Huan Vu’s adaptation follows the basic structure of Lovecraft’s story, except that instead of a researcher on an unrelated mission, Jonathan Davis (Heise) is looking for his missing father, who he believes is in a small town in Germany he visited at the end of the Second World War. When he gets there, he slowly begins to uncover the tale of the meteorite and its effects.
Well, it’s been over a month and we’ve finally come to the end of the Summer of Lovecraft! We’ve watched a lot of Lovecraft adaptations (and a few that weren’t actually Lovecraft adaptations at all) and what have we learned from the experience?
There are a lot of shitty Lovecraft adaptations out there.
Okay; you may say this isn’t news, but damn there are a lot of these things. The appeal to filmmakers seems to be endless, despite the fact that 80-90% of the finished products are complete dingus.
The best of the bunch are the ones that can fit into another genre.
Those adaptations that make decent films are basically those based on the stories that can most easily be turned into a story in an extant film genre (Herbert West: Re-Animator and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward,) because pretty much all of the adaptations do this. As we noted at the start, Lovecraft is not a very cinematic writer, so with very few exceptions (Cool Air) to make a film the writers and directors have to put the essentials of the plot into a gothic horror, slasher, splatter movie or contemporary horror, along with liberal helpings of gore, jump-scares and boobies.
New interpretations work. When Lovecraft inspires people to go in new directions, that’s pretty cool — whether that’s the over-the-top horror-comedy of Re-Animator or the introspective examination of outsider-ness of Cthulhu. Heaven forbid that we only get story-accurate retellings for ever and ever. One or two are nice, though.
“Lovecraftian” is a very elastic term. Some horror fans use “Lovecraftian” as a sort of generic compliment — any reasonably intelligent horror movie is Lovecraftian, no matter how unrelated to Lovecraft’s work. For others, it just means tentacles. For others, it just seems to mean … I don’t know what. If you can associate the name with something like “Whispers,” it can mean anything.
Lovecraftian fiction is contemporary fiction.
Stuart Gordon is insistent on setting his adaptations in the modern day, as do many others, because Lovecraft wasn’t writing period fiction. Given the misanthropy of many of his protagonists, even the manners of the age have little impact, and the horror of most of his pieces lies in the here and nowness of the setting, the conflict of ancient and modern, familiar and alien (be that literally alien or just newfangled,) and that loses something when the setting isn’t here and now.
It’s been a blast, and sometimes a chore. I’m looking forward to our next project, to be announced… soonish. Until then, there will still be our regular views. Happy reading, happy watching!
We start with a brief framing segment (‘The Library’) in which Lovecraft (Jeffrey Combs) steals the Necronomicon from a bunch of monks. He opens it up and begins to read the stories; we return to this narrative between segments.
Directed by Sean Branney Starring Matt Foyer, Barry Lynch and Andrew Leman
Written in 1930 and published in 1931, “The Whisperer in Darkness” tells the tale of Albert Wilmarth, a professor at good ol’ Miskatonic University who is initially skeptical of claims that alien beings inhabit remote Vermont hills. He gets into correspondence with a farmer, Henry Akeley, who claims to have proof. The evidence becomes more and more convincing — but suddenly, Akeley tells Wilmarth that he got it all wrong and invites him to visit him in Vermont. And don’t forget to bring all the evidence! It’s a trap, from which Wilmarth barely escapes, but the real centre of the story is the scene where Wilmarth sits in a darkened room, talking to Akeley and gradually starting to realise that all is not as it seems.
The HPLHS’s previous project, The Call of Cthulhu, was a very story-accurate adaptation of the tale into a silent film. Here, they’ve tried to turn the story into something more like a Universal film of the 1930s, which means adding quite a lot of new material. There’s a debate with Charles Fort (Leman) at the beginning and a long, slam-bang action sequence at the end, together with the setup of a group of … well, of Call of Cthulhu investigators that never really goes anywhere. The aliens themselves are represented by some pretty ropey effects, and you can see how much the earlier film benefited from its intentionally stylised look.
“The celebrated story by H.P. Lovecraft brought at last to the silver screen.”
Directed by Andrew Leman Starring Matt Foyer, Ralph Lucas and Chad Fifer
“The Call of Cthulhu” is one of Lovecraft’s best-known stories. Our narrator inherits a collection of his late uncle’s notes and through them reconstructs the story of the barely-averted rising of Cthulhu, a monstrous being trapped beneath the sea. The whole story occurs in fragments — only the narrator, and by extension the reader, actually perceives the world-threatening scope of the monstrous secret. Its opening paragraph is one of the most famous things Lovecraft ever wrote.
Well, this fella inherits his uncle’s notes, see …
Seriously, this is probably the most story-faithful adaptation of a Lovecraft film we’ve seen yet. The HP Lovecraft Historical Society have always been exacting about their period detail — clue’s in the name — and they’ve even gone to the length of making the film as a black-and-white silent movie, as if it were made in the mid-late 1920s when the story was published. It’s an extreme stance in the period vs contemporary debate, all right, and it’s certainly something we haven’t seen before.
Directed by Henry Saine Starring Kyle Davis, Devin McGinn, Gregg Lawrence and Barak Hardley
This isn’t based on a specific Lovecraft story, although its main source of inspiration is obviously “The Call of Cthulhu,” written in 1926 and published in 1928.
When cultists of Cthulhu discover one part of a two-part relic that will release their god from his undersea prison, the mysterious Council — a bunch of bearded goodies — decide that the only person who can keep their half of the relic safe until danger passes is the last living descendant of H.P. Lovecraft himself. Unfortunately for them, that descendant is aimless slacker Jeff Phillips. With the relic in hand, Jeff and his best friend Charlie go on the lam, picking up nerdy Cthulhu expert Paul along the way and aiming to meet up with grizzled old sea captain Olaf, who apparently knows something about fighting Cthulhu. Hot in pursuit are Cthulhu’s number-one guy, Starspawn, and his army of Deep Ones. Well, there are like two or three of them. His squad of Deep Ones. Yadda yadda final battle, yadda yadda dynamite, yadda yadda new life as professional adventurers, the end.
Directed by Daniel Gildark Starring Jason Cottle, Scott Green, Richard Garfield, Cara Buono and Tori Spelling
Written in 1931, “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” is a story of a corrupted seaside town with a dark secret. The narrator visits the port of Innsmouth, where he discovers that the locals have a distinctive “look” and that strange things are afoot. When a talkative local soak tells the narrator that the townsfolk have made a pact with the “Deep Ones” — humanoid undersea creatures — the local cult, the Esoteric Order of Dagon, pursues him. Eventually he gets away, but he discovers that the heritage of the town is in his blood and that he too will begin the metamorphosis into a Deep One.
Happyfett’s Note: A particularly popular source of literary inspiration, ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’ has produced not one, but at least three volumes of more or less faithful (often much less) tribute fiction. Reviews of the first volume, Shadows Over Innsmouth can be found on my books blog.
In the near future, the world is falling apart as a result of political strife and climate change. University professor Russel Marsh (Cottle) receives word that his mother has died. Reluctantly, he returns to his hometown of Rivermouth in coastal Washington, where he discovers that strange things are afoot. When Marsh goes against the sinister cult run by his father, the cult frames him for a crime he didn’t commit. Society begins to break down as the cult’s plan comes to fruition, and Marsh has to choose between his father’s schemes and his growing but uncertain relationship with childhood sweetheart Mike (Green).
Directed by Stuart Gordon Starring Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Ken Foree and Ted Sorel
Never professionally published during Lovecraft’s life, “From Beyond” was written in 1920 and published in fanzine form in 1934. It deals with an unnamed narrator who visits his friend, Dr Crawford Tillinghast. Tillinghast has developed a way to activate dormant sensory organs to see higher dimensions. As Tillinghast’s device works, the narrator perceives strange other realities, until it becomes clear that Tillinghast means to feed him to the creatures, at which point he shoots the machine and passes out. Tillinghast has a heart attack.
The basics of Lovecraft’s story are present here, but given a strong Gordonian spin. Crawford Tillinghast (Combs) works for Dr Edward Pretorius (Sorel). When the resonator they’re building reveals higher dimensions to them, one of the spooky other-dimensional models kills Pretorius. Crawford runs away and is locked up in a psychiatric institution. Doctor Katherine McMichaels (Crampton) wants to prove he’s not insane, so she goes with him and tough cop Bubba Brownlee (Foree) to investigate the house and repeat the experiment.
AKA The Unnamable II: The Statement of Randolph Carter
Directed by Jean-Paul Ouellette Starring Mark Kinsey Stephenson, Charles Klausmeyer, John Rhys-Davies, Julie Strain and David Warner
Well, we covered “The Unnamable” in the previous entry, but this one also claims to be based on “The Statement of Randolph Carter.” Written in 1919, but published in 1920, this story is a fictional rendering of a dream Lovecraft had in which he and his friend Samuel Loveman were exploring a mysterious underground crypt. There’s not an enormous amount to it — it’s all atmosphere and menace — but if you remember the previous film, you’ll remember that the filmmakers didn’t let the story’s brevity stop them.
“There are things on God’s earth that we can’t explain and we can’t describe.”
Directed by Jean-Paul Ouellette Starring Charles Klausmeyer, Mark Kinsey Stephenson and Alexandra Durrell
This 1923 short (published in 1925) is basically a brief literary joke. Randolph Carter (although he’s not actually called that in the story; he’s just “Carter”) and his friend Joel Manton are arguing about weird fiction — specifically, Manton is making fun of Carter’s habit of referring to things as “unnamable” or “indescribable.” This conversation parallels debates between Lovecraft and his friend Maurice W. Moe. But when Manton has a run-in with a real monster, the only thing he can say about it to Carter is that it was “unnamable.” Jooooookes!
Back in Olden Tymes, a man in a daft hat has a monster in his house. He keeps it locked up, but when he finally lets it out, it does a predictable murder on him. Superstitious neighbours, apparently dressed up for their school’s Thanksgiving pageant, order the house sealed. They bury him in a convenient nearby buryin’-ground.