Any horror fans worth their salt knows of the prolific writings of H. P. Lovecraft and his influence on the genre. The man’s writings are so famous he has his own specific genre of horror named after him, Lovecraftian horror/cosmic horror, which delves into the fear of the unknown and the fragility of the human mind in the face the vastness of the cosmos or events beyond our comprehension. His influence can be seen across all mediums of arts and entertainment and has influenced writers, directors and artists such as Stephen King, H. R. Giger, Alan Moore and John Carpenter.
When it comes to adapting his style of horror, the well of quality Lovecraftian films is quite shallow. This can be attributed to the scope of his novels, especially the Cthulhu Mythos which focuses on monstrous gods and other plains of existence which would require a significant budget and trust from a big studio for a niche group. Also, cosmic horror and madness are difficult subjects to adapt and convey on screen which requires a talented director who understands the material (just give Del Toro the green light for At the Mountains of Madness, please).
Thankfully, we’ve collected a list of what we believe are the best Lovecraftian films. This list will focus on feature-length films, so short films will be excluded (we are planning a dedicated article for them). The key word here is Lovecraftian so some films on the list will not be direct adaptations but rather narratives that benefit from cosmic horror. Also, Lovecraft does not just equal tentacles, so some of these films might not bear much connection to the Cthulhu Mythos. While we have our list of what we deem the best Lovecraftian films, we will list a few other reasonably decent Lovecraft films at the end for fans to check out.
From Beyond (1986)
From Beyond is a direct adaptation of the short story of the same name about a scientist who creates a device that stimulates the pineal gland in the brain and allows him to see other twisted realities. From Beyond is a collaboration of several Lovecraftian enthusiasts in the industry; director Stuart Gordon has regularly adapted Lovecraft’s stories as well as producer Brian Yuzna with actor Jeffrey Combs starring in plenty of his own film adaptations. It’s a campy, gory and absolutely bonkers product of its time that has as much fun with Lovecraft’s material as it can.
The Resurrected (1991)
It’s pretty crazy to think Dan O’Bannon only ever directed two horror films in his career. The Alien writer made his mark on the horror genre further with his directorial debut, Return of the Living Dead, but his follow up film is far less known. The Resurrected was shamefully only green-lighted as a direct to video release because it’s one of my favourite direct adaptations of Lovecraft’s writing, specifically The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. While set in the contemporary time of the early ’90s, The Resurrected is an incredibly faithful adaptation that doesn’t skip out on the gore and terrifying visuals.
The Endless (2018)
Not their first time to feature on this list, indie directors, Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead are responsible for some of the best Lovecraftian films made to date. What’s most interesting about their style is that it brings in fear of the unknown and cosmic horror on a micro-budget with a more personal feel. Their primary characters are always the focus and it’s their perception of Lovecraftian themes that sell the films and not necessarily the events. The Endless is their most recent film and a must see for any Lovecraft enthusiast who loves the cosmic existential themes of his stories.
The Mist (2007)
This is actually an adaptation of a Stephen King novella, but the Lovecraftian ties and visuals are pretty obvious. It’s a story about other dimensions, otherworldly monsters, and the descent of the human condition within a shopping mall. The Mist has become a bit of a cult classic and any horror fans who’ve seen it can’t recommend it enough, especially considering its pitch black ending that even King preferred over his own. For Lovecraft fans, there’s so much here from awesome creature design to despicable characters who plant the seed of madness all in this sample group of shoppers.
When Oscar-winning director and Lovecraft superfan, Guillermo Del Toro, comes out gushing about your film, it’s pretty safe to say you’ve hit the mark. Such was the case for Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, who feature a second time on this list with their bizarre romantic horror film, Spring. This is perhaps the most personal and contained Lovecraftian tale, but its concept is brilliant and really brings the horror writer’s material into a new genre and contemporary tale.
While based on the novel of the same name, it’s hard not to draw similarities of both the novel and the film’s themes to one of Lovecraft’s most famous stories, The Colour Out of Space. Whether intentional or not, Alex Garland’s film is a beautiful and terrifying film that encompasses cosmic horror. From themes of self-destruction to otherworldly visuals, to a terrifying mutant bear, Annihilation is the best adaptation of true cosmic horror this decade.
The Thing (1982)
While it has never been explicitly stated that The Thing has a direct H. P. Lovecraft influence from the director (it’s based on the novel Who Goes There?), the film has been held in high regards by Lovecraft fans for its similarities to the writer’s style. The Thing is a master craft in tension and paranoia, but it’s the slipping into insanity for each character that screams Lovecraftian horror. Also, the disgusting, ever-evolving gelatinous mass that sprouts tentacles kind of helps as well.
In The Mouth of Madness (1995)
While there is absolutely no debate against the fact that The Thing is the better Carpenter film, In the Mouth of Madness is easily my favourite Lovecraft film ever to grace the silver screen. This largely due to Carpenter’s understanding of Lovecraft’s material beyond just otherworldly creatures, not that their appearance in this film isn’t greatly appreciated. Instead, it’s the descent into madness for Sam Neill’s sceptical protagonist that really embraces the Lovecraftian horror as his sense of reality crumbles in front of his eyes. In The Mouth Of Madness is not a direct adaptation, but rather a love letter to the famous horror writer.
Check out our recent article, The Best Lovecraftian Films Part II.
The Whisperer in Darkness (2011),
Castle Freak (1995),