HORROR movies inspired by H.P. Lovecraft
Today, however, we will not deal with adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft stories, but productions that, even if they are not directly based on them, can still be seen as features of Lovecraftian horror, also known as cosmic horror. Such films tell about the fear of the unknown, impossible to understand; they often lead heroes into madness or undermine faith in the delimitation of the multiverse, and they can be very bloody – especially when powerful forces manifest before our eyes and decide to give free rein to their power. Let’s check which movies containing these elements are worth reaching for!
We start with probably the most famous title on the list and one of the most recognized horrors in history. There are many connections between John Carpenter’s masterpiece and the motifs from H.P. Lovecraft novels – unformed evil blending in between people, deepening paranoia, loss of control over a body easily imitated by an inhuman being. Although it is not as obvious a comparison as in other films mentioned here, The Thing can be successfully interpreted as Lovecraftian horror. Especially since it ultimately leads to the inevitable doom of humanity, here presented pars pro toto in the form of a small group of scientific researchers. Plus, it’s a great movie in itself.
In the Mouth of Madness
Speaking of John Carpenter, Lovecraftian themes become the plot of his later film, In the Mouth of Madness. This one centers on a private investigator (Sam Neil) hired by an insurance company who is looking for a missing horror writer. As the plot develops, the initially very down-to-earth man is faced with increasingly strange situations, and his disbelief in supernatural forces is shaken. It is worth mentioning that the film is not only a great production inspired by the works of Lovecraft, but also an extremely current commentary on the functioning of fandoms and the cult of creators – and above all their work.
A small, independent Canadian horror film turns out to be a well-made cinema clearly modeled on the work of the American. Unfortunately, the special effects are not at the highest level – probably due to budget constraints, not artistic choices – hence the film is at its best in moments when the atmosphere is taken over by a sense of ignorance and misunderstanding. However, if we turn a blind eye to what the designs of some monsters look like, we will have an hour and a half of good Lovecraftian entertainment, which can never be too much.
Meanwhile, Alex Garland’s film copes even better with the feeling of being misunderstood. It tells the story of a biologist played by Natalie Portman, who goes to a zone taken over by aliens in search of her husband. There, dozens of inexplicable and (in)natural physical phenomena await her and her companions, and the disintegration of molecules takes on extremely artistic forms. The British director extracts beauty from decay, which not only creates unique visual effects, but also fits perfectly into the theme of the production, as well as the premise of Lovecraftian horror.
Cabin in the Woods
One of the few titles on the list that is treated very frivolously. Cabin in the Woods is primarily a pastiche, and perceiving it as a mere scare fest is just a misunderstanding of the convention. Here, Drew Goddard ridicules the features of a typical slasher and cosmic horror, such as the feeling of being controlled by unknown forces, creatures from another world, heroes who perfectly fit into the ossified patterns, or even limiting the location of the film to a specific area. At the same time, you can feel the love for the genre he turns the formula upside down and thus give it a new quality – just like in the case of Wes Craven’s Scream.
First of all, let me warn you – this is a really calm show. And by “calm” I mean the pace is so slow that at times you can fall asleep, which, however, will probably end tragically for your understanding of the plot. Telling about a certain unusual sect, The Endless requires maximum focus to grasp all time loops, casual mentions in dialogues or finally references – for example to Lovecraft’s works described in the text. Ultimately, the whole thing is about subtleties, so it’s not such a stupid idea to watch a movie with a notebook in your hand. Even if some of our notes escape the limited human comprehension.
Beyond the Black Rainbow
While this list could well include another Panos Cosmatos film, Mandy (for those who haven’t seen it, I heartily recommend it), but this time I bet on his debut work. It is a complete drug trip, where the plot is deliberately pushed to the background by the director and screenwriter. The local heroes reach states of understanding beyond the capabilities of their minds, so it’s no wonder that the viewers have a problem with naming them. Meanwhile, the form of the film is the transformation of the aesthetics of the straight to VHS era for the needs of the modern audience, thanks to which the achieved effect is something on the border of arthouse and grindhouse at the same time.
Interestingly, despite the fact that after the premiere of the film comparisons to Lovecraft poured in from all sides, the creators clearly cut themselves off from them. As Robert Eggers said in an interview, “Lovecraft finally tells me more than I want to know.” And although in the same statement the director expresses his approval of the writer’s work, he also believes that Lighthouse’s strength lies in the understatement and in the fact that it never clearly goes towards the Cthulhu mythology. It’s hard to disagree with him – questioning the perceived reality is quickly transmitted to the viewers during the screening of Eggers’ black-and-white production, especially since we see only a subjective version of events. So if you’re interested in the psychological side of Lovecraft’s work, focused on the developing madness of the characters, rather than dazzling tentacles, then I think you’ll still find a lot for yourself here.
Paul W.S. Anderson’s best film is pure space horror. Set in the future, it tells the story of a team of astronauts sent to rescue the long-lost crew of the Event Horizon ship. What exactly happened to its members, of course, I will not reveal, but you can expect bloody and disgusting scenes – even a certain found recording – as well as a gradual descent into the arms of madness and constant balancing on the verge of reality and sleep. Those who are hungry for audiovisual horror experiences set in a set design reminiscent of industrial rooms from the first Alien should be delighted.
2007’s The Mist is based on Stephen King’s novella of the same name – so what does it do on this list? Well, despite the fact that we will find here elements typical of the work of one of the most popular contemporary writers – the clash of characters in a small community, religious motifs, merciless deaths – there are also many typically Lovecraftian features. For example, mysterious, bloodthirsty creatures hunting people in the title mist, i.e. beyond the reach of our limited senses, or a hopeless, fatalistic ending – Frank Darabont’s original idea approved by King. For him alone, it’s worth putting up with the sometimes really bad-looking CGI creatures.
This movie is described as a romantic body horror. Combining romance with body transformation? Why not! The main character’s mother (Lou Taylor Pucci) dies of cancer, and he himself, consumed by mourning, gets into a fight with a client, which ends with him losing his job. Not knowing what to do with himself, he leaves for Italy, where he meets the beautiful Louise (Nadia Hilker). As you might expect, the woman is hiding a dark secret. Spring is a beautifully filmed mine of secrets with a specific artistic direction, leading to truly Cthulhu-type plot turns and being a manifestation of love for Lovecraftian mythology – also the literal one. It absolutely deserves more publicity and your attention.
Under the Skin
The list ends with an amazing audiovisual experience served to us by the British creator, Jonathan Glazer. Explaining why Under the Skin can be included in the group of horrors inspired by the writer’s prose, however, would require a solid dose of spoilers, so I will limit myself to generalities here. Well, the film draws our attention with its mystery – almost literally – and already at the early stages of the story it shows the action of an unknown force, so that we wait until the very end of the screening to solve the mystery. And it will be a truly bizarre screening, an experience constantly balancing on the verge of a nightmare, possible to be interpreted in dozens of ways. The Internet is full of texts analyzing the production, and somehow every author is able to see something different in it. At the same time, I would like to point out – this is definitely not a work for everyone, if only because of the scanty number of dialogues or the sluggish pace.
Did you find something on this list for yourself? Or maybe you have other movies to recommend that come close to the themes of Lovecraft? Let me know!