Lovecraft on Film
's stories, despite a (sometimes deserved) reputation for being uncinematic and exposition-heavy, have spawned a surprising number of film adaptations
. These run the gamut from clever and respectful tributes to cynical schlock. Few have had any budget to speak of, and none but the most tenuously-linked have attained mainstream success, but all have a certain level of cult
- The Haunted Palace (1963). Based on The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. First acknowledged adaptation of Lovecraft into the film medium, directed by the legendary Roger Corman. Many changes from the original story, including backdating it about 30 years, but the biggest changes are to the main character (a celibate, bookish teenager in the original, Vincent Price with a hot wife in the film) and the premise (bodily resurrection and identity theft versus Mind Control from beyond the grave). The title (of a poem by Edgar Allan Poe) was added to cash in on the success of Corman's Poe films; it was originally known as The Haunted Village.
- Die, Monster, Die! (1965). The first adaptation of The Colour Out of Space. Like other versions, it dispenses with the irrational (and unfilmable) "colour," substituting a Sickly Green Glow which creates a fairly effective sense of contamination. Other notable changes: The setting is moved from 1920s Arkham, Massachusetts to 1960s Arkham, somewhere in England — probably to justify casting English-accented Boris Karloff. The POV character, in the story a surveyor visiting the area on business, becomes an American student visiting his girlfriend. Yes, the trend of adding a Love Interest continues. Directed by Daniel Haller, who was the production designer for several Corman films.
- The Crimson Cult (1968). Based on "The Dreams in the Witch-House." Also known as Curse of the Crimson Altar.
- The Dunwich Horror (1970). Modernized version, heavy on sex and psychedelia but retaining many elements of the original story. Still, Dean Stockwell's mustache is probably the scariest part of the film. The Horror of the title is represented as a huge red mass of... stage smoke. Also by Haller.
- Humanoids From the Deep (1980), an unacknowledged exploitation version of The Shadow Over Innsmouth. Also by Corman.
- Creepshow (1982). The Colour Out of Space inspired the segment identified variously as "The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill" or "Weeds," the latter being the title of the Stephen King story the author adapted for film. The story is stripped of all complexity and played for laughs. Still worth watching, if only because it stars King.
- Re-Animator (1985) and its sequels Bride of Re-Animator (1989) and Beyond Re-Animator (2003). Based on "Herbert West — Reanimator." Jeffrey Combs's first Lovecraftian film by Stuart Gordon, two years after his entry into the horror genre. This is another comedy, but a fairly intelligent one; it doesn't skimp on either Character Development or gore, and the subplot involving POV character Dan and his girlfriend is actually quite touching. The first sequel, Bride of Re-Animator, brings in more of the original story's events and mythology; the second, Beyond Re-Animator, takes the story in odd new directions. A fourth film, House of Re-Animator, is currently languishing in Development Hell.
- From Beyond (1986). Spiritual Successor and companion piece to Re-Animator, bringing back director Stuart Gordon, stars Barbara Crampton and Jeffrey Combs, composer Richard Band, and others. If anything it plays even more fast and loose with its source than Re-Animator did, substituting kinky sex and a slimy, shapeshifting villain for Lovecraft's mind-blowing temporal-spatial vistas. Still, good fun.
- The Curse (1987). Based on The Colour Out of Space. Set in the American South in modern times, it carries a strong sense of rural degeneracy, and certain details (such as the rotting fruits) are effectively disgusting. Overall, though, the tone is too exploitive to create any real dread. Wil Wheaton appears. Also known as The Farm. It has many In-Name-Only sequels, which are not to be spoken of.
- The Unnamable (1988) and The Unnamable II (1992, subtitled The Statement of Randolph Carter but also known as The Unnamable Returns).
- Pulse Pounders (1988). Anthology with one segment based on "The Evil Clergyman," in which Combs and Crampton appear again. Not released until 2002.
- The Resurrected (1991). Based on The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. A more faithful adaptation than The Haunted Palace, it retains the story's premise and something of its structure while updating the setting and changing the POV character from a doctor to a PI hired by Ward's (again, mysteriously existent) wife. The climactic investigation of Ward/Curwen's subterranean laboratory hews surprisingly close to the original, and is almost as chilling. Also known as Shatterbrain. Director Dan O'Bannon's original cut, never released, was titled The Ancestor.
- Necronomicon (1993). Anthology with segments that are titled "The Rats in the Walls" (only with no rats or cannibalism), "Cool Air" (only with lots of sex), and "The Whisperer in Darkness" (only with neither Mi-Go, the hills of Vermont, nor much to do with H.P. Lovecraft at all really). The frame story stars Jeffrey Combs, in heavy prosthetic makeup, as Lovecraft himself. The "Cool Air" segment stars a very cash-strapped David Warner.
- Lurking Fear (1994). Semi-faithful but rather flat modernized adaptation, most notable for containing Combs's sixth Lovecraftian role: he plays the drunken doctor, a character absent from the original story. (A shortened cut of this film was incorporated into the 2004 anthology Tomb of Terror.)
- Castle Freak (1995). Based on "The Outsider." Combs and Crampton reunite with Stuart Gordon.
- Bleeders (1997). Based on "The Lurking Fear." Also known as Hemoglobin.
- Cool Air (1999) starring Jack Donner. In a similar vein to the HPLHS's films, this 45-minute black and white adaptation was deliberately made to have the look and feel of a 1930s talkie. In an interesting bit of artistic license, the previously unnamed protagonist has become none other than Randolph Carter. Due to the sheer brevity of the source material, this movie was a case of Adaptation Expansion. It greatly fleshed out the personalties of the main characters, but remained otherwise faithful to the original story and is generally well-regarded among fans.
- Dagon (2001). Based mostly on The Shadow Over Innsmouth, modernized and moved to Spain. (The town of Innsmouth becomes Imboca.) The Deep Ones are more octopodean than piscine, possibly as a concession to popular perception of Lovecraft's mythos. Moreover, the movie features a summoning of "Dagon" (as a tentacled, toothy, octopoid monster, not as a giant Deep One) as its climax, something which didn't happen in the original story, and adds a female love interest for the young male protagonist to rescue, treating the viewers to a scene of full frontal female nudity when she is about to be sacrificed to Dagon. Directed by Stuart Gordon.
- The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (2003). A full length black and white animated film by Guerrilla Productions. An extremely faithful, almost word for word retelling of the original novella.
- The Shunned House (2003).
- The Call of Cthulhu (2005). Produced by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society (nominally a Call of Cthulhu LARP organization). A period piece conceived as being the movie that would have been made if Lovecraft had signed a movie deal in 1927 when the story was written; a silent film, in black and white, with cardboard backdrops and a stop-motion Cthulhu. A favourite at horror film festivals and quite possibly the best Lovecraft adaptation ever made.
- Strange Aeons: The Thing on the Doorstep (2005).
- Beyond the Wall of Sleep (2006). Extremely low-budget effort, simultaneously surreal and schlocky, with Deliberately Monochrome passages and lots of hand-held shots. The core of the story is close to Lovecraft's original; the film is good at portraying inbred degeneracy, less good at conveying the wonder and strangeness of the Dreamlands sequences.
- Cool Air (2006).
- Chill (2007). Based on "Cool Air".
- Cthulhu (2007). Actually based on The Shadow Over Innsmouth, moved to the Pacific Northwest and making the main character gay. The director and writer stated that they were using the story as a metaphor for being gay, and later admitted not having much respect for horror, including Lovecraft, when they first started working on the film.
- The Tomb (2007). Virtually unwatchable film with no organic connection to the short story. Seems like a very confused ripoff of Saw, but it's hard to be sure even of that: poor sound recording renders much of the dialogue incomprehensible.
- According to IMDB, a version of The Whisperer in Darkness was made in 2007.
- Beyond the Dunwich Horror (2008).
- The Dunwich Horror. Premiered on Syfy in October 2009 (so you know it's good). No relation to the preceding. Stars Jeffrey Combs as Wilbur Whateley; Dean Stockwell, who played Wilbur in the 1970 version, also has a role.
- Pickman's Muse (2009) Based on "Haunter of the Dark." An artist, Robert Pickman, becomes obsessed by visions of unworldly horror, revealed to him through an ancient artifact discovered in an abandoned church. Starring Barret Walz; directed by Robert Cappelletto. Winner of the Brown Jenkin award, for Best Adaptation, at the 2009 H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival.
- The Whisperer in Darkness (2011). The HPLHS's followup to the above-mentioned The Call of Cthulhu, based on a similar conceit; however, rather than being a silent film, this movie, in fitting with the original story's publication date of 1931, is a talkie. Rather than a straight adaptation, like the previous film, this one is more of an expanded adaptation. It depicts the events of the book, but where the book ends with the protagonists' flight from Akeley's farm and back home, the movie goes on to have him thwart a ritual preceding an Alien Invasion by the Mi-Go, and fight them in a mid-air combat scene. Since the ending is no less Lovecraftian for it, general consensus is that the movie is, again, a loyal adaptation of the Mythos to film. Available on DVD.
- A faithful adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness was going to be directed by Guillermo del Toro. It was going to be in 3D with James Cameron as producer and Tom Cruise in a leading role. The idea was scrapped over time, largely due to the director noticing similarities between Madness and Prometheus. He still expresses interest in adapting a Lovecraftian work, though. More recently, del Toro seems to have returned to the idea of adapting Mountains since the studio that has financed his most recent films has expressed an interest in backing it, though it will be a while yet before anything comes of the project.
- A German adaptation of The Colour Out of Space from 2010 is set in southern Germany shortly before and after World War II. It gets around the problem of filming a Fictional Color by being Deliberately Monochrome and having the colour in, well, colour. Whether it works will probably be up to the individual viewer.
Short Film and Television Adaptations
- "Pickman's Model" and "Cool Air" (both 1971). Segments from the second season of Night Gallery. Both contain shoehorned love interests.
- "Pickman's Model" (1981). Short film made by Cathy Welch. It also contains a love interest, with the narrative being a story of previous events related to said love interest. While low-budget, the film is shot in black and white and is very atmospheric, capturing Lovecraft's mood well.
- Out of Mind: The Stories of H.P. Lovecraft (1998). A 60-minute Canadian film that mixes many stories of Lovecraft in a new story about a late 20th century man called Randolph Carter (of course) who receives a book from a great-uncle who died before he was born and who starts visiting his great-uncle's memories in his dreams. While taking liberties with Lovecraft's stories, the movie tries to remain faithful to their themes and atmosphere. Includes elements from "Re-animator", "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" and "The Statement of Randolph Carter". Christopher Heyerdahl as Lovecraft makes an appearance, being visited by a dreaming Randolph Carter, wearing a shirt with his face on it.
- Dreams in the Witch House (2005). An adaptation made by Stuart Gordon of the story of the same name for the Masters of Horror series. Pretty loyal to the source material.
- Pickman's Model (2007). Chilean TV movie with very little connection to the story. More of a slasher film than a true Lovecraft adaptation.
- The Music of Erich Zann (2016), a short film that notably expands the story to make Erich an Arkham Sanitarium escapee and a Holocaust survivor (ironic, considering Lovecraft's anti-semitism). Viewable on Youtube.
Films Referencing Lovecraft's Works
- Night Tide (1963).
- Dark Intruder (1965). Originally a TV pilot.
- The Shuttered Room (1967). Based on the August Derleth story of the same name. The action is moved to Britain, all supernatural elements are removed, and the result feels more like Straw Dogs than anything Lovecraftian. Also known as Blood Island.
- Alien (1979).
- The Fog (1980) by John Carpenter (a noted Lovecraft fan). While not an adaptation, it's very Lovecraftian in its feel and includes a reference to Arkham.
- The Gates of Hell (1980). Directed by Lucio Fulci. Also known as City of the Living Dead.
- The Beyond (1981). Also by Fulci. References Clark Ashton Smith's Book of Eibon. Originally released as Seven Doors of Death.
- The Evil Dead (1981) and its sequels (Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness). Source of pop culture's most enduring image of the Necronomicon.
- The Thing (1982) (1982). Another of Carpenter's, and a remake of the (great, but less Lovecraftian) 1951 film The Thing from Another World. Both are based on the novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell. Carpenter considered the movie a Spiritual Sequel to At the Mountains of Madness. First installment in what Carpenter called his Apocalypse Trilogy.
- Forever Evil (1987), a Direct-to-Video movie that sat unnoticed for many years, although it is notable for averting a few horror tropes (such as Let's Split Up, Gang and Throw-Away Guns) and because the writer has since put up his own account of the movie's creation. The reference is through a demon named "Yog Kothag" (pronounced "Koh-thagg").
- Prince of Darkness (1987) John Carpenter's second entry in the Apocalypse Trilogy. Inside a church and artifact is found that will bring forth Satan, who's goal it is to summon his father: The Anti God.
- Cthulhu Mansion (1990). Also known as Black Magic Mansion, a much more appropriate title.
- No Lovecraftian elements at all; the title was merely chosen for marketing purposes.
- Cast a Deadly Spell (1991). Features a character named for Lovecraft. Followed by the little-remembered Witch Hunt (1994).
- Dark Waters (1993). Not to be confused with the Japanese film Dark Water or its American remake. A young woman travels to a secluded convent on an island to discover how the gratuities sent by her late father are being used. She slowly begins to realize that her hosts are hiding a dark secret. Although it merely borrows elements of The Shadow Over Innsmouth, the film has a strong Lovecraftian aura that would arguably put most of the direct adaptions to shame. The poor quality "Dead Waters" bootleg version should be avoided at all cost.
- In the Mouth of Madness (1995). Yet another Carpenter film, centering on an author whose very Lovecraft-ish novels have an unwholesome effect on readers and eventually on reality itself. Not to be confused with the trope formerly of the same name. The last of the Apocalypse Trilogy and the most straight up Lovecraftian, including dozens of references to his novels, some of his texts are read and even the Great Old Ones shows up... Carpenter has called this his contribution to the Cthulhu Mythos.
- Unknown Beyond (2001).
- The Halfway House (2004).
- Hellboy (2004). The comic has even more Lovecraft references (one story is based on "Mouths of Madness") but many aspects of the film are taken from Lovecraft as well.
- The Sammael creatures have characteristics of both Nyarlathotep and Cthulhu.
- There is also the apocalyptic prophecy concerning elder gods, many eyed and tentacled, sleeping at the edge of the universe, which are a staple of his books. The prophecy surrounding these beings combines the Cthulhu backstory with the Great Old Ones prophecy.
- Meanwhile, Hellboy's Right Hand of Doom is taken from a peer of Lovecraft who contributed greatly to the Cthulhu Mythos.
- The book mentioned early in the film is the De Vermis Mysteriis, a book that has cropped up many times in Lovecraft literature.
- An Elder Thing also makes a cameo in the Troll Market scene in the second film.
- Crouch End (2007). A couple get lost in the streets of old London and find themselves in another dimension. Part of the Nightmares & Dreamscapes miniseries, adapted from the short story of the same name by Stephen King.
- The Last Lovecraft: Relic of Cthulhu (2009). Horror-comedy about two friends, one of whom is Lovecraft's last descendant, who come into possession of an Artifact of Doom that is being fought over by two enemy cults.
- The Valdemar Heritage (La Herencia Valdemar - 2010). Featuring: Aleister Crowley, Bram Stoker and a few others. Based on Cthulhu Mythos. Info on IMDB
- The Valdemar Heritage: The Forbidden Shadow (La Herencia Valdemar: La Sombra Prohibida - 2011). Featuring: The Necronomicon, H.P. Lovecraft, and Cthulhu himself! Based on Cthulhu Mythos. Info on IMDB
- True Detective: While (probably) not supernatural, the series contains multiple references to "The Yellow King" and "Carcosa", from The King in Yellow, which while not written by Lovecraft is part of the Cthulhu Mythos. Also one of the few works to feature much of the bleak philosophy found in Lovecraftian fiction.