Divine Providence: A Very Brief Tribute to H.P. Lovecraft and the Films Inspired by His Oeuvre:: By Ghastly1

I feel like being topical so I want to talk about H.P. Lovecraft, seeing as how his name every now and again is resurrected in the public consciousness and now is one such time, thanks to a stupid tv show- I’m looking at you Lovecraft Country. I am a confirmed Lovecraftophile. Not so much in the sense that I like his stories all that much; I’ve read his collected works and my estimation of them is that they are okay, with Cool Air being my favorite. But that is neither here nor there. No, instead what I mean to say is that I am more a fan of the man himself more so than his stories and for all the reasons he is reviled today. I have read a few biographies of ‘ol Howard Phillips, including the aptly named H.P. Lovecraft: A Biography by L. Sprague DeCamp, H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life by Michel Houellebecq and the fantastic and authoritative I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft by S.T. Joshi and found myself practically reading about myself. But being that this is a film website, I won’t bore you with book reports and irrelevant autobiographical information. There have been quite a few Lovecraft films made over the years, most of which are dreadful. However, Lovecraftian themes have been a huge influence on horror with Ridley Scott’s Alien and John Carpenter’s The Thing being two of the better and more famous examples. Then there are Re-Animator and From Beyond which are enjoyable films in their own right but have little to nothing to do with the original source material. What I’d like to do is briefly highlight a few of the better but lesser-known films either more or less directly adapted from his works or which draw inspiration from them.

The Resurrected (1991) Probably the most faithful adaptation of a Lovecraft story made thus far. Dan O’Bannon followed up Return of the Living Dead with this adaptation of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. Chris Sarandon plays Charles Dexter Ward a chemical engineer, whom after digging up some long buried familial secrets involving an ancestor engaged in necromancy and alchemy, begins to exhibit strange behavior indicating said ancestor may be making a surprise comeback. 

Messiah of Evil (1973) Lovecraftian overtones abound in this one. From death cults in seaside towns worshipping anti-human gods to racial and cultural degeneration to forbidden knowledge about the underlying madness at the core of reality shattering the thin veneer of normality and stability we laughingly refer to as sanity, leading to mental collapse and subsequent institutionalization. This is an ominous and oneiric surreal gem of a film heavy on atmosphere that features some genuinely unsettling sequences which will stay with you.

Night Tide (1961)​In a somewhat similar vein as Messiah of Evil, Lovecraftian influence of the Shadow over Innsmouth variety can be detected in Night Tide, though not quite so overtly. In this fantastic little film, Dennis Hopper plays a sailor lately arrived in a degenerate seaside​ town who falls in love with a woman who may or may not be a fish creature. If that doesn’t pique your interest, I don’t know what will.  

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Ghastly1
Ghastly1
8 months ago

Thanks for posting this. I know of, but have never read Lurker in the Lobby so I can’t really comment on what it does or does not do right in regard to Lovecraft in film. I think the reason Night Tide is often left out of the conversation is because it is fairly obscure, it is early Hopper and therefore he doesn’t play any of the over the top crazy sorts of characters he would go on to play, but also because it has been painted with the brush of being sort of a “Poe film” which is partially true, especially given the prominent use of the quote in the film. The Lovecraft influence is much less heavy handed as is true in all of the better- for lack of a better term- “Lovecraftian films”.

Last edited 8 months ago by Ghastly1
Chuckles72
Chuckles72
8 months ago

Yeah, not a big fan of HPL as a person. Sorry, but I’ve read (and listened to) far too many of his letters to maintain any kind illusions about the guy.

Still, he left an undeniable mark. My favorite of his is “The Temple” – a German sub is disabled and slowly sinks to the bottom of the sea, where the cruel commander starts to see very strange things in the pitch-black darkness…

Really liked The Resurrected – is there anything that Chris Sarandon is in that I don’t like?

Messiah of Evil is a Halloween-time mainstay for me. I’ve seen it so many times that I forget that it might be shocking to the average Joe:

Coworker: Hey Chuck, watching any scary movies for Halloween?

Me: Yeah – prolly just throw some favorites – Messiah of Evil and Prince of Darkness. You wanna come over?

Coworker: Get thee behind me Satan!

SmallDarkCloud
SmallDarkCloud
8 months ago

I used to own a well-worn copy of Lurker in the Lobby. It is a terrific book. Unfortunately, I lost it in a move, and Lurker is out of print now. The big revelation in the book, for me, was that the 70s television show Night Gallery adapted two of Lovecraft’s stories. I watched both after reading the book, and they’re very good, especially for the time, with the low budgets of television shows. Not everything on Night Gallery was as good (or good at all).

I love Night Tide. I can see parallels with Lovecraft but, to me, the film is Curtis Harrington’s reinterpretation/obsession with Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People (shades of Chris Marker’s La Jetee being a reinterpretation/obsession with Hitchcock’s Vertigo). Harrington would return to that well again (he even directed a 70s television movie titled The Cat Creature).

I love Messiah of Evil, as well (written and directed by the screenwriters of American Graffiti, of all people). The Alamo Drafthouse in Brooklyn (and, I’m assuming, elsewhere) used to run very funny “don’t talk, don’t text” announcements before each movie, using short clips of cult movies. They used the movie theater scene from Messiah of Evil for one of them.

Also, to echo chuckles72, Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness is one of my favorite (unofficial) Lovecraft films, particularly with the use of science and philosophy (quantum physics, particularly) to explain the horror.

Last edited 8 months ago by SmallDarkCloud