As influential to modern horror as Stephen King, but whose works are rarely adapted, H.P Lovecraft is a writer whose output boasts existential nightmares about insanity and paranoia, cosmic horror, body horror and monstrous freaks, and giant monsters and elder gods. They also display the fragility of humans and the truth that we truly don’t know our place in the universe.
H.P. Lovecraft has become a primary source of influence on horror, monster movies, body horror flicks and a whole generation of dark creative minds (even if his own politics made him a decidedly unpleasant person – look up his racial opinions to feel uncomfortable). But his work is rarely adapted and even though his style and influence is incredible, it’s rarely brought to life 100% because most people don’t like having stories without conclusion, dramatic plot development and that, in some respects, suggest humans aren’t important.
But nevertheless, some great Lovecraftian films get made and her’s my top 10…
10. A Cure For Wellness (Verbinski, 2016)
I’m putting this one at number 10 because I gave it a high spot on my Top 10 Underrated Horror list and technically it mostly falls under Gothic horror but the Lovecraftian horror is there. It’s an isolated medical facility in the mountains, the main character is questioning his sanity and sense of purpose and there’s some really nasty body horror work going on in this film. It feels very influenced by Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness” and gives Pirates of the Caribbean and Rango director Gore Verbinski a chance to indulge in a true auteur project. That’s actually the beauty of making a Lovecraftian-inspired film that’s not a direct adaptation – it becomes a project where a creator can truly find their love of the themes and make them theirs.
9. IT (Muschietti, 2017)
This surprisingly strong adaptation of Stephen King’s magnum opus (though yes, Tim Curry’s campy performance in the original is still fun) is an incredibly strong Lovecraftian story. Now I know some fans of King’s adaptations will ask why 2006’s The Mist isn’t on here and, while that has a really Lovecraftian end, it’s the rest of the film I’m not a fan of. 2017’s It builds the Lovecraftian environment, tone and world so quietly and brilliantly that you don’t’ see it – but Pennywise’s action, forms and the way the whole town makes the kids feel isolated is really the stuff of Lovecraft. It also helps that this is a strong mainstream horror film so audiences can get a taste of Lovecraft.
8. In The Mouth Of Madness (Carpenter, 1994)
John Carpenter made three Lovecraftian horror films as part of the “Apocalypse Trilogy”: The Thing, Prince of Darkness and In the Mouth of Madness. One of those other films is higher on this list. In the Mouth of Madness is actually a very clever, underrated film that wears Lovecraft on its sleeve in meta-fashion. Sanity, paranoia, monsters and universes ripping themselves apart is quite brilliant stuff and I’m not sure why it received negative reviews. Sam Neill is excellent in the lead role and the madness he endures and creates is awesome.
7. Event Horizon (Anderson, 1997)
Oh yeah, Paul WS Anderson’s only good film. He later produced Pandorum as a spiritual successor to Event Horizon that also has Lovecraftian elements, but Event Horizon is purest Lovecraft. “Hell in Space” may sound like a silly premise (and admittedly this movie can be a little silly) but the execution and effort to capture insanity, gore and otherworldly features makes this film a great B-Movie and a great Lovecraft love letter with some genuinely awesome performances.
6. Re-Animator (Gordon, 1985)
There had to be at least one official Lovecraft adaptation and I’m picking the fun Re-Animator. Directed by Stuart Gordon (who also did the direct Lovecraft adaption From Beyond too), it’s a fun, gorier horror romp than traditional purest Lovecraft as he was playing loose in writing the book but the classic hallmarks are still there. The problem with most Lovecraft adaptations is studios not willing to invest the money for a full experience. Lovecraft works often have giant monsters and cosmic scopes and no studio will foot the bill for the sake of a story that depresses and alienates most audiences. Recent Kaiju flicks like Cloverfield, Godzilla, Kong Skull Island and Pacific Rim have elements of Lovecraft but still give humans some tangible agency and place in the world. So smaller Lovecraft stories like Re-Animator can be done on a small budget and allowed to be as fun and wild as the book. This one remains one of the great body horror flicks.
5. Wicked City (Kawajiri, 1987)
Lovecraft and animation are an odd mix. Most animated projects are children’s films and Lovecraft’s themes work better for an adult audience. In searching for Lovecraftian content made by artists and animators, Akira’s ending has some clear Lovecraftian inspiration with the giant body horror monster. The short film (with a ridiculously long name) The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello is another haunting Lovecraft-infused tale and there’s one very weird anime called Haiyore! Nyaruko: Remember My Mr. Lovecraft that is inspired by Lovecraft directly but not as a Lovecraftian tale. But I did remember the spectacular and influential Wicked City as Lovecraftian. While one of the many anime that influenced The Matrix and plays out closer to a film noir, Wicked City has that Lovecraft effect with grotesque body horror, ancient beings and a world where humans are somewhat cattle to monsters. I highly recommend you check out this lost gem.
4. The Void (Kostanski/Gillespie, 2016)
A love letter for John Carpenter’s Lovecraftian work and Lovecraft himself, The Void is an indie horror films costing $80,000 that nails Lovecraft more than 150 million dollar Kaiju films. The nasty body horror, horrific beings, ancient horrors and otherworldly feel are all present as is the influence of Hellraiser. And Hellraiser did have that Lovecraft effect too with a lot of what makes The Void so brilliant present in both films. But Hellraiser didn’t have the same kind of insanity as The Void and felt too involving for the humans. The Void is a real showcase of hardcore insanity and gore within Lovecraft. The ending itself being more existential than most entire experiences in cinema trying the same tone and feel.
3. Hellboy (del Toro, 2004)
Possible Lovecraft’s most famous fan – Guillermo Del Toro – has long been trying to make Lovecraftian cinema work. He came close with a direct adaptation of At The Mountains Of Madness at Universal with Tom Cruise and a 150 million dollar budget, but that fell through and he recycled some elements for a meta-textual story within his gothic horror film, Crimson Peak. And while he got to make giant monsters in Pacific Rim, his real blueprint of Lovecraft’s influence was Hellboy. Though I prefer the fun sequel, Hellboy and the Golden Army lacks the Lovecraftian monsters and ancient horrors. It’s a great comic adaptation, a fun action/fantasy/horror film and a great Lovecraftian tale that mainstream audiences will appreciate.
2. The Thing (Carpenter, 1982)
Yup, here’s John Carpenter’s best film, the best body horror film (sorry David Cronenberg) and one of the best Lovecraftian stories put to screen. The story of a research team alone in Antarctica with a shape-shifting, body-stealing organism that can control and violate you from a genetic level is a classic horror story. Faithfully adapted from the novella Who Goes There?, the film is one of the most terrifying, haunting and existentially nightmarish films I’ve ever seen (ever years later after I know the film beat for beat). The practical monsters are horrifying, their bodies and noises are skin crawling but it’s the paranoia created that is the worst. Questioning if someone around you is a monster or if you’ve just gone crazy is 100% the stuff of Lovecraft. If you somehow missed it, go watch this and not the awful CGI garbage prequel that breaks continuity.
1. Alien (Scott, 1979)
Ridley Scott’s Alien has long been regarded as one of the great horror films with significant Lovecraftian influences. The existential horror of where the Alien came from and its process as a monster is terrifying. And Alien’s sound, set design, creature effects and overall atmosphere really is the stuff of Lovecraft in hinting at the big universe and our smallness in it, but never fully taking the lid off. It’s undoubtedly the best Lovecraftian film.
So that’s my list (count how many times I said Lovecraft/Lovecraftian because that was exhausting). Are there any other Lovecraftian horror film you like or I missed? Is there one here you hate? Let us know in the comments below.