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yronimoswhateley

Is this film "Lovecraftian" to you? - the "Because I Don't Get It" edition

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yronimoswhateley

Help!

 

First, some background:

 

 

I've been working a bit on a list of "Lovecraftian" movies, with an eye partly towards those films that might make useful resources for keepers to home-brew Call of Cthulhu scenarios with, and some of my favorite resources are those discussions that turn up from time to time where folks recommend some typically off-beat films for the category.

 

Often I can see where the person making the film recommendation is coming from, and once or twice I ended up being one of the few people I know of to actually justify the description of "Lovecraftian". 

 

Once in a while, though, I see a recommendation, and I just don't get it, no matter how hard I try to give it a chance.

 

 

 

So, I'm asking for help from you, dear readers, to help me figure it out: can you think of any Lovecraft elements or themes to the films in this thread?

 

 

For my first "I don't get it" film,

  • Under the Skin (2013):  "Disguising herself as a human female, an extraterrestrial (Scarlett Johansson) drives around Scotland and tries to lure unsuspecting men into her van."  (trailer)

I don't get the "Lovecraftian" recommendation.  I watched the film last night and this morning, and after trying my best to see some "Lovecraftian" angle, I just couldn't think of anything.  My best effort at justifying the recommendation:

 

I suppose some parallel could be made to "The Outsider"?  There's even a scene or two with a mirror that might parallel Lovecraft's short story, if I think about it too hard.  Maybe the recommendation is based on an alienation theme or something?

 

 

Without a little TLC from anyone who finds it "Lovecraftian", I'll just drop it in a reject pile, and I kind of feel bad doing that without understanding the point of view of someone who might recommend it.  (Don't worry, I'm not here to put anyone on the spot, there are no wrong answers, I'm just genuinely curious about the justification.)

 

What do you think?  Would anyone like to take a stab at putting a Lovecraft spin on this film for me? 

 

 

Alternatively, have you seen any supposedly "Lovecraftian" film reccomendations that just didn't remind you of Lovecraft in any way at all?  Which films were they?

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Tony Williams

I'm mid-way through "Under the Skin" at the moment, so can't comment on the whole.

 

MEGA SPOLERS...

 

I'm upto where she lures the second man "into the black" and he sees the remains of the first man.

 

Personally I'd say it wasn't made to be Lovecraftian or presented as such but I think you could certainly put a Lovecraftian spin onto it.

 

e.g. Her biker accomplice is a human cultist helping her. She's a mi-go clothed in a human identity ( she takes on the clothes of the first victim ). She needs human sacrifices which she lures into the black lake. The whole black lake thing is so weird ( nice special effects ) as to be beyond human ken. I don't know how it ends yet but there might be more connections one could make. The black lake stuff feels to me like some sort of super science we don't understand rather than "magic" and that is very Lovecraftian.

 

So, in summary, It wasn't made as a Lovecraftian film but it can be painted as such.

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eternalchampion

I agree with Tony that certainly the film was not made to be Lovecraftian. However the character is weird enough and her "lake" is really haunting, but whatever she is towards the end of the film she begins to feel something like emotions and begins to connect with human aspects, she begins maybe to question her self. All these are not Lovecraftian. "Species" is more Lovecraftian in that sense.

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Aklo

Agreed, while I did like the film when I first saw it, not as interesting the second time around, i don't see the Lovecraftian angle, and I've had multiple people, websites, and articles recommend it as such.

 

Its a meditation on the loneliness of Humanity certainly, but I find that a far cry from the essential Lovecraftian feel.

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Tony Williams

P.S. It's free on Amazon Prime in the UK at the moment.

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yronimoswhateley

Thank you for the input, everyone!

 

I didn't even think of mentioning spoilers until Tony mentioned them - by its nature, this thread will be spoiler-heavy, and I should have mentioned it in the original post and will add it if I can still edit it.  If not, then it doesn't get any less spoiler-ific from here, sorry for anyone who hasn't seen some of these films!

 

On the plus side, I kind of liked things like that haunting black lake, and the white void near the beginning of the film, and the enigmatic introduction with bright lights and strange shapes floating in dark voids, the background music was fairly unearthly and the minimalist film-making was fairly disorienting.  In a way, the various human characters were enough of a cipher compared to the development we were given to the alien that the human characters seemed more alien than the alien did.

 

But, in the end, I just couldn't think of any way to put the pieces together and get a Lovecraftian theme out of it, without it feeling like a stretch.

 

If I were to include this in a list of "Lovecraftian" films based on that alone, I'd feel obligated to add "The Man Who Fell to Earth" and "2001:  A Space Odyssey", and although I think I might be able to spin a halfway convincing case for "2001...", there's a certain point beyond which only madness lay, and I'm skating too close to that point already with some of the film suggestions I have been including.

 

But, I'll leave the question open in case someone saw a subtle but convincing connection that I missed (which is entirely possible).

 

 

"Species" was a good comparison, actually, and strangely I didn't have that film on my "to do" list yet because I didn't think of it myself and none of the lists I used suggested it.  However, I can understand and get behind "Species" as a suggestion - beyond just the tentacles, as mentioned by eternalchampion the monster there was suitably indifferent to humanity beyond its value as Human Resources, there's the H.R. Giger character/set designs and special effects (from his Necronomicon art series/books, if I remember correctly), the way the alien was assembled in a lab with instructions from another world or another dimension which could be described as a sort of "piecing together of dissociated knowledge" opening up "terrifying vistas of reality" or in terms of an unearthly monster conjured up after delving too deeply into a sort of electronic or genetic forbidden tome, and from what I remember of the film and its sequels it had a sort of ready-made Delta Green plot to it with a cell of agents from various organizations trying to track the monster down before it's too late....

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Tony Williams

If it comes down to a black or white "yes/no" then I'd say "not Lovecraftian" to Under the Skin personally.

 

But if you have a "tangential" or "interpretive" category then I'd stick it in that.

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yronimoswhateley

CONTINUED:  Artemis 81

 

Hello again - I wanted to run this by the folks here in these forums - a British made-for-TV movie called Artemis 81; I've seen a couple recommendations for it as a "Lovecraftian" film, but I've never seen it all the way through, and from the little bit I have seen, it was difficult to grasp any particular "Lovecraftian" theme or philosophy in it. 

 

As near as i can tell, Artemis 81 is about an angel of light and an angel of darkness who are each trying to persuade a human artist to their point of view, which will determine whether or not an awakened beast of the apocalypse, "Magog", will destroy the Earth.  It apparently features a surrealist art/experimental angle to the storytelling, a lot of (often subtle) layers and references to other films and literature, and an infamously slow pace that made it all a bit hard for casual viewers to follow.

 

Artemis 81 is unlikely to be something I won't see all the way through any time soon, and I really haven't understood its recommendation as a "Lovecraftian" film based on the "Cliff Notes" descriptions I've seen, so hopefully someone here who has seen it and "gets it" can help describe its "Lovecraftian" elements for me - thank you in advance for any Lovecraftian light that any of you can shed on it for me, so I can understand the recommendation a little better!

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nclarke

It's got Ingrid Pitt and Sting in it, what's not to like.

 

It's out on DVD BTW for anyone interested there's also a book discussing the work.

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yronimoswhateley

Thank you, nclarke!   :)

 

I get the impression Artemis 81 is a "slow-burner", with an experimental streak through it, minimal hand-holding for the audience, and a plot involving weird pagan artifacts and travel between parallel dimensions - just the sort of thing that I would normally enjoy watching.  It's on my "to watch" list for viewing eventually, but I've got such a backlog of other things to do eventually, I have no idea when I'll get around to it!

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Aklo

Good luck with that one, Artemis 81 is the closest i've ever come to simply popping a DVD out and breaking the darn thing in half. I try to imagine it as something less pretentious or at the very least ponderous, but I've never gotten through the whole thing, I can only assume that it's "Lovecraftian" in the old, halfway through episode three your questioning your sanity at continuing to watch! kind of way...

 

(in all honestly half this post is hyperbole, but I do sincerely wonder how anyone would consider this thing Lovecraftian, it's just navel gazing if you ask me, half baked at that. I was very intrigued by the concept of the series and all, and I'm all for challenging concepts and 'difficult cinema'  but I don't feel this series even feels finished.)

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yronimoswhateley

Thank you, Aklo!

 

I glanced through it on YouTube, but don't have the time to watch it all the way through right now... it does seem to move pretty slowly, and I'd have to be in the right mood to invest any time in it anyway. 

 

Certainly, I didn't notice anything in skipping through it that stood out as "Lovecraftian" in any obvious sense, but maybe there are hidden depths that require more attention to reveal Lovecraftian qualities.

 

 

Anyone have any Lovecraftian thoughts on any of the following?

  • The Guyver (1991), and its sequels?  (I've never seen any of the films in this series; the descriptions didn't seem very Lovecraftian.)
  • Reign of Fire (2002) (I've never seen this, it's about dragons, right?)
  • Donnie Darko (2001) (I have seen this and enjoyed it, but I didn't get any sort of "Lovecraftian" vibe from it)
  • Virus (1999)  (I'm pretty sure I've seen this - I think it was like Alien, with robots?  If so, I don't get the connection....)
  • Martyrs (2008) (I've never seen this, but the descriptions I've read dismiss it as "torture porn", and aside from cultists being involved, I don't quite get the connection....)

 

I've seen these suggested on "Lovecraftian film" lists, and don't get the connection, but I'll consider including them in a master list of films if someone can...

 

A) Can make a minimal argument for a Lovecraftian connection of any sort - tentacles, atmosphere, themes, a momentary reference to the Necronomicon, a joke about Lovecraft, or something... or,

 

B] Can suggest a way to use it as inspiration for a Call of Cthulhu scenario.... or,

 

C) Can make the argument that the story is a variation on one of Lovecraft's stories (The Fog is arguably a variation on "The Doom that Came to Sarnath")... or,

 

D) Connect the films in some way with any of the Lovecraft circle (OK, I'm willing to include the Conan the Barbarian film series, Solomon Kane, The Twonky, or even Psycho in a Lovecraftian film list, under "of tangential interest", on that basis, if someone suggests including those films and explains such a connection....)

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Tony Williams

I've seen Martyrs and it's *not* Lovecraftian. It's also a very difficult film to watch with heavy violence done to 3 women ( I was wondering why I was carrying on watching ) but the denouement is quite a payoff.

 

If anyone says it's Lovecraftian then they don't know what that means.

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yronimoswhateley

When I start researching some of these suggestions, I can never really tell when someone's being a troll and suggesting a movie they know isn't "Lovecraftian" just to get a rise out of someone, or they don't know what they're talking about, or if they really do have a different insight on "Lovecraftian" that perhaps I'm not imaginative enough to grasp....  I try to err on the side of it being just a limitation of my insight or imagination, but, especially with films I've never seen, and without any further input from anyone who can make the connection, it's hard for me to even do that!

 

And that's just the easy stuff.  I'm really dreading the bit toward the end of the list of films, the Anime ghetto, where I've been shoving all the cartoons and Anime, because I know I'm out of my Weird-Japanese-Thing league there. 

 

  • Me:  "OK, what makes the Giant Planetary Defender Blade Girls GO!  series 'Lovecraftian'?" 
  • Anime Expert:  "Well, there's the character that appears in one frame of series four, Sailor Cthulhu...." 
  • Me:  "OK, he's like a monster or something?  Or at least a gaunt New England recluse with a fondness for architecture and genealogy who stumbles into cosmic horror while reading a diary or something?  Maybe he's got some dark genealogical secret, and his ancestry involves fungi from another planet, or radiate vegetables from the dawn of time, or creepy fish-men?  And he sails on a boat with a bunch of cultists?"
  • Anime Expert:  "No, of course not!  She's a school girl who wears a sailor suit, drives a giant robot to school, and kicks giant robot butt!"
  • Me:  "....Oh.  So, like, she goes to Miskatonic University?  There's like some sort of Gothic Horror thing going on?"
  • Anime Expert:  "Miska-what?  You mean the cat-girl?  That's a totally different Anime.  No, I'm talking about robot butt-kicking... a lot of robot butt-kicking.  And a talking koala bear."
  • Me:  "Talk... a Koala bear?"
  • Anime Expert:  "And the power of heart.  And she sings a cool J-Pop song, too!"
  • Me:  "Oh... OK, I get it!  And, that means she's called Sailor Cthulhu, because....   Wait, no I don't get it....  did you say 'cat-girl'?"

 

 

I'll really have to rely on the experts to guide me through the anime stuff, I'm afraid...

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DAR

I think the problem is trying to understand what "Lovecraftian" means is it "Call of Cthulhu" Lovecraftian? Is is "Strange Case of Dexter Ward" Lovecraftian? Or is it "The Outsider" Lovecraftian? Or "Dreamlands" Lovecraftian? The term itself, while evocative and useful, is also usable in a wide range of genres and themes.

 

So, Martyrs. Absolutely Lovecraftian, but in that New French Extremity Body Horror and Anti-Religion way - cult has figured out that martyrs can see the truth of the universe, so they decide to go about creating martyrs... There is a terrifying bit of "what is real" that also plays up the Lovecraftian vibe to the film. As opposed to Hostel and Saw which are not Lovecraftian in any particular way (even though you could probably get a terrifying DG scenario out of Hostel with a minimum of work) nor is something like Irreversible.

 

Reign of Fire? Yeah, I don't see it as very Lovecraftian. Sure there is "eldritch horrors out of time have awoken and rule the world" but it watches much more like a fantasy action-adventure novel than a horror novel. Kind of the same with Donnie Darko, I don't see that as Lovecraftian. Weird, sure, but weird doesn't automatically equal Lovecraft.

 

D.


FWIW, I could get on board with 2001 being a Lovecraftian film, there are certainly plenty of elements there, but I think that it is fundamentally too hopeful at the end to fit neatly into the category.

 

On that note, the Aliens films could fit (again, lots of elements work), while the Predator films do not.

 

D.

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yronimoswhateley

Thank you, DAR - that's exactly the sort of thing I would hope to see alongside a suggestion for an outside-the-box film suggestion! :)

 

 

 

And your first paragraph certainly articulates something I think I've been struggling to put into words - it's like Lovecraft was fluent in several different dialects of his "Weird Fiction", and fans of his work might be fluent in one or two or even three different ones, but few (if any) of us understand all of them, and certainly not as well as Lovecraft might have (his essay "Supernatural Horror in Literature" suggests just the tip of the iceberg of the variety of horror, science fiction, fantasy, and other stories that Lovecraft was at least familiar with enough to analyze it!)

 

Someone familiar mainly with "The Picture in the House", "The Lurking Fear", and "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" could be forgiven, I think, for finding The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) "More Lovecraftian" than The Call of Cthulhu (2005), while someone whose main experience with Lovecraft comes from The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath could be forgiven for finding John Carter (2012), The Beastmaster (1982), or perhaps Time Bandits (1981) "Lovecraftian", while yet another person whose experience with Lovecraft is limited to recognizing the iconic tentacled image of Cthulhu could be forgiven for finding Octaman (1971) and Tentacles (1971) "Lovecraftian".  Certainly, it should be easy to imagine that those three people would have a hard time getting on the same page with film suggestions to each other!

 

Since you mentioned 2001: A Space Odyssey, I could actually see that one as a "Lovecraftian film":  it has ancient astronauts meddling with human development, and man standing on the threshold of a vast outer darkness prowled by unseen beings of godlike power... the monolith is eerie, and those freakish sound effects and the avant-garde music make any scenes they appear in feel even less a part of any universe friendly to human beings; the fantastic psychedelic scene toward the end might be suggestive of the sort of sort of interdimensional travel experienced in "Dreams in the Witch House"... the ending might be taken as hopeful, but then again, it's ambiguous enough to have a more sinister side to it (from what I remember of the novels, there was certainly a sinister side to the gods' final message to man in 2001, such that it was more threatening than hopeful....)  I can also see 2001... being the sort of suggestion that viewers' will easily get different mileage from:  it's one of those that certainly make it to the debatable side of a spectrum that ranges from "Not Lovecraftian" up to "That Impossible Perfect Lovecraft Adaptation Where Someone Somehow Filmed the 'Unfilmable'"....

 

 

 

As a side note, as mentioned elsewhere, I've been rating these films on a rough scale of 0 to 5, with 0 being "not worth mentioning in a list of Lovecraftian films", 5 being that impossible, unfilmable adaptation, and the 3 in between being an unfaithful/inaccurate adaptation of a Lovecraft story or a really good imitation/pastiche of his work.  Perhaps surprisingly, I've actually been finding the film suggestions that I would rate a 2 (which includes Alien, Phantasm, The Evil Dead, Event Horizon, and The Thing, for examples), and even a few of those "don't fit neatly in the category" 1's, to be the most interesting to me, in what they reveal about what other viewers and I myself see in the Rorshach ink-blot test of Lovecraft's stories....

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DAR

I think that there is also a divide in many viewers and readers among films or stories with overtly supernatural elements (Hellraiser for example), the science fiction horror (Carpenter's The Thing), and the mundanely horrific (Martyrs) - all three of these films are potentially viewable and interpretable as Lovecraftian. But when there is a lack of overtly fantasy of scifi elements there is a tendency to shy away from the term Lovecraftian.

 

Though shows like True Detective show that even with a minimum of the supernatural it can work well.

 

D.

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Tony Williams

MEGA SPOILERS for film Martyrs...

 

So, Martyrs. Absolutely Lovecraftian, but in that New French Extremity Body Horror and Anti-Religion way - cult has figured out that martyrs can see the truth of the universe, so they decide to go about creating martyrs... There is a terrifying bit of "what is real" that also plays up the Lovecraftian vibe to the film. 

 

I have to disagree - there is nothing "Lovecraftian" in Martyrs ( other than a cult, but I don't think "one cult Lovecraftian makes" )

 

Seeing the "truth of the universe" could possibly be considered Lovecraftian, but we are not shown/told what that truth is as viewers - it could involve God, Allah, no god whatsoever or something else entirely. There is definitely no pointer towards GOOs in the film and no evidence of where the film's cult came up with this method ( such as a dusty old "Lovecraftian" book ). 

 

You might want to say that the film is very nihilistic which is the closest to Lovecraftian I'd say it comes to.

 

But then I'd argue that one interpretation ( of many the ending could have ) is that the heroine's soul is assumpted and there is a very traditional judeo-christian heaven to which it has gone to be "with God" and her body tells the cult leader that she is doomed to hell for what she has done to countless girls. And because I'm talking lots of Christianity in that paragraph - I don't think that interpretation is AT ALL Lovecraftian.

 

If you need some form of adjective, yronimos, I'd say it's "interpretational" as Lovecraftian ( if you want it to be ). So I'd give it a 1 on your scale.

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DAR

I have to disagree - there is nothing "Lovecraftian" in Martyrs ( other than a cult, but I don't think "one cult Lovecraftian makes" )

 

We shall have to agree to disagree, I see it as Lovecraftian in vein of The Picture in the House, and while there is certainly no GOO, I think the collection of pictures of martyrs in their final moments of ekstasis is a suitable stand-in for "dusty old book". I certainly don't think that there was any attempt to make a Lovecraftian film here, I just think that it can be watched and interpreted through that lens without much of a stretch.

 

Heck, if you need a GOO, a cult, and/or a dusty old book I'm not sure how much Lovecraftian fiction there is out there aside from pastiches and fanfic. Derleth is more Lovecraftian than Lovecraft in that case... :? 

 

D.

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johnmcfloss

It strikes me that it ticks the "could this be a CoC adventure box" pretty neatly - Delta Green investigating people snatched off the streets, because a cult has realised this is the best way to commune with their GOO of choice, but none of them are willing to sacrifice themselves to do so.

 

But I'm not sure that makes it Lovecraftian in-and-of itself, but I'm struggling to put into words why - it's possibly to Visceral, or too focused on a single individual's importance. It feels too personal, I think - too much emphasis placed on this one person, and in doing so loses the idea that ultimately, we don't really matter one way or the other.

If the focus was on someone outside, investigating what had happened, I might feel it fits a lot better.

 

(But, I appreciate, these same complaints could probably be used to talk about Shadow Over Insmouth. I guess Your Lovecraftian May Vary).

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Aklo

Personally, I can understand how Martyrs ends up on "Lovecraftian" lists more so than the others. Understand that, sadly, the term Lovecraftian on the internet means basically "transgressive" or "uncomfortable" horror. The imagery, from the cult activities, the pictures of the other Martyrs, and the unfulfilling, even nihilistic ending checks all the boxes the uninformed media pundits, especially here in the West check when using the term. (albeit incorrectly)

 

I personally agree with DAR's original interpretation that the film's talk of transcendence coupled with its unflinching depiction, and languid pacing make it at least a 1 or a 2 on yronimoswhateley's scale, but it bears little in common with HPL's work or writing.

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Tony Williams

The sad thing about Martyrs is if you go in already knowing the ending (or even vaguely knowing the latter part of the plot) then the point of watching the film is null and void.

 

It takes the shift from what appears to be 40, or more, minutes pointless violence to women to the sudden shocking and otherworldy reason for same to give the viewer the visceral punch to the gut the ending gives. When watching I was getting disgusted with the film-makers and myself for indulging in such an ugly film and wondered what sickos on the internet had rated it so highly. Then the turning point came and I was hooked to the end.

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DAR

Hmmm... I think, upon retrospect, that I had a least a vague idea of the second act when I watched Martyrs, I wouldn't say that it ruined the film for me. I think that part of what makes this Lovecraftian is that violence is far from sexualized (which I was pleasantly surprised by), nor is it a T&A film despite some small bits of nudity. That's where films like Reanimator fall from Lovecraftian grace. I certainly laughed and gasped when watching them as a teenager, but now I'm more "meh" and I would rate them lower when it comes to being Lovecraftian in theme or essence despite being explicitly based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft.

 

Spoiler At End Of Paragraph (Don't Know How to Code That And There's No Button That I Could Find)

 

For me, Lovecraftian is more about a certain je ne sais quoi that captures a worldview and an attitude than explicitly including GOO's, dusty books, and academic investigators. I can certainly agree that films that include them belong in the Lovecraftian filmography, but I'll rate a Martyrs over a Reanimator much of the time. In Reanimator, when Halsey comes back from the dead, he just wants to tie up a girl naked and have sex with her, in Martyrs when Mademoiselle learns "the truth" she kills herself. Of the two, the latter is much more in tune with Lovecraft - for me at least.

 

D.

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Aklo

...wait DAR, by that logic do you not​ find the film Dagon Lovecraftian?

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DAR

Nah, it's Lovecraftian, I'll even say that Reanimator is Lovecraftian, I just find Martyrs more evoking of Lovecraftian themes that Reanimator. I'm not saying that a Lovecraftian film cannot have some humor or some T&A, but the style of humor and how the nudity is used have a significant impact for me on how I view the film.

 

So black/gallows humor over slapstick/wisecracking humor, dehumanizing/environmental nudity over gratuitous T&A - these are what detracts from the Lovecraftian sense in Reanimator. In fact, if you deleted the character/institution names, I don't think that Reanimator reads as very Lovecraftian at all.

 

D.

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