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.
“From the bowels of the Earth they came… to collect the living.”
Directed by Lucio Fulci Starring Christopher George, Catriona MacColl and Carlo De Mejo
There are vestiges here of ‘The Dunwich Horror’, but only in the broadest terms – Dunwich, horror, gateway to Hell.
Mary (MacColl) apparently dies of fright during a seance, but is rescued from a premature burial by reporter Peter (George) and describes her vision of a priest committing suicide in a town called Dunwich. Her medium, Theresa, explains that this was prophesied in the Book of Enoch, and that the priest’s suicide opened the gates of Hell. If he is not destroyed by All Soul’s Day, the dead will rise and destroy the living.
“Welcome to a world where death is only the beginning”
Directed by Brian Yuzna Starring Jeffrey Combs, Jason Barry, Simon Andreu and Elsa Pataky
This film is a sequel to Re-Animator, rather than an adaptation of the original story. It ignores much of the ending of the first film, however, largely in order to bring Combs’ West back in.
During the ‘Miskatonic massacre’, one of the reanimated corpses escapes and kills a young woman as her brother, Howard Phillips (geddit?), watches. Phillips later sees Herbert West (Combs) being taken away by the police. Years later, West is continuing his work in prison, when Phillips (Barry) arrives as the new prison doctor, bringing the last of the reagent and asking to work with West.
Directed by Paul Schrader Starring Dennis Hopper, Penelope Anne Miller, Julian Sands, Eric Bogosian and Sheryl Lee Ralph
Private detective HP Lovecraft is hired by starlet Kim Hudson (Miller) to tail her unfaithful husband. When the husband is murdered by magic, anti-magic politician Senator Crockett (Bogosian) uses it as a linchpin for the investigations of his Unnatural Activities Commission. Lovecraft’s friend and neighbour Hypolita Kropotkin is framed for the crime and sentenced to burn.
Directed by Roger Corman Starring Vincent Price, Deborah Paget and Lon Chaney Jr.
Although the film is called ‘Edgar Allen Poe’s The Haunted Palace‘ and ends with a line from the titular poem, it is actually based on H.P. Lovecraft’s ‘The Case of Charles Dexter Ward’ (as was The Resurrected,) in which the eponymous New England gentleman’s fascination with his sorcerous ancestor Joseph Curwen leads him to resurrect the long dead, serial killing warlock from his essential salts. At first Curwen instructs Ward in alchemy, but soon takes advantage of their uncanny resemblance, murdering the young man and taking his place to continue his work, raising and torturing the smartest folks in the graveyard for their wisdom. When his anachronistic ways lead to his committal, Ward’s friend Dr Willett uncovers his work, releases a being he has summoned and abused, then kills Curwen and reduces his body to the ‘essential saltes’ from which he was raised.
18th century warlock Joseph Curwen (Price) is accused of stealing the souls of young women, and burned to death by the people of Arkham village, swearing vengeance from beyond the grave before the flames take him. 110 years later, his great-great-grandson Charles Dexter Ward (also Price) moves into Curwen’s palace along with his wife Anne (Paget).