(Ch)Op-Ed #6: Best H.P. Lovecraft Film Adaptations

H.P. Lovecraft was born August 20, 1890, to affluent parents, although his wealth dissipated after his father was institutionalized and his grandfather died.  Then, in 1919, his mother was institutionalized. Lovecraft published his first short story in 1916 and would write all the way until his death from intestinal cancer on March 15, 1937. Around 65 short stories, novels, novellas, and letters were published, of which most of them are now in the public domain. Later authors would coin the term “Cthulu Mythos” to describe the universe in which his characters exist. Numerous stories have been adapted into movies, albeit loosely, and some of them have become instant cult classics. Authors Stephen King, Alan Moore, and filmmaker John Carpenter, all cite Lovecraft as an influence. Perhaps his biggest addition to the horror genre is his creation of the “Necronomicon”, or Book of the Dead. It has been referred to in the Evil Dead franchise, Jason Goes to Hell, Night of the Demons 2, and more.

So what is the best adaptation? The most faithful? The most fun? The most well done? What follows is the top 10 adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft works. Feel free to share your list and compare yours to mine. What did I forget?

Although there are films inspired by Lovecraft’s work, and many of them are excellent, films like The Thing and In The Mouth of Madness are not direct adaptations of his work and thus, are not eligible to be on this list.

Honorable Mention:

Necronomicon (1993)

An anthology film based on “The Rats in the Walls (1923)”, “Cool Air (1926)”, and the novella The Whisper In Darkness (1930), it features a different director for each segment. Frequent Lovecraft contributor Brian Yuzna (Bride of Re-Animator, Beyond Re-Animator, Return of the Living Dead 3, and The Dentist) takes one and the wraparound, Christophe Gans (Brotherhood of the Wolf and Silent Hill) takes one, and Shusuke Kaneko (numerous Gamera films) rounds out the trio. Effects were supervised by Tom Savini, and Jeffrey Combs makes his first appearance on this list as old H.P. Lovecraft himself! But the wraparound, which features Combs, is in the present tense. So Lovecraft is in 1993, which is odd. I had always thought it had a 90s Full Moon Picture “feel” to it, but New Line, surprisingly, was the distributor. As with most anthologies, there are the strong and the weak entries, and unfortunately, there are just too many weak ones. What could have been really great, comes up short.

10. Castle Freak (1995)

The first of 4 Stuart Gordon films on this list, Castle Freak was inspired by the 1921 short story “The Outsider.” It is one of Lovecraft’s most re-printed works as well as one of the most popular stories to ever be published in Weird Tales. Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton star in this film as a married couple who live in a castle inherited from a deceased distant relative with their blind daughter. Oh, and they also have a monster living in their basement who kills people. A Full Moon Studios production featuring music by Richard Band, this reunion of the Lovecraft Trio falls pretty flat. Struck down by a lack of budget due to being made by Full Moon during a time in which they were struggling, it has its appreciators, but I am not one of them. Perhaps I am spoiled by their other works together? A remake was produced by Barbara Crampton in 2020.

9. Venus (2022)

Venus is a 2022 Spanish language film based on the 1931 short story “The Dreams In the Witch House.” Jaume Belaguero, of REC fame, directed this French film involving a dancer who is on the run with stolen drugs taking refuge in an apartment with her sister and niece that has some supernatural things going on within. Seemingly, the best Lovecraft adaptations are from the 1980’s, with only 3 on this list from  the last 20 years. I do appreciate the modern update on a near 100 year old story, as I always worry how these stories can translate to modern times. This one does fairly well, though, taking serious liberties with the source material, but leaving enough meat on the bone to be respectful. I enjoyed parts of it, including a monster in the bathroom that kills a baddie, but it’s a tad bit slow in the first half. I would not watch it again. Pretty bad ass poster, though, eh?

8. The Barge People (2018)

The Barge People was a film I picked up at The Dollar Tree for $1.25 and I was pleasantly surprised. It’s not going to win a price for best film ever. But it is fun. It has practical effects, some suspense, and I happen to like it A LOT, despite it being a low budget flick and not even having a Wikipedia page. It’s based off of the 1919 short story “Dagon”, the first of two times appearing on this list, and features a town full of gill breathing monsters who harass some holiday visitors and locals. This one strays a bit more from the source material than the next film on the list. Director Charlie Steeds has directed several other low budget independent films, but this one stands above the rest. Go to your local Dollar Tree and splurge on it today!

7. Dagon (2001)

The inspiration for this Stuart Gordon film is the 1919 story “Dagon”, and the 1931 novella “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.” A man and a woman are vacationing off the shores of Spain and ends up in a deserted fishing village. Fish-like people are running amok in the town and all hell breaks loose. It’s not the best of Gordon’s work, but it does the job. A mostly Spanish production, it was criticized for its low budget and poor acting, but still very fun. I actually prefer The Barge People to this one, but it’s Stuart freakin’ Gordon, people! It gets extra credit for that alone!

6. The Dunwich Horror (1970)

The 1928 short story of the same name is the basis for this 1970 film starring Sandra Dee and Dean Stockwell.  It features a young girl who is targeted by an odd man who lives in a mansion and looks to use her in an occult ritual taken right out of the Necronomicon. The film looks like it is straight out of the 1960’s, featuring psychedelic imagery and hippie stylistic choices. It also is widely regarded as one of the most faithful to the source material. Director Daniel Haller went on to direct mostly episodes of TV shows. It is much in the vein of Wicker Man, and while it isn’t for everyone, and very much stuck in the decade in which it was made, it is a very well made film, and one for scholars of Lovecraft.

5. The Curse (1987)

The Curse is the first of 2 adaptations of “The Colour Out of Space” appearing on this list. Directed by actor David Keith in his directorial debut, it stars Wil Wheaton and tells the story of a meteorite that crashes into a small town and infecting its water supply. It spawned three sequels that are unrelated. A low budget box office bomb, this film was relegated to the VHS rental wall quickly. Wil Wheaton claims that numerous child labor laws were broken during the production and numerous children were sexually abused, casting serious shadows on the film.

4. Color Out of Space (2019)

Richard Stanley directed this Nicolas Cage movie, based on the 1927 story, “The Colour Out of Space.” It is the first of a planned Lovecraft trilogy by Stanley, director of Dust Devil and Hardware, but perhaps most famously known as the director who was fired from the 1996 production of The Island of Dr. Moreau. After the fiasco of that production, he didn’t direct a film for 23 years. The visuals of this film are incredible, so much so, that the plot is secondary. But every movie has a plot, and this one revolves around a family who moves to their deceased grandfather’s farm. They must deal with a meteorite that crash lands near their well, mixing with the water, and infecting everyone with THE COLOR. It is the second feature film to be based on the same short story, and for me, this one nails it.

3. The Unnamable (1988)

The 1925 short story of the same name inspired this Jean-Paul Oullette movie. It tells of a group of college kids who spend the night in a haunted mansion. A white she-demon roams the halls to kill the kids. Great creature effects and the eccentric acting by Mark Kinsey Stephenson as Randolph Carter, one of Lovecraft’s recurring characters, are at the forefront of this fun 80s flick. A pretty decent sequel would follow in 1993, The Unnamable II: The Statement of Randolph Carter,  also directed by Oullette, with all of the main characters returning, including the white she demon, this time anonymously played by future scream queen and Penthouse pet Julie Strain. Unfortunately, the rest of Oullette’s filmography is shrouded in obscurity, as he has never broken thru into the mainstream. Sadly, Strain died after suffering from dementia in 2021.

2. Re-Animator (1985)

Stuart Gordon is the H.P. Lovecraft guru when it comes to directing adaptations of his work. This is one of his most famous and perhaps a shoo-in for the top spot. It’s one of my favorite horror films of the 80s, one of my favorite horror films of all time, and features two of my favorite horror legends, Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton in starring roles. Based on the 1922 short story, “Herbert West- Reanimator,” it features a mad scientist who has a serum that brings people back to life with disastrous consequences. It’s funny. It’s scary. It has zombies. The lime green colors that permeate the scenery are amazing and unforgettable. Barbara Crampton is topless and bottomless in a you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it scene near the end. I won’t ruin it for you here, but let’s just say it has to do with a head – ahem- giving head. Two sequels followed, each fun in its own right, but nowhere near the perfection of the original. Sadly, Gordon would pass in 2020, but he left behind a plethora of quality genre films.

1. From Beyond (1986)

The 1920 short story of the same name is the inspiration for this movie from Stuart Gordon. Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton return for this adaptation, adding genre vet Ken Foree to the mix. It deals with science, biology, and body horror. A machine that uses tuning forks (the Resonator) stimulates the pineal gland and allows people to see into the fourth dimension, causing people to see creatures that we wouldn’t normally see. The obscene amount of pink colors rival the greens of Re-Animator. I absolutely love adore this film. I love the role reversals of Crampton and Combs, from the aggressor to the passive, the complete opposite of its companion, Re-Animator. It’s a close race for the top spot here, but I give the nod to From Beyond. Why? Because the hottest movie moment of all time features the sexy and voluptuous Barbara Crampton in sexy lingerie doing her little dominatrix thing.

What do you think? Are you an H.P. Lovecraft fan?

About RetRo(n) 61 Articles
I like the 80s, slasher films, Italian directors, Evil Ed, Trash and Nancy, Ripley and Private First Class Hudson, retro crap but not SyFy crap, old school skin, Freddy and Savini, Spinell and Coscarelli, Andre Toulon, and last, but not least, Linda Blair.