Humans have experienced fear since time immemorial. The most fundamental form of fear is the dread of the unknown. – H. P. Lovecraft.
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For me, Lovecraft is a master of the cosmic horror subgenre, which he essentially invented, and to which many, many authors (including myself) have strayed. His writings, however, are sometimes referred to as “unfilmable” because of the difficulty of adapting them to the screen. They just don’t work on the screen at all. However, a few have done it, whether through creative license or a pure adaptation. Let’s take a look at 16 of the best Lovecraft adaptations ever made.
1. Dagon (2001)
This film doesn’t get the credit it deserves, in my opinion. Instead of adapting Dagon, it is The Shadow Over Innsmouth, and the chase scene in particular is what makes it stand out. The acting is excellent, the effects are fantastic, and the direction is among Gordon’s best. I had the sensation that I was actually there because to the excellent design of the setting. You have to see this if you’re a fan of Lovecraft.
2. The Call of Cthulhu (2005)
You can’t go wrong with this one in terms of both concept and execution. To put it another way, what if The Call of Cthulhu had been published during Lovecraft’s lifetime? So this is a silent picture in the style of the 1920s, and it’s brilliant. For a film with such a modest budget, the acting and special effects are astounding. Well-told tale with superb direction. This is perhaps the most original adaptation, both in terms of style and fidelity to the source material.
3. The Resurrected (1991)
This is an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, and it’s amazing how well O’Bannon did. The mood and appearance are both spot on. The fact that this isn’t a big-budget film makes it all the more stunning. However, the FX work is outstanding, the acting is superb, and the directing is faultlessly fluid. The catacombs sequences, of course, will live on in film history.
4. From Beyond (1986)
Making a full film out of a short narrative seems like an impossible task. So, just give it to Gordon and he’ll take care of everything. The result is a sci-fi/horror film unlike any other, full of color, gore, sexiness, and cutting-edge special effects. This is the only item like it. Gordon was able to take the bare bones of an intriguing idea and turn it into something truly magical. That’s a great movie.
5. The Unnamable (1988)
The Unnameable is reimagined as a monster movie, but with Lovecraft’s fundamental story and style intact. Despite its relative obscurity, I absolutely adore this film. An excellent way to make a Lovecraft story more accessible to a wider audience, while still maintaining its unique flavor, was to adapt it into a mainstream horror film.
6. The Unnamable II – The Statement of Randolph Carter (1992)
Finally, the sequel, The Statement of Randolph Carter, is here in a similarly stylistic adaptation. However, this time it’s a creature feature, and it’s probably the most effective yet. Both of these are very wonderful and had to be included. Even if they aren’t quite “adaptations,” they’re nevertheless deserving of a spot on this list.
7. The Testimony of Randolph Carter (1987)
To build on the previous film’s success, this low-budget remake of H.P. Lovecraft’s short stories is the most faithful to the original. Without a budget, we’re given to an atmospheric short film that captures the spirit of the 1920s and 1930s period well. It’s well-acted and directed, and the storyline is nothing short of astounding and suspenseful. Even after watching it a second time, I’m still amazed at how accurate the film is to the novel.
8. Dirt Dauber (2009)
This is, by far, my favorite list. To learn about Shub-Niggurath and her Thousand Young, a guy who is found wandering nude in the mountains must befriend an unusual man. To put it another way, this short film is what Lovecraft would have looked like if David Lynch had directed it. Everything about this film is flawless, from the performances to the photography to the overall mood.
9. Re-Animator (1985)
Re-Animator, of course. As a campy but equally horrifying zombie narrative, it takes many liberties with the source material, and this is what makes the movie so remarkable: It’s not just entertaining; it’s the spark to the second Lovecraftian revival. First came loose adaptations of various quality in the 1960s, but by the 1980s, there were some excellent adaptations that set off a trend. This is still one of the best despite the extreme sexual depravity and brutality.
10. Pickman’s Muse (2010)
Everything about The Haunter of the Gloomy is dark and moody in this version. For me, it’s a standout since it’s so stylish and yet so little money was spent on it. Lovecraft fans hoping for a more arthouse interpretation of the author’s work will be hard pressed to find a better film than this one. Just to show that you can use him in a variety of ways and they all work if done correctly.
11. The Whisperer in Darkness (2011)
There’s something about this film that makes it feel like a spiritual heir to Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu. It’s a 1930’s talkie. This movie is one of my all-time favorites, and I believe the filmmakers hit the nail on the head with it. That rare case where a film adaptation is a more accurate representation than I could have hoped for. That much quality was produced on such a shoestring budget is mind-blowing.
12. The Color Out of Space (2010)
First “true” version of the narrative based on the same name, this film takes a very unusual way to interpreting such a weird tale on the big screen. ” Except for the Color, the film was shot in black and white, lending the film a unique look that really sells it. Even more impressive is that this German film appeared out of nowhere and left an unforgettable impression on my head.
13. Castle Freak (1995)
The Outsider serves as the inspiration for this film, which focuses heavily on the horror genre. This list has a lot of Gordon on it, and for good cause. Even though he made numerous liberties, notably with this film, he was actually the most consistent Lovecraft adaptor and it’s just so darn fantastic. Horror that’s bloodthirsty, depraved, and claustrophobic to the extreme, but yet grand in its own way. One of the most remarkable experiences of my life.
14. Cthulhu (2007)
This Innsmouth tale, weird though it may be, is no less compelling for it. As a result of the inclusion of Tori Spelling, I believe this film was unfairly slammed by critics. However, the rest of the cast and the direction are excellent. Because the main character is gay and so shunned by his small-town peers, the plot takes on new dimensions. In my opinion, this is one of the best movies of the year.
15. Necronomicon (1993)
The Rats in the Walls, Cool Air, and The Whisperer in the Darkness are all featured in this anthology film. The first segment, in particular, is amazing, but they all have a distinct Lovecraftian flavor. It’s a great touch that Jeffrey Combs plays Lovecraft in the wraparound. Simply fantastic entertainment for fans of cosmic/occult horror.
16. Color Out of Space (2019)
This had to be included because, well, what a film that was. Although the German version is a close second, both are excellent adaptations and deserve to be watched. This is the greatest one. I can’t even begin to describe the level of rationality required to see this. Stunning cinematography, fantastic acting, direction, and oh my god, incredible FX work, all in all, this film is a must-see.
I hope you found something new to watch as a result of this post. As a Lovecraft devotee, I’m always on the lookout for any and all Lovecraftian adaptations. Since his work is in the public domain, anyone may put his name on a piece of trash and sell it. This is unfortunate. These are just a few of my faves out of the many worthy ones out there. The documentary Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown is also a must-see. This is by far the most complete documentary available on the subject, and it is flawless in every way.