artwork by Anne Yvonne Gilbert for The Folio Society’s edition of The Vampyre and Other Macabre Tales by John William Polidori
NAKED LUNCH // Aesthetics
Hey, there. Thanks for the question. It’s one that I get every few weeks/months and that I’m happy to respond to whenever I catch some time. I always start off by linking to previous responses and then see if I have anything to add or to clarify: (right-click and open in a new tab if they give you trouble)
- this response is related, specifically, to The Whisperer in Darkness and is fairly recent; it also addresses a couple of broader issues and refers the asker to the HPLHS as a (good) resource
- this link takes you to a response specifically related to Lovecraft adaptations, with a discussion of Cosmic Horror, in general, as well
- this is a link to a movie list on Letterboxd that contains both adaptations and Cosmic Horror recs/favorites (examples of pastiche, integration of elements without unity, etc.)
- this list on Letterboxd contains many Lovecraft adaptations (both good and bad). If you click the “Read Notes” option at the top, you’ll see that I’ve noted the ones I like/think are better films
from The Lurking Fear (1994)
Now, by way of additions and/or clarifications, I guess I would add that these are certainly personal preferences, albeit ones anchored in my own personal set of criteria. When I’m judging these things, I like to consider how “close” to the text they are, obviously (fidelity, in other words), if they’re claiming to be adaptations; however, I’m not overly concerned with what I’ve heard called “purity.” Dagon (2001) by Stuart Gordon, for example, is clearly more of an adaptation of The Shadow Over Innsmouth than its eponym; and, even so, it’s still pretty far afield from Lovecraft’s story. That doesn’t make it any less enjoyable, in my view. Most of Gordon’s movies are packed with gore and sex (sex that is profoundly alien to HPL’s fiction), but they’re still a good time. I’d rather focus on how well a movie uses the Mythos for its own story’s development (beyond the pastiche that gets mentioned a lot when discussing sub-par Mythos fiction, etc.), how knowledgeable the creator seems to be of the Mythos they’re manipulating, and then on to all of the basic stuff I enjoy seeing in my Cosmic Horror, Lovecraftian or otherwise: de-centering of Human existence/relevance; “big” perspective/events of larger consequence (rather than, say, individual/personal drama, personal losses or fear); elements of the unexplained/able; elements of the Weird (resisting the urge to over-explain or provide simple solutions, veiling, that sort of thing); and, finally, a relatively unhappy ending of some sort.
from The Haunted Palace (1963)
For the folks who don’t want to visit any of the older links, here are five+ “Lovecraftian” productions that usually make my rec list. Again, these may not be straight-on/close to the text adaptations but still fairly faithful in terms of their integration of Mythos elements and Cosmicism as a sort of philosophical approach to Horror. These exclude the non-Mythos works of CH, though:
- Dagon 2001
- Necronomicon 1993
- The Whisperer in Darkness 2011
- The Dunwich Horror 1970
- Pickman’s Model (from Night Gallery): here’s a link to the episode
- If you can track it down, there’s an episode of the 80s revival of The Twilight Zone that adapts Stephen King’s story, Gramma. The King story involves Hastur and most tie it to The Thing on the Doorstep, although I consider it to be its own beast altogether. The adaptation for the 80s TZ was written by Harlan Ellison, so lots of big named Lovecraftians anchored into that. Here’s a link to the 80s TZ wiki entry.
For many, many more, see that Letterboxd List mentioned above (and view the notes/click the orange box). Additionally, here is a link to a list of selections from Mike Davis. I assume most Lovecraft fans are already familiar with Lovecraft eZine, but he has great taste, of course, and that’s a good resource for this sort of thing. If you dare to dip into the comments section there, you’ll see that everybody and their uncle has suggestions, too. It’s the nature of the ‘community’ to be fairly critical for various reasons/in general, so take just about any list with a grain of salt, including mine.
Finally, the fact that you’re already aware, it seems, of how many terrible attempts at adaptation are out there tells me you’re approaching this with the right kind of mindset. I say that with affection for the content, too, since if the road a Horror fan walks is paved with bad movies, the Lovecraft lane of it is a particularly dark and rocky one. 😀
Weird Fiction is tough to adapt to film, so I think it’s reasonable to be a little less, well, stringent with standards while viewing.
I hope this is useful in some way. Have a nice weekend and thanks for following.