Otherworldly horror films are great – mostly because they’re, well, y’know, otherworldly, and as such aren’t concerned with the things we have to struggle against in our everyday lives. Who wants to watch a film about death and taxes? It’s much more fun to sit down and slap on a film about horrors far beyond the stars; about creatures with tentacles, and horrifying, dripping faces. And for that brand of ghastliness, we really have one man to thank.
Even those unfamiliar with his name have likely watched a film inspired by H. P. Lovecraft, and directors like Ridley Scott, John Carpenter, Paul W.S. Anderson, Sam Raimi, David Cronenberg and J.J. Abrams have all drawn inspiration from Lovecraft’s canon.
Not that the man was a saint – far from it, in fact. Lovecraft was notoriously racist, and remains a problematic figure in the horror community. But if he wasn’t the most virtuous guy when it comes to social and gender equality, why is he still revered? It’s not like the strength of his writing is all that redeeming, in my opinion – the man could tell a story, but those people who draw a bead on his hyperbolic prose and exaggerated descriptions of things which can’t be described (like his many creatures that defy the laws of physics)… Well, let’s just say they have a point.
Perhaps that’s where cinema steps in. In Lovecraft’s fiction we are given just a glimpse of the horrific indifference of the universe and the idiot spawn that slough its abyss. On screen, the horror becomes churning and visceral yet, in context of the story, still remains just a taste of the true nightmares suggested by our imagination. Here are just a few examples of classic Lovecraftian horrors that come to mind.
After a spaceship capable of jumping between dimensions reappears following a seven-year silence, a crew led by Laurence Fishburne, Joely Richardson and that irascible scamp Sam Neil explore the derelict craft to determine what exactly it’s been up to all this time. Turns out, it’s been regurgitated from some pocket beyond the known universe that sent the entire ship’s population into a fucked-up frenzy of mutilation, sex and death. Now, the ship is alive and insane.
Event Horizon is full of violence, psychological horror, some memorable quotes… and these are just the monsters we can see! Just imagine the hell dimension that we’re actually spared…
The most disturbing aspects of a lot of good horror films are suggested, rather than shown. What is lurking inside the darkened room we never enter? What becomes of your soul when your humanity slowly and grotesquely unravels? At least we have an answer in regards to the latter question: it’s, “You become a Brundlefly”. In David Cronenberg’s oddly moving 1986 remake of The Fly, Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis inadvertently court alien horror right here on earth when an experiment in human teleportation begins turning Mr Menulog himself into an unforgettable blend of man and insect. Lovecraft was convinced of the potential horrors of scientific advancement, and The Fly is a touching parable of knowledge turned sour.
Some readers might think this is a bit of a cheat, given that the (largely) unexplored McGuffin of the series – the collection of short stories The King In Yellow – wasn’t penned by Lovecraft at all, but one of his own influences, Robert W. Chambers. It’s also, if we’re being picky, hardly cinema. But there is simply so much of Lovecraft on display here that it becomes a nice barometer of how his mythos has seeped across the entertainment sphere.
From the hallucinatory visions of another world, to the oppressive atmosphere of nihilism, degeneration, mysticism and hints of hidden corruptive forces, the series is Lovecraft through and through.
Again, The Thing is an example of Lovecraftian cinema that doesn’t actually belong to Lovecraft himself – that honour instead goes to John W. Campbell, Jr. His novella Who Goes There? served as the genesis for one of my all-time favourite films, John Carpenter’s 1982 masterpiece. Though it took a while to find the recognition it enjoys today, The Thing is horror/sci-fi cinema at its finest. After a parasitic alien lifeform infiltrates an Antarctic research base, it begins colourfully assimilating the scientists until no one is certain who is human and who is the imitation.
Though chainsaw-handed anti-heroes and boomsticks might not immediately call Lovecraft to mind, lest we forget that the artefact that kickstarts the whole demon-dismemberment shebang in Evil Dead is a certain book called the Necromonicon (or Naturom Demonto), penned by the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred (told you Lovecraft was racist). In this instance the tome – inked in blood and bound in human flesh – summons Sumerian demons to possess the living and ruin Bruce Campbell’s weekend.
Stuart Gordon is clearly a dyed-in-the-wool Lovecraft fan. In addition to this gore-spattered classic, he also helmed the sequel, Bride Of Re-Animator, and the equally bloody From Beyond. It’s also noteworthy by dint of being the only adaptation on this list based on a Lovecraft story, Herbert West – Reanimator.
Originally an X-rated film full of deliciously gruesome effects and macabre humour, it has achieved an enduring cult following. There are some outright gut-churning moments – decapitated undead cunnilingus, anyone? – but Re-Animator remains a delight of Lovecraftian cinema and the perfect accompaniment to any horror movie marathon.
Re-Animator is set to screen at the Ritz Cinema on Friday October 13.