What makes a story Lovecraftian, part Three, Cinema

This is going to be a bit odd, to start with, but when you start looking at Lovecraftian stories, cinema is one of the more hit or miss areas, though the successes are awesome. It is also even more subjective, you will have people commenting and debating whether or not a particular film is or is not Lovecraftian at considerable length and energy.

To start with, adaptations of Lovecraft’s stories to movies often completely miss the Lovecraftian themes. Strangely, some of them at least pick up hints, some do better than others. The story that I tend to shorten the title to ‘Charles Dexter Ward’ was adapted as “Edgar Allan Poe’s the Haunted Palace” The story behind that is easy to find, but has more to do with the studio’s pressure for the title than anything of Roger Corman’s wishes. This is by no means a close adaptation of the original story, but it is an entertaining movie that takes the themes of the story well, and also brings up Lovecraftian themes in a few sequences towards the end. So it stands as a successful Lovecraftian movie, if not an optimal adaptation. Conversely, the first attempt to film ‘The Colour out of Space”, “Die Monster Die” is a grim and ghastly piece of work, an embarrassment to the careers of pretty much all involved. Similarly, the first attempt at ‘the Dunwich Horror” is a complete failure as an adaptation, though it does have its fans (I don’t really put myself in that group I have to admit.) successful adaptations of Lovecraft’s work really didn’t find their footing until Stuart Gordon did “Reanimator”, an adaptation of “Herbert West-Reanimator”, which is not my favorite Lovecraft story by a considerable distance, though I have to admit that the film captures some of the feel of the story, and puts it in the modern milieu effectively. This led to many other adaptations in subsequent years, and the success rate became much more hit and miss. Some excellent successes are still debated by some fans, so again, the subjective nature is more evident. The HPLHS productions of Call of Cthulhu and Whisperer in Darkness are, to me, wonderful films, and the adaptation of ‘The Colour out of Space’ originally released as “die Farbe” I think is as good an entry as possible.

But Lovecraftian cinema is not limited to adaptations, and films like ‘Yellowbrickroad”, “Absentia” and even “Horror Express” pick up on the themes and play with them without coming anywhere near Lovecraft’s work directly. Now again, these films are of mixed quality and there is more than a little debate over them, and how Lovecraftian they are or aren’t, but they at least touch on the concepts, the hints that the universe is more than we imagine it to be, and our concepts of controlling the universe are woefully misinformed and inadequate.

Sadly there are films that try to be Lovecraftian and fail, sometimes so painfully you wish for the silhouettes of movie seats and two robots with a human companion to throw lines back…some of these are just bad movies, some are good movies that fail at the concept. I won’t name names here.

Maybe at this point, this isn’t the best place to bring this up, but I ran into an interesting thread in a podcast (the Lovecraft Geek, Robert Price’s nice bits of exploration) on a re-listen that I think warrants mention somewhere in this particular discussion. While Lovecraftian fiction posits a somewhat nihilistic bend, stressing the insignificance of humanity in the universe as a whole, it also presents, in many of its works, the value of clinging to our humanity and striving to effectively ‘push back the darkness’ as much as possible. I also will say that this fiction, cinema, gaming or books, is an item that involves as most science fiction, fantasy and horror, a suspension of disbelief, and reading and enjoying these works does not require a compromise of any point of view or ethical, philosophical or religious stand. If you are unable or unwilling to set aside those concepts for the suspension of disbelief, then such fiction, among many other types of fiction, may not be for you. I have other feelings about that, but those are my feelings and I won’t go into that here, I am not seeking to argue the validity of anyone’s viewpoint.



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