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

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Nick Storm

Very few 'films' translate to 'Lovecraftian' and it *should* be due to how the old boy himself, felt about film not being suitable or effective to capture his work correctly.

 

'Dagon', is just not really a good film.

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eternalchampion

No, I think “Martyrs†is not Lovecraftian. It is also a quite bad film, a real torturing for the viewer, which in the end I found very boring and unconvincing. When the guys of the “cult†appeared towards the end and the explanation, blah, blah, blah, for what was happening was given I was not convinced at all. To be honest I have almost forgotten it since I found it insignificant, but here goes...

 

There are no higher powers, no otherworldly creatures apart from delusions; there is no reference to a cold and inhuman universe. There is only a group of aging people that want to hear from God, even though most of them are really close to meet Him, by conducting gruesome experiments on young and beautiful women. What does the woman say at the end? It can be nothing, it can be anything. It can be “I see Godâ€, “you are going to hellâ€, “I am one with the Cosmic Mind nowâ€, “switch off that ceiling light, it blinds meâ€, or something in Aklo. It can be Lovecraftian only if we want it to be.

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yronimoswhateley

I don't know, I actually enjoy Dagon, From Beyond, Re-Animator, The Unnameable, and the rest of those sleazy 1970s-1990s exploitation takes on Lovecraft's material, even while granting that Lovecraft is probably rolling in his grave over them. I was mortified by the whole thing the first time I saw Re-Animator, but I've warmed up to it a bit since then, as a sort of over-the-top extension of the foundations laid by Hammer films and Roger Corman's American International Pictures; one of those "necessary(?) evils" that seem to come as part of the genre's unfortunate baggage, along with the "racism", misanthropy, gynophobia, and general xenophobia found in much of the original fiction. In many ways, Dagon (2010) was one of the more faithful adaptations of this sort, in spite of the setting being transferred to modern-day Spain from the story's 1920s New England.

 

On the other hand, the degree to which a film is faithful to its source material is not necessarily the same as whether or not it's a good or even I film, and I do make an effort to try to make that clear with my ad-hoc rating system: it's not intended to be a measure of the film's quality as a work of art or entertainment.

 

Ultimately, though, the most faithful adaptations of Lovecraft's stories that I've seen have been those little do-it-yourself art film projects made by fans, for fans, with a couple of the films made by the HPLHS being some of the bigger-budgeted examples (there have been many, many more or less faithful do-it-yourself, short-subject adaptations of "The Outsider", "The Music of Eric Zann", "The Statement of Randolph Carter", and "From Beyond" over the years, and a couple of the many I've actually seen have even been both good and faithful!)

 

In any case, thanks to the feedback and debate in this and other threads, I think I've been able to describe the handles from Martyrs, Under the Skin, Europa Report, and The VVitch that individual viewers might find "Lovecraftian" enough to make the effort of mentioning and defending these films as "Lovecraftian film suggestions", so that other viewers, commentators, critics, researchers, etc. can make more informed decisions when bundling up a handful of "Lovecraftian" films for whatever different reasons they have. When it comes to these "One-Tentacle Films", I think it'll be a lot easier to decide whether or not to ignore these films, based on whether or not those handles seem convincingly "Lovecraftian enough".

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Nick Storm

Chris, 

 

Have you selected a criteria or a rating system for films / media - 'Lovecraftian' ? I have the doc that you and I collaborated on, and I increased it's points to an even ten, for ease of use. 

 

Currently I have the following films rated for 'Lovecraftian' merit and construction:

 

The Mist – 2.5 out of 10

The Thing – 4.5

Event Horizon – 6.5

The Ninth Gate – 3.0

At the Mouth of Madness – 5.0

The Fifth Element – 4.5

 

Granted, the criteria and rating is pretty durn hard, but that satisfies my idea of what the old gentleman would have in mind, anyway. I'd love to see a 7 to 9, and btw, of course HPLHS stuff would naturally be high end, as it's so faithful.

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DAR

I don't know, I actually enjoy Dagon, From Beyond, Re-Animator, The Unnameable, and the rest of those sleazy 1970s-1990s exploitation takes on Lovecraft's material, even while granting that Lovecraft is probably rolling in his grave over them. I was mortified by the whole thing the first time I saw Re-Animator, but I've warmed up to it a bit since then, as a sort of over-the-top extension of the foundations laid by Hammer films and Roger Corman's American International Pictures; one of those "necessary(?) evils" that seem to come as part of the genre's unfortunate baggage, along with the "racism", misanthropy, gynophobia, and general xenophobia found in much of the original fiction. In many ways, Dagon (2010) was one of the more faithful adaptations of this sort, in spite of the setting being transferred to modern-day Spain from the story's 1920s New England.

 

On the other hand, the degree to which a film is faithful to its source material is not necessarily the same as whether or not it's a good or even I film, and I do make an effort to try to make that clear with my ad-hoc rating system: it's not intended to be a measure of the film's quality as a work of art or entertainment.

 

Ultimately, though, the most faithful adaptations of Lovecraft's stories that I've seen have been those little do-it-yourself art film projects made by fans, for fans, with a couple of the films made by the HPLHS being some of the bigger-budgeted examples (there have been many, many more or less faithful do-it-yourself, short-subject adaptations of "The Outsider", "The Music of Eric Zann", "The Statement of Randolph Carter", and "From Beyond" over the years, and a couple of the many I've actually seen have even been both good and faithful!)

 

In any case, thanks to the feedback and debate in this and other threads, I think I've been able to describe the handles from Martyrs, Under the Skin, Europa Report, and The VVitch that individual viewers might find "Lovecraftian" enough to make the effort of mentioning and defending these films as "Lovecraftian film suggestions", so that other viewers, commentators, critics, researchers, etc. can make more informed decisions when bundling up a handful of "Lovecraftian" films for whatever different reasons they have. When it comes to these "One-Tentacle Films", I think it'll be a lot easier to decide whether or not to ignore these films, based on whether or not those handles seem convincingly "Lovecraftian enough".

 

There is something like a intersection of matrices to examine.

 

1- How faithful to Lovecraftian elements tropes is it (GOO's, specific eldritch tomes, etc)

2- Is it a riff on a explicitly Lovecraft(ian) text.

3- Is it faithful to Lovecraftian themes (nihilism, insignificance of humanity, etc)

4- Is it horrifying, scary, evoking of dread, etc?

 

Some people will consider some elements more important than others, or may simply prefer some as the mood strikes them. There's enough to Re-Animator that when I want a beer and pretzels, sexploitation evening of fun with a Lovecraft twist I'm happy to watch it, but if I want to watch something that makes me genuinely uncomfortable at times and is somewhat more thoughtful in evoking some Lovecraftian themes and tropes then I (might) watch Martyrs. Something in the middle and I'll be watching In the Mouth of Madness or Season 1 of True Detective.

 

​​Personally, when I want Lovecraftian horror I'm far less worried about an explicit Lovecraft reference (though it is sure nice when it happens) than I am for a movie that that conveys a certain emotional mood and sense of "things are wrong" - it's usually not hard to "read in" some Lovecraft at that point if I'm looking for inspiration.

 

D.

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DAR

As an aside, the Netflix film Spectral was just brought up on the DGML and I commented that it was more scifi than horror - and thus somewhat misses the mark as "a DG Op" - so perhaps that is what is needed is a side category of "not explicitly Lovecraftian but easily mineable" - and this is where films like Spectral and Martyrs would fit? I mean, I still think Martyrs is quite Lovecraftian for the reasons I've stated above, but I also understand the argument that it doesn't hold any explicit Lovecraftian reference - which is a real sticking point for some purists.

 

Unlike say, Chronicles of a Ghostly Tribe which I also watched the other night which also fails on the "explicit Lovecraftian element" but which has enough of the right tacit elements (ancient civilizations, aliens, monsters, a Chinese "Delta Green", etc) that I think some or most people would be ok with saying it's would fit somewhere on the scale.

 

D.

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yronimoswhateley

I actually find a lot of those old paranoid 1950s-era "saucer" movies to be more likely to hit most of the right "Lovecraftian" notes for me than most of the usual recommendations of Lovecraft movies; things like Village of the Damned, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Day of the Triffids, Invaders from Mars, The Quatermass Xperiment, Quatermass II, and so on.  But, as always, your mileage may vary; such films end up rating really low on my scale so I guess that's fair enough.

 

I generally weighted my scale in favor of movies based explicitly on Lovecraft's stories, with more points going into them depending on how many other stereotypically "Lovecraftian" things can be found in them besides (the unearthly and weird mood, the tentacles or freakish monsters, the "Yog-Sothothry" of references to the Necronomicon and other bits from the standard Lovecraft tool-kit); I guess the scale would tend to favor the "purist" notion of what a "proper" Lovecraft film should be, but I still prefer the stuff that ranks low on the scale.

 

In any event, at this point, I can't really complain about something like Martyrs or Under the Skin after I've subjected myself in the name of completism to shuddersome dreck like Killer Rack, Call Girl of Cthulhu, The Halfway House, Succubus AKA Necronomicon: Sinful Dreams (1968), The Tomb (2007).... (no offense to fans of these movies, but they're definitely and decidedly not my cup of "Lovecraftian" tea!)

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Dante7

Guyver was mentioned earlier. While it's kind of biotech Ultraman in a way, the background mythology involves ancient unknowable aliens having created and then tinkered with humanity. All humans have the potential to turn in to monsters called Zoanoids, of which there are many types and several classifications, and there's an evil organization that also creates minions by activating that potential and also seeks out ancient sites linked with the aliens. The Guyver symbiotic armours worn mostly by the protagonists were originally designed as superweapons by the aliens, and the leave after Guyver 0 rebels against them at some point in the distant primordial past.

 

I like to imagine the aliens as Elder Things, myself. :)


I actually find a lot of those old paranoid 1950s-era "saucer" movies to be more likely to hit most of the right "Lovecraftian" notes for me than most of the usual recommendations of Lovecraft movies; things like Village of the Damned, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Day of the Triffids, Invaders from Mars, The Quatermass Xperiment, Quatermass II, and so on.  But, as always, your mileage may vary; such films end up rating really low on my scale so I guess that's fair enough.

 

The Quatermass movies especially, doubly so for Quatermass and The Pit.

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Dante7

A few films classified as Lovecraftian, but in my opinion, that's a YMMV thing, they may be superfically Lovecraftian at best. Feel free to disagree with me, but please cite exactly why, as i'm keen to gain more insight.

 

Equinox is considered Lovecraftian by some, I see it more as the ancestor of The Evil Dead, despite the giant tentacled creepy and tome of eldritch lore. 

 

The Maze also gets classified as Lovecraftian, it's a decent slow-burn involving recessive genetics causing a member of a bloodline to regress in to amphibian form- could be a Deep One of sorts.

 

Curse of the Blue Lights- ghouls try to resurrect a primordial humanoid who once ruled part of the Earth. Perhaps a Lovecraftian premise in a shallow sort of way, but executed *very* poorly. More an ultra low-budget schlock flick. 

 

The Attic Expeditions. Yeah, there's a mad doctor played by Jeffrey Combs seeking a tome, and there's some cool madness and reality-warping stuff going on, but the film doesn't come off as coherent enough to make any kind of judgement on it in terms of plot or theme (something that, per a FB exchange with him, the director essentially agrees with me on, interestingly enough)

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yronimoswhateley

I've always been fond of Equinox - I saw that, The Keep, and a relatively unknown little comedy movie called Saturday the 14th at about the same time back in the very early 1980s, and together they redefined horror and fantasy for me:  vaguely-defined monsters, strange and ancient buildings, portals to other worlds, gigantic and mysterious tomes marked in strange and arcane symbols and kept by mad hermits, weird magic....  I grew up on horror movies and my parents loved them, but I think my parents' taste in horror tended to run more toward the more traditional Gothic horror monsters (Universal and Hammer Frankenstein and Dracula), haunted houses, and 1950s sci-fi/horror.  My enthusiasm for movies like Equinox caused my parents to suggest that I read some H.P. Lovecraft stories and get me one of those old paperback collections with the beautiful, surreal, grey-and-red Michael Whelan illustrations on the front.  So, for me, any self-respecting list of "Lovecraftian" films should include Equinox, if only because, in addition to its heavy use of charming stop-motion-fueled stock cosmic horror cliches, and being my "gateway drug" into Lovecraft's fiction, it also includes a Lovecraftian curiosity in the form of a character played by Lovecraft's friend and fellow Weird fiction writer, Fritz Leiber....

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Dante7

I've always been fond of Equinox - I saw that, The Keep, and a relatively unknown little comedy movie called Saturday the 14th at about the same time back in the very early 1980s, .  

 

And, of course, The Keep is an adaptation of a book that went on to become part of F. Paul Wilson's Lovecraftian Adversary Cycle...

 

I grew up on horror movies and my parents loved them, but I think my parents' taste in horror tended to run more toward the more traditional Gothic horror monsters (Universal and Hammer Frankenstein and Dracula), haunted houses, and 1950s sci-fi/horror. 

 

 My enthusiasm for movies like Equinox caused my parents to suggest that I read some H.P. Lovecraft stories and get me one of those old paperback collections

 

My dad is a great fan of the old Universal horror films, so it's kind of his fault I became a rabid horror fan (a similar thing happened with my love for comics, my dad saw them as the successors to the pulps he read growing up).  I got turned on to HPL when my parents accidentally bought me CoC miniatures instead of D&D miniatures one year as an Xmas present and I became fascinated with them and wanted to know more.

 

with the beautiful, surreal, grey-and-red Michael Whelan illustrations on the front. 

 

I do love those.

 

So, for me, any self-respecting list of "Lovecraftian" films should include Equinox, if only because, in addition to its heavy use of charming stop-motion-fueled stock cosmic horror cliches, and being my "gateway drug" into Lovecraft's fiction, it also includes a Lovecraftian curiosity in the form of a character played by Lovecraft's friend and fellow Weird fiction writer, Fritz Leiber....

 

Equinox would qualify, and I do like the film, I just think that it's more an Evil Dead precursor then Lovecraftian, but still Lovecraftian nonetheless, just perhaps less so than a number of later films, yet certainly still quite so for the time that it was made.  

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yronimoswhateley

Equinox really does resemble The Evil Dead a lot - someone out there has a blog website where they compared several shots side-by-side of the two films, and those shots really are remarkably (suspiciously?) similar; apparently the folks who made The Evil Dead claimed they hadn't seen Equinox first, but I think anyone could be forgiven for taking that claim with a grain of salt.  (Not to imply that The Evil Dead is a rip-off of the earlier film - they're both still very different and original movies....)

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Aklo

What about the somewhat recent "Kubrickian" film Under the Skin. Lovecraftian or no?

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yronimoswhateley

We actually tossed "Under the Skin" around a bit in the first couple posts of this discussion, and someone must have convinced me that it rated a minimal-level ("mineable for ideas") rating, as I eventually added it to the bottom of my "Lovecraftian" film list. 

 

However, my short review/justification of the "Lovecraftian" content mostly references only the dreamlike quality of the film as something of interest to viewers who find that sort of thing reminds them of some form of Weird horror (there's still lots of room in the wiki for other folks to add better details!), so it doesn't hurt to revisit the Lovecraftian pros and cons of "Under the Skin".

 

And, I personally have been finding the "what does 'Lovecraftian' mean to you" discussions that result from such questions to be quite interesting and mind-opening:  it's usually fascinating to see all the different impressions that Lovecraft's work leaves on different fans.

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yronimoswhateley

That looks like a great resource, especially for those short films!

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yronimoswhateley

Resurrecting this thread again, for the ghoulish* 1968 Mexican sci-fi/horror film series that includes Alien Terror, which Yankee Classic Miskatonic University Lovecraftian Filmography describes as:

 

"[Alien Terror is] Believed by some to be based on The Whisperer in Darkness"

 

* Note:  Alien Terror was one of four ultra-low-budget Mexican horror films finished in 1971 using footage recorded by the ailing and agonized Boris Karloff in 1968 as a favor to the film-makers just before he died; the four films share the same directors, writers, producers, cast, crew, sets, effects, and Boris Karloff content, but don't have much else in common except for alleged ties to Lovecraft and Poe stories.

 

The complete film series and its alternate titles include:

  • Invasión Siniestra (1968), AKA The Incredible Invasion (1971), Alien Terror, Sinister Invasion 
    (A professor and his helper must stop a killer, the byproduct of a sinister invasion triggered by the professor's experiments with an atomic ray.)
  • La Muerte Viviente (1968), AKA Snake People (1971), Island of the Snake People, Cult of the Dead, Isle of the Living Dead
    (An evil scientist and a sinister dwarf command a veritable army of LSD-crazed voodoo zombies.)
  • La cámara del Terror (1968), AKA Fear Chamber (1971), Chamber of Fear, The Torture Chamber, Torture Zone
    (A doctor finds a living rock and feeds it hormones from frightened young women.)
  • Serenata Macabra (1968), AKA Dance of Death (1971), Macabre Serenade, House of Evil
    (Relatives of a recently-deceased man meet at his eerie castle for a reading of the will, and encounter a piano-playing toy maker and his deadly dancing toys.)

 

 

I'm hoping that someone out there can help clarify the "believed by some to be based on Whisperer in Darkness" comment:  I finally got my hands on a copy of the film and I've just watched it, and the only possible connection I can think of is that they've both got aliens (alien fungi from Yuggoth on one hand, and some blond-haired-blue-dyed dufus in a metallic leisure suit with a flying saucer on the other, which could make E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial an even more faithful adaptation of Whisperer in Darkness...)  My best guess is that some author of a "Lovecraft Filmography" somewhere slipped that into their film list to catch plagiarists who might copy-and-paste the list without any original research?

 

In a similar vein, supposedly, Fear Chamber is based on a Lovecraft story, too, but I can't make any connection there, either.

 

Also, any insights on how Dance of Death from the same film series is based on Edgar Allan Poe would help me sleep a little better, because I don't understand that connection, either, and, unlike the Lovecraft comments, that writing credit seems to have come from the film-makers themselves. 

 

At a stretch, Snake People has some superficial similarities to Lovecraft's "Herbert West: Re-Animator" on paper, and that's the strongest resemblance i noticed, but as far as I know, I'm the only one to have made that leap - that's the closest I've been able to come to making a connection between any of these four films and either Lovecraft or Poe.

 

 

In short, I didn't think any of the four films were especially "Lovecraftian", and I have no idea where the original comparison came from or how it could be justified, so I've come to YSDC for help.  As always, the insights and wisdom of the members of this site are greatly appreciated!

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