"Welcome to Scenic Dunwich!"
Filled with haunting fears
Neighbors who hide up in the attic
Inbreeding happily for years.
A dark, twisted version of rural New England
as used as a setting for horror stories. Named for the author H. P. Lovecraft
— a native of Rhode Island — who wrote a number of tales set in a New England milieu, usually small isolated towns that look boring and mediocre
at first but are actually dark and foreboding on the inside, populated by hostile and corrupt (in several ways) hicks
that often are not quite human, twisted by the influence of ancient horrors and extradimensional aliens
(and generations of inbreeding
Milder versions of this can be found in other types of horror. The setting trend was then continued by Stephen King
, a more contemporary famous American horror writer, although he sets his stories in Maine as opposed to Massachusetts and Rhode Island. If you don't want as many New England accents, upstate New York
or the Pine Barrens
will do, although it probably won't be quite as Eldritch. As for why this area seems to attract so much horror fiction (asides from Lovecraft and King writing what they knew
and other writers following the leader
)... if you ever go to New England in autumn or winter, you'll find it quite scenic during the day (the fall foliage is a major tourist magnet, as are the region's abundant ski resorts), but the sun sets early and it gets dark, cold, and spooky fast. The Salem Witch Trials
probably also have a role to play.
This setting has certain common points with the Deep South
, in that the depiction could be construed as condescending and offensive to those who live in such environs, but there are two important differences: In Lovecraft country, evil and corruption is mostly supernatural in origin, and the setting is solely used for horror stories. American TV can depict a rural New England that is not Lovecraft Country, but the rural South is almost always the Deep South
, unless the author is southern himself.
For analogous settings outside of New England, see Campbell Country
. Compare and contrast Hollywood New England
Most examples are literary
, as successful adaptations to other media are seldom seen.
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- Forget the current Word Of God that it's in New Jersey, or the usual assumption that it's "New York at night": Gotham City is clearly smack in the middle of Lovecraft Country. In fact, Arkham Asylum, the Cardboard Prison all of Batman's villains end up in, is named after one of Lovecraft's towns.
- Much of the X-Men craziness takes place in New York. Including the ancient evil of the N'Gari. One of their entrance points into our realm happened to be on Xavier's property. Oops.
- In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen's "New Traveler's Almanac", New England, as well as the Connecticut-New York-New Jersey area, are specified as hotbeds of disturbing supernatural phenomena. Naturally, this is in direct reference to the setting favored by Lovecraft, but it's also a byproduct of the fact that, as there were many more writers from that area than elsewhere in the US at the time the story takes place, there were also more stories set there in general.
- Although not strictly Lovecraftian, the film Sleepy Hollow, being a loose adaptation of an 1819 horror story by Washington Irving, features a milieu that has much in common with Lovecraft Country. The film includes supernatural horrors, witchcraft and the cinematographic technique of using a blue camera filter to make everything seem bleaker in an isolated small town in early 19th century New York. This version's Ichabod Crane is a classic Lovecraftian protagonist in both origin and behavior.
- The horror film The Blair Witch Project is set in the woods of Maryland — a bit south for Lovecraft Country, but it worked.
- The Amityville Horror is an allegedly true story about a haunted house in New York.
- In the Mouth of Madness, an H. P. Lovecraft homage, is set primarily in New Hampshire or on the road to that state.
- Cthulhu is set in the Pacific Northwest, but it's mentioned that the town's founders originally came from New England, bringing their cult with them.
- The 2001 film Dagon transplants Innsmouth to Imboca, a town on the coast of Galicia in Spain. It's still Lovecraft Country, just made safely foreign for American audiences.
- YellowBrickRoad is a horror film set primarily in a vast New Hampshire woodland where the population of an entire town committed suicide.
- The Innkeepers takes place at a haunted hotel in Connecticut.
- The Stepford Wives has a sci-fi variant on the idea, with Connecticut being home to a sleepy suburb where women are replaced with robotic servants for their husbands' pleasure (or in the 2004 remake, turned into such).
- The Haunting 1963 takes place in an unspecified isolated part of New England. The author of the original book (see The Haunting Of Hill House below) lived in Vermont.
- The stories of H. P. Lovecraft more or less created this setting, including the fictitious Massachusetts towns of Arkham, Dunwich and Innsmouth. Lovecraft's stories, together with writings by other authors set in the same universe, are collectively known as the Cthulhu Mythos, after one of the nightmarish deities that occur in the setting.
- "The Picture in the House" is probably the first in his Lovecraft Country series of books, and the first to mention both Arkham and the Miskatonic River. It begins by introducing readers to Lovecraft Country:
"Searchers after horror haunt strange, far places. For them are the catacombs of Ptolemais, and the carven mausolea of the nightmare countries.
They climb to the moonlit towers of ruined Rhine castles
, and falter down black cobwebbed
steps beneath the scattered stones
of forgotten cities in Asia. The haunted wood
and the desolate mountain
are their shrines, and they linger around the sinister monoliths on uninhabited islands. But the true epicure of the terrible
, to whom a new thrill of unutterable ghastliness is the chief end and justification of existence, esteem most of all the ancient, lonely farmhouses of backwoods New England; for there the dark elements of strength, solitude, grotesqueness, and ignorance combine to form the perfection of the hideous."
- Most of the locations mentioned above are in fact based on real-life places:
- Arkham is Salem, albeit a bit further west.
- Innsmouth is Newburyport.
- Kingsport is Marblehead.
- Dunwich may be Athol, Wilbraham, the lost town of Greenwich, or any number of other towns in the Pioneer Valley; The Colour Out of Space was inspired by the flooding of Greenwich for the Quabbin Reservoir.
- The Miskatonic is the Merrimack river.
- The leading candidate for the real world basis of Lovecraft's fictional Miskatonic University is Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Fittingly enough, Brown's John Hay Library houses Lovecraft's papers.
- To say nothing of the fact that several of his stories were set in real New England locations: "The Whisperer In the Darkness" uses the real towns of Brattleboro and Townshend in Vermont, and "Pickman's Model" is set in Boston.
- The overwhelming majority of Stephen King's stories are set in Lovecraft Country, though mostly in Maine, whereas Lovecraft set most of his stories in his own Rhode Island or in nearby Massachusetts. This is because King is a Maine native. Not only is Maine Lovecraft Country according to Stephen King, he specifically pinpoints the source of all related supernatural weirdness in places such as the fictional town of Derry, Maine and — er — himself.
- Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown," a short story set in the woods outside colonial Plymouth and involving deals with the Devil himself, making this Older Than Radio.
- Hawthorne's The House Of The Seven Gables is a gothic haunted house story that takes place in Salem, Massachusetts, and according to Wikipedia was apparently a big influence on Lovecraft's writings.
- "Rip Van Winkle" and other Washington Irving stories, if you push the definition to include upstate New York. "The Devil and Tom Walker" would be a good example as well as, like "Young Goodman Brown," it has a theme of Puritans seeking out Satan en masse.
- Stephen Vincent Benet's The Devil and Daniel Webster, which uses yet another variation on this theme, takes place in New Hampshire.
- Shirley Jackson's works, including "The Lottery", The Haunting Of Hill House, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle don't specify a location, but the author lived most of her adult life in Vermont, and the stories do have the requisite flinty creepiness.
- Bedford, Maine in Carrie Jones's YA novel Need is a Genre Savvy version of this, with main character Zara frequently mentioning how the surroundings seem like something straight out of a Stephen King novel.
- Joseph Citro wrote several horror novels set in various parts of Vermont, and has actually written several non-fiction books about the state's ghost lore and monster legends.
- The first Percy Jackson and the Olympians book has a rather creepy scene in rural Joisey at a garden statue shop run by Medusa.
Live Action TV
- The League of Gentlemen is based in a significantly older England, but otherwise fits the trope to a capital T. Initially a comedy set in a small town in north England, the sense that the town is just a mask for insanity, evil and genuinely disturbing horror grows as the series progresses.
- Kingdom Hospital, the U.S. remake of Lars Von Trier's excellent darkly humorous ghost story Riget (known as The Kingdom to Anglos) is set in a New England hospital, possibly because the legacy of Lovecraft Country in fiction assured that it would be perceived as the most suitable locale, but also because the adapted screenplay was written by Stephen King.
- Dark Shadows, the 1960s gothic soap opera about supernatural horrors, takes place in Collinsport, Maine. Clearly this town, with its witch trials and monsters, is to be found in Lovecraft Country.
- Haven takes place in a New England town of the same name, where bizarre mysteries abound (and based on a Stephen King story to boot).
- Stormofthe Century was a Stephen King miniseries set on Little Tall Island (a central character in Kingdom Hospital evidently came from there). Apart from a veritable brew of dark secrets, much of the town engaged in a pact with darkness.
- Many of the Sci-Fi horrors on Fringe crop up in Massachusetts or Upstate New York milieus that would be right at home with Lovecraft or King, although they just as often pop up in urban areas as well.
- Jonathan Coulton arguably parodies the trope by placing the upscale suburb of Brookline, Mass. squarely in Lovecraft Country.
- John Perreault, in his song "The Ballad of Louis Wagner," tells the tale of the tortured soul of Louis Wagner, who in 1873 murdered two women on Smuttynose Island, part of the Isles of Shoals, off the coast of New Hampshire. Quite some creepy verses, and a suitably creepy locale, worthy of Lovecraft Country (especially on a dark and stormy night).
- Silent Hill is apparently supposed to be located in New England. Even stranger, the movie adaption takes place in West Virginia. The screenplay adaptation was inspired in part by the real life ghost town of Centralia, Pennsylvania. Once a coal mining town, it was abandoned when an underground coal vein caught on fire and could not be put out, resulting in amongst other things a constant haze of smoke that did put out a Silent Hill vibe. Centralia started burning in the early 60s and is still on fire (underground) today.
- City of Heroes has Croatoa, a suburb of the titular Rhode Island metropolis which is slowly being pulled into the spirit world.
- It gets bonus points for the name being a reference to one of the bigger mysteries in American history - the disappearance of an entire colony in North Carolina.
- Raccoon City of the Resident Evil series claims to be in the Midwest but has geography and architecture which strongly resemble New England. The novelizations place it in Pennsylvania.
- The Call of Cthulhu PC adventure game Shadow of the Comet is set in Illsmouth (not Innsmouth), a small New England town with a big problem.
- In Shadow Hearts: From the New World, the gang takes a trip to Boston's Arkham University for information on the enemy they are fighting. Naturally, some of the staff there are summoning up Eldritch Abominations for you to do battle with — and one of the professors has a very familiar name.
- The Roivas Mansion in Eternal Darkness is in Rhode Island.
- The Fallout 3 Expansion, Point Lookout is set in the actual area of the same name in Maryland, lost to time for 200 years. Includes shoutouts not only to the original Cthulhu Mythos, but to the PC game The Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, also published (though not made) by Bethesda.
- Online game company Skotos bought the rights to the name "Lovecraft Country" from Chaosium (makers of the Call Of Cthulhu tabletop RPG). As of this writing, the banner ad for "Lovecraft Country Online" shows two squid-like monstrosities levitating through the night sky, with the caption "Pretend that nothing is wrong."
- Bright Falls of Alan Wake is as close to this setting as the Pacific Northwest can get, with a Town with a Dark Secret and an Eldritch Abomination of some sort living in the lake.
- The titular seaside New England town of Anchorhead rests firmly within Lovecraft Country, replete with grim weather, crumbling buildings, a town-wide Ancient Conspiracy, a Big Screwed-Up Family which has engaged in nearly four centuries of Demonic Possession and Parental Incest, and an approaching Eldritch Abomination.
- Alone In The Dark The New Nightmare, is set on Shadow Island, Massachusetts. Complete with shadow monsters, ancient mysteries, large manor house and isolation.
- The Secret World has the first region you're sent to by your faction: Solomon Island, Maine, where most tropes associated with this can and will be encountered. There's even an Innsmouth Academy (among many other Shout Outs). Played literally, as the city lies by the Miskatonic River and there are road signs pointing to Dunwich.
- Although The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!'s Generictown is a little too innocent to qualify as Lovecraft Country itself, one of its neighboring towns is Innsmouth, where the police keep getting crank calls about "fish people."
- Shadow Girls, set in Innsmouth and literally billed as "H.P. Lovecraft meets the Gilmore Girls" by its creators
- Silent Hill: Promise which inherits the setting from Silent Hill proper.
- Ow My Sanity, of course — it's set in Arkham right by the Miskatonic University, and while many of the side characters seem perfectly normal, there's still a preponderance of the 'Innsmouth Look', amongst other things.
- Bobwhite doesn't have any horror or supernatural elements at all, but still manages to discuss this trope.
Marlene: Oh, and H.P. Lovecraft lived here! A lot of his stories take place in this very neighborhood. Providence is actually supposed to be one of the most haunted cities in America.
Georgie: It's pretty, though.
Marlene: Yes, it is.
Georgie: So basically you live in a charming, old-timey black hole of death.
Marlene: Yes, it has a certain something.
- The Whateley Universe: Whateley Academy, although canonically set in New Hampshire, is an easy walk from Dunwich - appropriate, given that the main character of The Dunwich Horror was named Wilbur Whateley - and a nice drive from Arkham. Even closer are a variety of Class X sites so Lovecraftian and dangerous that even superpowered mutants can't deal with what's there. There's even a truly horrific site in the campus sewer system.
- Seeking Truth has parts here, particularly the parts that have Zeke visiting the isolated homes of the victims. Quite effective here, as the trees provide plenty of cover for the Humanoid Abomination we've all come to love....
- Invoked by the city of Salem, Massachusetts, whose tourist marketing paints it as a real-life Halloween Town.
We can't stop here...