H.P. Lovecraft, one of the most innovative writers of horror fiction in the twentieth century, had his birthday yesterday. While I’m not among the poseurs who go down to his grave or anything, I do like the guy’s stuff. It’s pulpy and it’s purple, but the ideas that course through it have made their way into popular culture and stayed there for a reason.
All of which raises the question of why the hell the guy can’t get a break on the silver screen.
There have been a handful of good Lovecraft movies that are faithful to his work; The Resurrected is a neat adaptation of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, and Stuart Gordon has made both Dreams in the Witch House and Dagon.
But overall, Lovecraft has not been treated well by the cinema. I took a look back to figure out why.
Lovecraft Doesn’t Really Write Hollywood-Friendly Protagonists
Your average Hollywood hero is strong, noble, healthy, and thinks reading is for lesser men. Your average Lovecraft protagonist is a sickly intellectual who’s scared out of his mind most of the time and is going to die or go insane. A lot of Lovecraft adaptations fail right out of the gate because they make the hero somebody who can handle the events unfolding and not some poor bastard well out of his depth.
To Do It Properly Would Be Expensive
It’s worth remembering that for Hollywood, horror movies are cheap little things you turn out because if you invest $10 million in one, it’ll make $20 million at the box office, $40 million on home video, and then you can package the crap out of it forever.
Lovecraft’s stories don’t tend to lend themselves to this. They’re period pieces at this point, and usually require some form of special effects. Also, you can’t throw in a bunch of teenagers: To pull off a proper Lovecraftian protagonist needs an actor older than 22.
In other words, doing it right means committing more money. So forget it. Not even Guillermo Del Toro could really make it work: Part of the reason his Lovecraft adaptation never came together was Universal didn’t want to commit the $80 million it’d cost. Even Re-Animator had to ditch the period picture and rip its score off from Psycho to make it work, and Gordon had Jeffrey Combs.
He Hasn’t Exactly Had The Best Directors
Stuart Gordon is a talented director, even if his career trajectory is sadly not towards megahits. And I’ll make an argument for Roger Corman, when he cares enough to show up. But beyond that it’s a lot of nobodies and worse.
Making a Lovecraft story requires at the very least a strong visual imagination and a taste for the bizarre. That’s already a short list, and there aren’t a lot of names on it who could get the budget to do it right.
That said, I’d kill for a Terry Gilliam Lovecraft movie. Seriously, Terry. Just point me towards who you want gone, I’ll make it happen.
A Lot of the Stories Are Just Too Short To Carry a Movie
From Beyond is a superb example of this (damn, we just keep coming back to Stuart Gordon, don’t we?) The entire story is faithfully and atmospherically adapted aaaaaaaaand then the opening credits roll and the movie proper starts.
He tended to write very short stories, and even filmmakers who mean well kind of have a problem when they have another seventy-five minutes to fill.
Any Lovecraft movies you like that I missed? Or dismissed? Let me know in the comments.