ve held off on discussing it. Alien features a lost ruin in a desolate backdrop, a crew of people who discover the ancient mummified corpses of long dead alien creatures, and then they also discover another life form that proceeds to attack and infects one of the crew before the film turns into a basic horror trope… Prometheus addressed some of the issues a little more deeply by showing us that the “Aliens” were the result of an experiment from an “Engineer” race. It’s actually even more strongly related to the Lovecraft story by having the crew be explorers and scientists who can examine the corpses in a manner similar to the exploration crew in the story.
The antagonist monsters from the Hellboy movie are very “cthullhu-esque”, but I didn’t include the film because it lacked many of the elements that make Lovecraft stories so terrifying. First, the lead protagonist is fully capable of tackling the many tentacle monster beasts he faces and his sanity is never really at risk. Most of the characters are unfazed by the horrors they face and the only threat is that of the physical realm. Even the “secret cult” isn’t really seen as much of a threat, it’s more like the “bad guys of the week” sort of feel and they’re not really all that secret. Now don’t get me wrong, I absolutely LOVE the Hellboy series and I think there’s a strong influence from HP Lovecraft but I don’t really find the movie “Lovecraftian” itself.