Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Thursday Thirteen: Lovecraft Media Adaptations

The Thursday Thirteen is a recurring feature here at Plan D in which I post a list of 13 items/movies/books/etc. of any given category. In honor of H. P. Lovecraft's birthday tomorrow, August 20th, I (in no particular order) present my Top 13 Lovecraftian Media Adaptations. (Of course, I reserve the right to change my mind tomorrow!)

1 - The Call of Cthulhu (based on the short story "The Call of Cthulhu" by H. P. Lovecract, film directed by Andrew Leman, 2005). Almost everything about this movie is spot-on perfect. Creating a film based on a short story that really wouldn't seem to lend itself well to any kind of adaptation would prove to be a disastrous experiment at best by some more established filmmakers, but the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society (and this isn't the first time that name is going to appear in this Thursday Thirteen) wisely chose to tell the tale as a silent film. This allowed for some stylistic choices to be made regarding how some of the more fantastical elements of the story would appear on screen, and it almost all works. My one gripe - and it's a minor gripe - is that for a silent film, the sound is awfully crisp and clear. That is, the accompanying score sounds more like a modern film score, and while this does fight the silent film illusion a LITTLE bit, it also allows us to enjoy a wonderful score by Troy Sterling Nies, Ben Holbrook, Nicholas Pavkovic and Chad Fifer, so I'm not going to complain too much.

2 - Re-Animator (based on the short story "Herbert West - Reanimator" by H. P. Lovecract, film directed by Stuart Gordon, 1985). Let's be honest - this is a terrible adaptation. The sex, the gore . . . it's not very Lovecraftian. That said, Re-Animator is a GLORIOUS film, elevating splatstick to an absurd level, having fun with the audience, the material and the cast. Jeffrey Combs deserves special mention as this movie wouldn't be what it is without his dry deliver, disdain and wit as Dr. Herbert West. This wouldn't be the only time he appears in a Lovecraft adaptation, but it's certainly one of his most affecting and effective roles.

3 - From Beyond (based on the short story "From Beyond" by H. P. Lovecract, film directed by Stuart Gordon, 1986). Again, Gordon adds the sex and gore to a story originally devoid of it, but it doesn't matter because, again, he's having fun with the material, and again, he's brought Jeffrey Combs along for the ride. While Combs' role in From Beyond is another stroke of the mad scientist engine, his Crawford Tillinghast is different enough from his Re-Animator role that both films can be enjoyed back to back without any characterization bleed through. I also prefer Richard Band's score from From Beyond over his work in Re-Animator; it's more subdued and allows for its own tone poetry to speak louder than its inspiration, whereas Re-Animator's score intentionally brings to mind Bernard Herrmann.

4 - Darkhold: Pages from the Book of Sins (Marvel Comics comic book series, 1992-1994). This 16-issue series wasn't necessarily based directly on a specific Lovecraft story, but it's hard not to look at the comic and see certain Lovecraftian elements at play. An Elder God named Chthon penning an ancient tome of magic? A collection of writings so powerful iron-bound scrolls couldn't contain it? A history that crossed paths with Kull, a creation of Lovecraft-penpal Robert E. Howard? A group of doomed would-be heroes tasked with trying to collect the errant pages of the book before those who read them corrupt the world and themselves? It's a bit more action-packed than anything Lovecraft would have written (this was a comic book of the 90s, afterall), but it certainly wears its Lovecraftian influence on its spine.

5 - Dark Adventure Radio Theatre (audio dramatizations based on various H. P. Lovecraft short stories, produced by The H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society). Presented as period radio programming, the HPLHS adapted At the Mountains of Madness, The Dunwich Horror, The Shadow Out of Time and The Shadow Over Innsmouth between 2006 and 2008. With their work on The Call of Cthulhu and the upcoming The Whisperer in the Darkness film, it appears their radio theatre work has come to an end, which is too bad because these CDs are phenomenal and hold up to repeat listenings.

6 - AM1200 (film directed by David Prior). AM1200 isn't based on a specific Lovecraft story, but it certainly captures the feel of some of the man's works by way of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. A man who manages to find himself on the losing end of some questionable professional decisions finds himself driving the deserted roads of . . . somewhere when he stumbles across an odd radio signal on the AM dial. Investigating what this radio signal might be may not be the first bad decision Eric-Lange-as-Sam makes, but it may ultimately be his last. The sound design, the cinematography, the performances - this is a solid short.

7 - Out of Mind: The Stories of H. P. Lovecraft (film directed by Raymond Saint-Jean, 1998). There is no known motion picture film of Lovecraft himself, bu Christopher Heyerdahl's performance of the man is probably the closest we'll ever get to see Lovecraft on screen. Telling the story of a young man in the then-present day (he certainly had a 90s wardrobe and haircut) who is bequeathed more than just material goods when a will is executed. He finds a connection to the legacy of Lovecraft, and Lovecraft himself comes face to face with . . . his own face (when he sees his face on a t-shirt). Out of Mind gets a little meta, and it made sense . . . it IS a Lovecraft story, after all.

8 - The Love Craft (created by Eric Morgret and K. L. Young). Every time I watch this, I laugh, but the first time - in a crowded theater at the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival, was the best.

9 - The Unquiet Void. Composer Jason Wallach has since moved on to other projects, but his albums The Shadow-Haunted Outside and Poisoned Dreams have left a lingering oppresion that I can't listen to over-and-over again without taking a break. This is dark electronic synthesized music that springboards from the writing and themes of Lovecraft (among other influences), and my wife once told me I wasn't allowed to play the music out loud at home because she thought it just sounded "evil."

10 - Return to Innsmouth (based on the short story "Shadow Over Innsmouth" by H. P. Lovecraft, film directed by Aaron Vanek, 1999). I saw this movie at just the right time. I was reading Lovecraft, experimenting with the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game and clicking all over the internet, looking for Lovecraft-themed websites. I found (which is surprisingly still online, even if it hasn't been updated since 2007), and through their "Campus Store," I found this movie. I bought it, and watched that VHS tape repeatedly, made my friends watch it, and would be fortunate enough to meet the filmmaker once we moved to Oregon and I became a regular at the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival. This movie tells essentially the same tale as the film Dagon, but does so on a much more intimate level (partly due to budget, and I'd like to think partly by design), and when I watched it, I immediately found Lovecraft much more accessible. His work wasn't just to be studied anymore - I could find my own tales and themes within his work, and I have Return to Innsmouth to thank for that. (As I typed this, it occured to me that I haven't watched this movie in a few years, and I'm starting to wonder if I still have the old VHS copy of it. I'll have to dig around my closet later tonight to find out!)

11 - Marblehead: A Novel of H. P. Lovecraft (novel written by Richard A. Lupoff, 2000). This is less Lovecraftian and more about Lovecraft . . . sort of. There's a lot of alternative history in this book; Lupoff brings Lovecraft into contact with folks like Theodore Hardeen (Harry Houdini's brother) and a mess of Nazis. Lovecraft finds himself involved in a bit of espionage, and while he's fairly useless when it comes to any actual spy action, this is still a fun read, and of course, I was thrilled by the Robert E. Howard chapter. This novel was originally released as Lovecraft's Book by Arkham House in 1985, but after presumably lost pages from the original manuscript were found, it was reprinted as Marblehead.

12 - Cool Air (based on the short story "Cool Air" by H. P. Lovecraft, film directed by Bryan Moore). When you think Lovecraft, you think nameless horrors, gibbering masses of leathery wings and soul-gripping tentacles, Elder gods and Deep Ones, indescribable colours and mad magic makers daring to record their words for unknowing future generations to fear. "Cool Air" isn't this. Instead, it's, by design, more Poe than typical Lovecraft, and Moore's adaptation didn't try to shoehorn the story into the so-called Cthulhu Mythos. He let the story stand on its own, but he did expand it, giving Jack Donner's Dr. Muñoz more face-time than the original story called for . . . and it works oh so well.

13 - Beyond the Dunwich Horror (film directed by Richard Griffin). This is a guilty pleasure. Someone took Lovecraft to the grindhouse . . . and left him there. This is another movie I saw at the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival & Cthulhu-Con, and at first I was hesitant about watching it. A friend of mine, Big Mac over at The Shadow Over Portland, told me he had caught an earlier screening of the movie at the festival and described it as a Lovecraft film by way of Fulci. I was sold. This movie is a bit of a mess . . . a gloriously messy mess . . . and I found myself loving it despite my better judgment. It's a fun movie, tapping into various Lovecraft stories (like The Dunwich Horror), and if you check your inner Lovecraft scholar at the door, but hold on to your B-Movie-loving core, I think you'll dig it.

(Have a suggestion for a future topic of The Thursday Thirteen? Email me at . . . )

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