This is a notoriously frustrating subject….with a few great exceptions. I’ll try to highlight those and direct readers to additional resources they might explore.
Note: I’ve taken the opportunity to combine a couple of previous posts with the content written for this response, so this is lengthy. I just wanted to everything in one spot. Hope it’s useful to someone!
There is a quality to Lovecraft’s work that often defies visual representation, and part of what makes Weird Fiction weird is that it “veils,” or doesn’t show too much…it relies on atmosphere and dread to generate fear. The reader is intended to “do the work,” so when revealed on screen his monsters often tend to look a bit, well, goofy or, worse, directors overcompensate the inability to capture the horror from the stories by shoveling-in sex and gore.
A lot of the films I’ve listed here, for that reason, are “Lovecraftian” rather than direct adaptations. I think it was Kenneth Hite (?) I heard say once that one of the best Lovecraftian films he’s seen includes no characters or ideas from the Mythos–The Thing (the original, not the one of which we never speak). I will, however, include adaptations, of course. **I’ll put asterisks next to the titles that are adaptations or that, at least, are recognizably based-upon one of Lovecraft’s works.
First, here are a few “top” recommendations plucked out of the long list. I figure it’s pretty overwhelming, so this might be a good place to begin.
The Thing, Prince of Darkness, and In the Mouth of Madness make up what Carpenter refers to as “The Apocalypse Trilogy.” See the excellent article from Strange Horizons for more on the Trilogy and Lovecraft’s influences on Carpenter, linked here. If there’s one of them you have not seen, go watch it now. Go. 🙂
- The Thing (1982)
- Prince of Darkness (1987)
- In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
Also the following are among my favorites out of the longer list below and highly-recommended:
- The Objective (2008)
- The Banshee Chapter (2013)
- Dagon (2001)**
- Absentia (2011)
- The Whisperer in Darkness (2011)**
Check out Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown (2008); it’s a nice documentary on the author.
Film List, combined:
- Absentia (2011)—if you haven’t had the opportunity to view this film, please do. It is definitely Lovecraftian in its atmosphere and tension reliant upon setting/“external” reality, its invocation of mythology, the existence of a “world beneath or just outside,” as well as its unhappy ending.
- The Banshee Chapter (2013)—a fantastic sort of variation on the Resonator–tons of creepy atmosphere and “veiled” horror.
- The Whisperer in Darkness (2011)**
- The Corridor (2012)—I wobble a bit when categorizing this as Lovecraftian; I would certainly place it in the realm of the Weird, and it’s a good movie.
- The Mist (2007)—based on the King novel, of course, I have always believed this to be an underrated film; it is one of his most Lovecraftian stories, and it has been adapted wonderfully to film. The best monster in the bunch, in my opinion, is the tentacled creature that we never actually see in full–that big, lumbering fellow.
- Yellowbrick Road (2010)—90 percent of this film is a wonderful representation (albeit a low-budget one) of what can be done with Cosmic horror; the final 10 percent left me cursing at the screen, but you can judge for yourself.
- The Burrowers (2008)—excellent horror movie, in my opinion, though I want to shake the creators for showing the monsters so clearly towards the end. If they’d left them almost/partially unseen, it would have been perfectly Weird and utterly terrifying.
- The Shrine (2010)—this is another film I really like that I think is a tad underrated. It’s not perfect by any means, and I wish they wouldn’t have “explained” so much, but the premise is fantastic and it has some genuinely scary parts.
- The Curse (1987)**—this is a Wil Wheaton film, and thanks to a follower a few weeks ago, I learned that there are several more (terrible) adaptations in this line of movies. For instance, The Curse II is an adaptation of The Curse of Yig(don’t watch it or any of the rest of them).
- Wishmaster (1997)—the quality of this isn’t that high, but I’ve always liked it, particularly the beginning. There are many Lovecraftian punishments meted-out just in the first 7 minutes alone.
from Wishmaster (1997)
- Monsters (2010)—I catch a little grief for liking this movie as much as I do. I confess that I love it, however, primarily for the giant, glowing, tentacled mating-aliens-at-a-gas-station scene. How great is that?
- The Objective (2008)—such a great movie; be warned, though, that its setting is Afganistan and includes all of the trappings of War. I’m not a fan, usually, of that type of movie, but this is well worth tolerating the guns and silly machismo to get to the fascinating integration of myth and Weirdness.
- Jeepers Creepers (2001)—this is one of my favorite horror movies (Lovecraftian and otherwise). I love that it’s a brother/sister team and that the film isn’t propped-up on a sexual/romantic subplot that has little to do with the actual story, that it presents a “new” and truly weird sort of creature, that it introduces the monster without making it entirely “supernatural” or “religious”/occult, and that we don’t know all that much more about it by the end of the movie than at the beginning.
from Jeepers Creepers (2001)
- Die Farbe (2010)**—this is a good adaptation of The Colour Out of Space, though many details of the setting and plot are changed. It’s still recognizable as the story.
- Europa Report (2013)—a friend recommended I watch this, and I was ready to strangle her until the very last portion of the thing. I’m not sure if it’s worth the creature “payoff” to sit-through the tedious first part, but it does have an interesting ending.
- Event Horizon (1997)—I think I’ve talked enough about this movie on this blog. 🙂
- H. P. Lovecraft’s Dreams in the Witch House (2005)**—a Stuart Gordon adaptation. It’s pretty bad, but if you want to be thorough, it’s a necessary watch.
- Re-Animator (1985)**—Stuart Gordon; this film has a huge cult following, particularly among Lovecraftians. I’ve never cared for it, but many adore it. It’s a decent adaptation of Herbert West—Reanimator that takes many liberties.The sexual content is a bit over the top (especially compared to the story), so be aware of its presence.
- From Beyond (1986)**—Stuart Gordon; adaptation of the story with the same name. I like this Gordon film, though it drips with (non-Lovecraftian) sex, as well. I heard, though, an argument made (somewhere) regarding the pituitary gland and sexual response; the individual claimed it reasonable to expect heightened sex-drive if the gland were stimulated by the Resonator… so there’s that.
- Dagon (2001)**—Stuart Gordon; this is actually The Shadow Over Innsmouth…or something close to it, at least. Closer to that than Dagon, that’s for certain.
- Castle Freak (1995)**—Stuart Gordon; I love that the wiki article describes this as “slightly based” on the story, The Outsider.
- The Dunwich Horror (1970)**—this is a Roger Corman film and, as my family back home would say, “hokey as all get out.” It is a B-movie adaptation of the story and stars Dean Stockwell. I think another version was done recently that had him in it, as well. It’s necessary viewing, though, if you’re working through the movie side of this stuff.
- Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2010)—more of a Blackwood-through-HPL-back to Blackwood vibe to this, though it is in this way that del Toro snags the opportunity to introduce younger viewers/readers to Algernon Blackwood’s tales.
- The Last Winter (2006)—another movie that I seem to love but that others don’t (anyone?); I will just say this about it: Wendigo…and not the cannibal version but the Blackwood-esque, “vengeful spirit of bitter cold Nature” Wendigo.
- The Deaths of Ian Stone (2007)—this is a film about a man who is murdered each day and then enters a new reality the next. It’s a bit flawed here and there, but it is an interesting premise and I enjoyed it overall.
- Cool Air (1999)**—I still haven’t seen this one!
- Rare Exports (2010)–a Lovecraftian Christmas featuring a giant, monster Santa Claus.
- The Unnamable (1988)**—this is pretty bad, but it is based loosely on the story with the same name and integrates a few regular people/aspects from HPL’s fiction.
- Lurking Fear (1994)**—also very bad; it is loosely based on The Lurking Fear…you have to squint to recognize it, honestly.
- The Haunted Palace (1963)**—this is based on the plot of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and stars Vincent Price; again, a lot of liberties, of course, but it’s fun to watch and, well, Vincent Price.
At the Borders/New Weird:
- The Damned Thing (Masters of Horror, 2006)—this is very, very loosely based upon theAmbrose Bierce story by the same name.
- Cigarette Burns (Masters of Horror, 2005)—I have a soft spot for this film by John Carpenter; it focuses on a movie so terrifying that it alters reality/dooms the viewer. Check out a younger Norman Reedus in it, as well.
- Dead Birds (2004)—This is actually really close in “feel,” story line, and setting to Robert E. Howard’s story Pigeons from Hell; it’s not a direct adaptation but it retains the spirit and general story…and it’s truly creepy.
- Kill List (2014)—this was another recommendation that didn’t pay off until the final portion. In this case, though, it is worth suffering through all of the (to me) boring hitman/gun-shooting nonsense to get to the great creepy, cultish ending.
- Midnight Meat Train (2008)—The story by Clive Barker (you can find it in The Books of Blood, Vol. 1) is definitely Lovecraftian; the film adaptation is just over the line, I think, due to gore. It’s still fun to watch; I recommend it.
- Grabbers (2012)—humor, alcohol, and bizarre creatures from the sea/outer space; I love this movie and love the monsters in it.
- Frailty (2001)—I used to use this movie when I taught courses in Critical Thinking, specifically in the chapter dedicated to “Perceptions and Belief.” Watched through one lens, it’s a story about child abuse and the brutal making of a serial killing family. Watched through the lens of belief, it’s a story about sin, connections to a higher power, and “avenging angels.” Matthew McConaughey’s presence doesn’t hurt matters either.
- Jacob’s Ladder (1990)—another great movie about “reality,” memory, and what guilt, in particular, can do to the way we engage the world around us.
from Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
- The Ruins (2008)—based on the novel with the same name by Scott Smith, this involves the enormous egos of young American tourists, an “untouchable”/ “unspeakable” horror quarantined on and around Mayan Ruins, and some really smart, murderous vegetation. Lots of body horror and blood in this movie.
This is all terribly, terribly incomplete, I realize, even at this length, and there are a few sites that explore Lovecraftian film in depth or at least to some degree worth mentioning.
Here are a few of those:
- Unflimable doesn’t update as much as it used to, but the older content is excellent.
- Mike Davis (Lovecraft eZine) has a nice list going that I’ve seen him update from time to time. Here’s the link to that.
- The HPLovecraft site maintained by Donovan K. Loucks has a short list that contains mostly older “classics” like The Crimson Cult (1968) and Die, Monster, Die! (1965), with a few mentions of movies from more recent times.
- The wiki entry on this topic is a bit shaky, at best. Many of the films on the list are not adaptations of works by HPL, though many of them are decently Lovecraftian in mood, content, and stylistic approach. Maybe it’s a picky distinction, but I think it’s misleading to say all of them are based on stories. Here’s the link.
- Finally, here’s a link to the HPL Film Festival and Cthulhucon. It includes dates, locations, as well as movie information.