Alongside Edgar Allan Poe, H. P. Lovecraft is considered one of the most influential writers of gothic horror and dark fantasy of all time. While it would not be until the years following his death that his work would become so revered, during his lifetime he wrote around fifty short stories, countless essays and articles and even worked uncredited as a ghostwriter. Yet Lovecraft was a complicated individual; despite working tirelessly on his stories he would often refuse to sell them to publishers for fear of becoming commercial, instead content to live in near-poverty and anonymity. He would be outspoken in the letter pages of magazines, yet almost introvert when dealing with people in person. As Lovecraft himself once declared, ‘It is my weakness that I can’t conform to rules and restrictions very well. I have to learn and do things in my own way – as dictated by my especial interests and aptitudes – or not at all.’
It was at 9 o’clock on the morning of Wednesday, 20 August 1890 that Sarah Susan Phillips Lovecraft gave birth to her only child, whom she called Howard. Sarah, or Susie as she was more commonly known, had moved with her husband Winfield Scott back to her parent’s home in the East Side of Providence, Rhode Island, where she could deliver her son safely. Soon after his birth Winfield was forced to relocate his family due to his demanding work and, over the next three years, they lived in several locations around Massachusetts. But while on a business trip to Chicago in April 1893 Winfield had a nervous breakdown in a hotel room and, as his mental state rapidly began to deteriorate, was later committed to Butler Hospital for the Insane in Providence. Lovecraft was just two years old when his father was taken away from him and while it is unclear what kind of effect this had on Winfield’s son it had devastating repercussions on his wife.
Soon after he was taken into custody Susie returned to her parent’s home with Howard. Despite the pressures that Winfield’s condition had placed on the family, the house was a good environment for the young boy and he soon began to develop a taste for literature, spending hours in his grandfather’s library. While he would read anything that he could get his hands on, the book that had would make the biggest impression on him was Grimm’s Fairy Tales, a collection of short stories by brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. The following year he was given a junior copy of Arabian Nights, which compiled Islamic folk tales from medieval times, as well as Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s classic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, both of which would have a profound impact on the young novice. Having stumbled upon a copy of the latter at the home of a friend, which had been illustrated by French artist Gustave Doré, his discovery of Coleridge’s work would be the first significant development for Lovecraft’s hungry mind.
With his father still a patient at Butler Hospital his family would suffer further tragedy when Susie’s mother Robie passed away on 26 January 1896. Following her death, his mother and two aunts took to wearing black while they mourned the loss, causing Lovecraft to suffer from nightmares which he claimed were of ‘the most hideous description.’ To occupy his mind he continued to read through his grandfather’s collection, indulging in the likes of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Thomas Bulfinch. With Lovecraft being given such freedom it seems strange that Susie would confiscate a copy of the recently published H. G. Wells novel The Island of Dr. Moreau, particularly as she would take her son to see a production of William Shakespeare’s Cymbeline soon afterwards.
In his 1975 book Lovecraft: A Biography, author L. Sprague de Camp claimed that Susie forced Lovecraft to occasionally adopt the personality of a girl due to her having only given birth to a son. The author states that his mother would make him dress up and say, ‘I’m a little girl.’ If this is in fact true, perhaps this may explain Lovecraft’s uncomfortable relationship with women throughout his adult life. Indeed, a cursory look through his short stories reveals a lack of prominent female characters, with the protagonists mostly male. But with Winfield away from the family home, Susie became overprotective and even overbearing to her son.
With his appetite for literature growing by the year, perhaps it was inevitable that he would eventually develop an interest in writing. At around six or seven he began to write poetry and in 1897 attempted his first piece of fiction, The Noble Eavesdropper, although no known copy of the text is thought to have survived. While he soon developed a taste for dime novels it would be his discovery of Edgar Allan Poe that would help Lovecraft to discover the darker aspects of his imagination. Sadly, however, his creativity was cut short by the death of his father on 19 July 1898, a little over five years after he had been committed. Less than two months later, Lovecraft commenced primary school but was withdrawn by his mother the following year due to illness, although some have speculated whether it was really because Susie was missing her son after losing both her mother and husband.
Having started a self-produced publication in 1899 called The Scientific Gazette his interests would soon include astronomy and so he began reading books that had been left behind by his late grandmother. Obtaining a telescope, this would begin a lifelong obsession with science that would later find its way into his own work. Other periodicals that he would produce during this era were The Science Library and, more importantly, The Rhode Island Journal of Astronomy, which at first was published weekly, before reducing the output to once a month. But yet again the Lovecraft household would suffer another loss when Susie’s father Whipple suffered a stroke and died on 28 March 1904. This would force her to relocate with her son once again, moving from 454 to 598 Angell Street.
Even upon returning to school Lovecraft remained an avid reader and had begun to develop his own talents as a writer of short stories. Following some rather forgettable early efforts such as The Secret Cave or John Lees Adventure, The Mystery of the Grave-Yard and The Mysterious Ship, all of which were written before he had even hit puberty, his first piece of work that would display some kind of sophistication was The Beast in the Cave, which he completed a few months prior to his fifteenth birthday. Three years later his talents advanced even further with The Alchemist, although it would seem that this would prove to be his last work of fiction for some time. Instead, he became a regular reader of magazines, particularly those published by Frank A. Munsey, which featured numerous stories of mostly fantasy and science fiction origin.
But it would be the work of one of Munsey’s writers, Fred Jackson, a veteran of the popular publication The Argosy, which would provoke the strongest reaction from Lovecraft. An aficionado of romantic fiction, Jackson’s love stories prompted Lovecraft to write a letter to the magazine, in which he commented that, ‘The Jacksonesque style of narrative inspires in me far less of interest than of distaste.’ But what Lovecraft hadn’t expected was the amount of replies that his letter would receive, ranging from tongue-in- cheek to downright hostile. Over the next twelve months, the letters page of The Argosy would be littered with a mixture of Lovecraft’s defensive statements and the majority of the readers blasting his opinions. While this debate would be short-lived, Lovecraft’s wit and stubbornness had made a suitable impression on Edward F. Daas, whose position as Officer Editor at the United Amateur Press Association (UAPA) allowed him to offer both Lovecraft and another writer from the letters page an opportunity to join his team. Lovecraft accepted and took his first major step towards a career as a writer on 6 April 1914, almost four months before war broke out across Europe.
His impact on the world of amateur journalism was almost immediate, with the President of the UAPA rewarding his talents with the title of Chairman of the Department of Public Criticism, for which he would write a critical analysis on all amateur journals that were submitted to the group. Lovecraft was also elected President of the UAPA convention, which would take place in July 1917. It would be during this time that he would embark on a career as a fiction writer, penning some of his best known work over the next few years. Among these were The Tomb, Dagon and Polaris, as well as an abandoned story entitled The Club of the Seven Dreamers. In 1918, he was urged by friends to accept work as a ghostwriter, revising articles and stories for many of his peers.
The story is overwritten, over-dramatic and the mood of mounting horror is applied in a very artificial manner
On 13 March 1919 Susie was admitted to Butler Hospital, the same facility where her husband had died twenty-one years earlier. She had suffered from depression and hysteria and had spent time with her sister Lillian but her condition had grown steadily worse. Lovecraft visited his mother as often as possible, while continuing his work with both the UAPA and his own fictional writing. Following The White Ship, which Lovecraft would later disown, his creativity soon gained momentum with Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family, The Cats of Ulthar and From Beyond. His 1921 tale The Nameless City has since gained significance among fans of Lovecraft as it would be the first of his stories to explore what has since become known as the Cthulhu Mythos. The story itself is not among his most acclaimed, however, with many historians dismissing it as irrelevant and mediocre. In his 1972 analysis Lovecraft: A Look Behind the Cthulhu Mythos, writer Lin Carter stated, ‘The story is overwritten, over-dramatic and the mood of mounting horror is applied in a very artificial manner. Rather than creating in the reader a mood of terror, Lovecraft describes a mood of terror.’
Six days after receiving an operation on her gallbladder, Susie passed away at the age of sixty-three. Inheriting not only from his mother but also his father, maternal grandfather and aunt, Lovecraft received funds of almost $20,000, finally allowing him a modicum of security. Soon afterwards he was contacted by George Julian Houtain, whom he had first met in Boston a year earlier, to write six short horror stories with a connecting narrative for a new publication he was developing called Home Brew. Begrudgingly, resenting being nothing more than a ‘writer for hire,’ Lovecraft agreed and conceived six stories that were written as memoirs from an unnamed narrator, who recounts his sordid scientific experiments on the dead with a former friend and fellow doctor, Herbert West, who has since disappeared. Disturbed yet brilliant, West was convinced that death was possible to overcome, providing that the subject was still fresh, yet their tests had proved unsuccessful as the recently reanimated would lack their former personalities and would lash out in fits of uncontrollable rage.
Houtain offered to pay Lovecraft $5 per story, which was to be around two thousand words each and the series was published over six issues during 1922 under the name Grewsome Tales. It would later be reprinted under the title Herbert West – Reanimator although, much like The Nameless City, it has since been dismissed by biographers for being among his least inspired work. It would be around this time that Lovecraft would first make the acquaintance of Sonia Greene while at a convention for amateur journalists. Over the next few months the two regularly enjoyed each other’s company and, by the following April, she had managed to seduce the reclusive Lovecraft to visit her in New York to search for work. While there he met several other aspiring writers whom he would become friends with, but he soon grew to despise the city and longed to return home.
His writing would receive further exposure when he was contacted by publisher J. C. Henneberger to contribute work to his new pulp magazine Weird Tales. Lovecraft was at first reluctant to submit his manuscripts but finally relented and over the next few years his writing would become a regular fixture of the publication. Although he had begun to suffer from headaches and depression, Lovecraft continued to produce inspired work; throughout 1922 and 1923 he wrote such classic tales as The Hound, The Rats in the Walls and The Unnamable. On 3 March 1924 Lovecraft and Greene tied the knot, although from the very beginning friends and even Greene were aware that the romance was doomed. Lovecraft, despite his talent and imagination, was a very difficult individual and had little experience with the opposite sex. Matters became even more complicated when Greene was forced to remain out of town for long periods of time due to the demands of her work, leaving Lovecraft once again alone.
One prospect that interested him greatly was an offer from friend and fellow amateur journalist James F. Morton, who had suggested Lovecraft as his assistant curator at the Paterson Museum in New Jersey. But numerous delays meant that by the time he had decided to move back to Providence he had lost out on the opportunity. Instead, he accepted an invitation from another close friend, W. Paul Cook, to contribute an essay on the horror genre for his new journal The Recluse. What at first appeared to be a small assignment would take a total of eight months to complete and, at around 30,000 words, was at that time the longest piece that he had written, yet Lovecraft used his years of reading horror fiction to develop an over-bloated yet impressive analysis called Supernatural Horror in Literature.
At the request of his aunt Lillian, Lovecraft relocated to a large Victorian house near Brown University, where he would live on the ground floor and she would reside above. This change of environment seemed to have a positive influence on Lovecraft and, over the following year, he enjoyed another creative spell that resulted in a series of short stories – including The Call of Cthulhu and The Strange High House in the Midst – and arguably his most ambitious piece, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. He would also begin to travel, visiting friends in Boston and New York, a change of lifestyle that would result in what many fans consider his best work, The Dunwich Horror and The Whisperer in the Dark. But his marriage had begun to fall apart and, at the behest of Greene, he finally agreed to a divorce in March 1929, exactly five years after they had first exchanged their vows.
In January, 1932, Lovecraft wrote what would be his ninth story based around the Cthulhu Mythos and would see the action once again take place at the fictional Miskatonic University, which he had first created for Herbert West – Reanimator over a decade earlier. The Dreams in the Witch House, which author Lin Carter would later dismiss as a ‘minor effort,’ was first developed under the working title The Dreams of Walter Gilman and told of a student at the university who begins to suffer from hallucinations while staying in a room at the eerie Witch House in Arkham. While Carter was nothing but critical of the story, The Dreams in the Witch House has received praise from other biographers: L. Sprague de Camp referred to it as ‘a good story, highly original and imaginative’ while, in his 2001 book A Dreamer and a Visionary: H. P. Lovecraft in his Time, S. T. Joshi praised it as ‘the most cosmic story Lovecraft ever wrote.’
Following the death of Lillian on 3 July 1932, Lovecraft struggled to pay the rent on the house the two had shared. The demands for his writing continued to occupy his time, however, although few would argue that his best work was now behind him. Regardless, his stories had developed a strong following among other young writers and, in the spring of 1933, he received a letter from a sixteen-year-old called Robert Bloch, who had first discovered Lovecraft within the pages of Weird Tales a few years earlier. Impressed with both his enthusiasm and obvious talent, Lovecraft offered advice to his young protégé and, in July 1934, Bloch’s first story was published in the very magazine he had been devoted to. Less than thirty years later Bloch would cement his place in horror history when, inspired by the horrific true crimes of grave robber and convicted killer Ed Gein, he wrote his terrifying novel Psycho. Fascinated by the tale, renowned filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock purchased the rights and would come to reinvent horror cinema when his adaptation was released in the summer of 1980.
Over the years Lovecraft had made several vulgar and racist remarks, both in his poems and in confidence to his friends. When President Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler Chancellor of Germany on 30 January 1933 Lovecraft strongly opposed his ideals, yet referred to him as a ‘lesser evil’ than Communism. He did, however, voice his support towards Franklin D. Roosevelt, who would be elected President of the United States two months later and would lead the country against the Nazis during the Second World War. As Hitler and the Nazis rose to power throughout the 1930s, revealing their true nature, Lovecraft would eventually state that he was ‘opposed to the Nazi tribal ideal.’ Around this time he had also read Sinclair Lewis’ satirical novel It Can’t Happen Here, which was first published in 1935, coinciding with Hitler’s denouncement of the Treaty of Versailles, the peace agreement that Germany signed at the end of the First World War, effectively taking full responsibility for the conflict. Parallels between the Nazis and certain aspects of the novel were not lost on Lovecraft.
During the last year of his life he made little effort to produce new works of fiction. Having been suffering from problems with his eyes and feet, as well as trouble digesting, he soon began to lose weight and, throughout the first two months of 1937, was mostly confined to his bed. At the suggestion of his doctor Lovecraft visited a specialist on 2 March, where he was informed that he had cancer and was beyond treatment. Unable to eat and on a constant supply of morphine due to intense pain, he was fed intravenously over the next two weeks, but on 15 March 1937 Howard Phillips Lovecraft passed away at the age of forty-six. But his legacy did not die with him, as over the years his work has been republished and adapted across various mediums. As Joshi noted during the final page of his biography, ‘Lovecraft has now been dead for more than sixty years and his work commands a far wider and more diverse audience than it ever did in his lifetime.’
I shall never permit anything bearing my signature to be banalised and vulgarised
As Lovecraft’s legacy began to grow in the years following his death, it was inevitable that one day his writing would make the transition to the silver screen. Yet the idea of his work being adapted to a different medium was something that Lovecraft remained critical of. He had expressed disgust with the way that Universal had treated both Dracula and Frankenstein, two movies that are now considered seminal classics and feared that his own fiction would receive a similar treatment. In February 1933 Lovecraft had been approached by Farnsworth Wright, editor of cult magazine Weird Tales, about the possibility of adapting The Dreams in the Witch House for radio. Lovecraft refused, informing Wright that, ‘I shall never permit anything bearing my signature to be banalised and vulgarised into the infantine twaddle which passes for ‘horror tales’ amongst radio and cinema audiences!’
It would not be until eight years after his death that Lovecraft’s imagination would finally transcend beyond the world of literature to a wider audience. Even as war began to rage across Europe audiences would tune in to listen to the radio as a means of escape. But while Orson Welles’ adaptation of The War of the Worlds had caused controversy in 1938 when he had scared an entire nation into believing it to be an authentic news broadcast, many other shows were fashioned purely as entertainment. In 1940 CBS announced that they would be showcasing a series of experimental dramas under the name Forecast, allowing listeners to vote for which episode had the potential to be developed into a long-running show. One such concept was Suspense, an anthology of horror and thriller tales that would be created each week by a selection of different performers and writers. The pilot episode, which made its debut on 15 July 1940, was directed by none other than Alfred Hitchcock, who had followed success in his native Britain with an acclaimed adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. Hitchcock had opted to return to his 1927 silent movie The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (itself based on a story by Marie Adelaide Belloc-Lowndes), in which Joseph Kearns was cast as the stranger suspected of being a Jack the Ripper-type serial killer.
Suspense would become only one of two shows that would be developed following the conclusion of Forecast and on 22 June 1942, almost two years after the broadcast of the pilot, Suspense was launched to considerable acclaim. What was most impressive about the show was the talented stars that would become regular performers, including the likes of Welles, Peter Lorre, Bela Lugosi and Cary Grant. Edgar Allan Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum had already been adapted for the show when the producers decided to turn their attention to Lovecraft. Written in August 1928 and published the following April in an issue of Weird Tales, The Dunwich Horror has become regarded as a key element of the Cthulhu Mythos and remains one of Lovecraft’s most celebrated stories. Produced and directed by series regular William Spier and starring English actor Ronald Colman, The Dunwich Horror was broadcast on 1 November 1945, just two months after the Second World War finally came to an end and marked the first known adaptation of a Lovecraft story.
In the 1950s children would be introduced to fantasy and horror literature through a succession of comic books. The pioneers of these graphic and occasionally disturbing adaptations was Entertaining Comics, more commonly known as EC, who would dominate the landscape by catering to the desires of their young market. William M. Gaines had taken over EC in 1947 when his father, founder Max Gaines, was killed in a boating accident, leaving his son in charge of the family business. At the suggestion of his artist and friend Al Feldstein, Gaines began to incorporate elements of horror into his comics, including naked woman and gruesome violence. In 1950 he launched The Crypt of Terror but, after just three issues, he decided to rename it Tales from the Crypt. Its overnight success would convince Gaines to exploit this new market and soon more horror and science fiction-orientated comics followed. Eager to find new material to cater to their bloodthirsty readers, Gaines turned to issues of Weird Tales and other popular magazines in search of suitable stories to feature in his EC spinoffs. Among the writers he would discover were Edgar Allan Poe, Ray Bradbury and H. P. Lovecraft.
Reworked by EC veteran Al Feldstein, several of Lovecraft’s tales would be published in such comics as Weird Science and The Vault of Horror, often under alternative titles. But the sudden popularity of EC’s gruesome offerings would have a negative impact on the industry, as Gaines was forced to defend his work against the US Senate Subcommittee, the mainstream media and moral watchdogs, who viewed horror comics as dangerous and immoral. The controversy would culminate with the release of the 1954 analysis Seduction of the Innocent, in which author and psychiatrist Fredric Wertham declared several comic books to be ‘disturbing to ethical development.’ Among those examples he would give were two of EC’s publications, Tales of the Crypt and The Vault of Horror. Due to the negative publicity surrounding the medium, horror comics began to lose popularity and Gaines rebranded many of his titles in an attempt to regain their earlier success.
It would not until a quarter of a century after his death that Lovecraft would make it to the big screen. Roger Corman had enjoyed considerable success with a series of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, commencing in 1960 with House of Usher, which would mark his first of several collaborations with horror icon Vincent Price. Following in the footsteps of Hammer Film Productions, who had taken several Universal classics and added sex and gore to cater to modern tastes, Corman and his associates at American International Pictures (AIP) followed House of Usher with further popular Poe titles that included The Pit and the Pendulum and Tales of Terror. But it was during the making of Premature Burial in 1962 that Corman and AIP would first discuss the possibility of making a movie based on Lovecraft. The story that they would agree on would be The Case of Charles Dexter Ward which, at around 48,000 words, was Lovecraft’s longest work of fiction. Despite having completed the manuscript in early 1928, it would remain unpublished until after Lovecraft’s death, eventually surfacing in Weird Tales in 1941.
Corman had initially wanted to cast Ray Milland and Hazel Court in the lead roles, having previously worked with the two actors on Premature Burial, while the presence of Boris Karloff would be enough to draw in horror fans. But AIP were eager to capitalise on their success with Poe and demanded that Corman compromise by incorporating elements of Poe and Lovecraft. Although Corman had suggested the title The Haunted Village the studio insisted on The Haunted Palace, which shared its name with a poem by Poe that he had featured in The Fall of the House of Usher. Writer Charles Beaumont found adapting the story a challenge and so Corman turned to his young protégé Francis Ford Coppola to work on the script. The producers forced their director to cast Price in the lead role, thus drawing comparisons to House of Usher, while Karloff was ultimately replaced by Lon Chaney, Jr.
From the opening credits it is clear that AIP wanted to market the movie as a Poe adaptation, not Lovecraft. It seems ironic, however, that despite having already produced several movies based on his work, his name is misspelt twice as Allen. ‘What happened there was we were running out of good Poe stories to use and I wanted to take a break from Poe, anyway,’ Corman later revealed. ‘I always felt calling it a Poe picture made absolutely no sense. It was really something that was done simply for box office appeal, because all the Poe pictures had made a lot of money for AIP.’ The movie would provide the studio with another modest success, although by this point critics were growing tired of the recycled formula, with The New York Times declaring, ‘Nothing about it calls for comment.’
Much like House of Usher had done for Poe, for a brief time The Haunted Palace would convince AIP that Lovecraft had box office potential. Two years after their first effort the studio released another low budget horror flick called Die, Monster, Die!, which took inspiration from Lovecraft’s 1927 short The Colour Out of Space. Marking the directorial debut of Daniel Haller, who had prevously worked as an art director on several AIP hits including The Haunted Palace, the movie was shot in Britain under the title The House at the End of the World. Karloff, whose ill health had caused him to lose out on the previous Lovecraft picture, took the lead role alongside Patrick Magee and Hammer beauty Suzan Farmer. Die, Monster, Die! was released in Britain as Monster of Terror, while in the United States it occasionally found itself on double bills with other B-movies such as Mario Bava’s science fiction romp Terrore nello spazio/Planet of the Vampires.
Karloff would return to similar territory three years later with The Crimson Cult which, while not an official Lovecraft adaptation, took some inspiration from The Dreams in the Witch House. Another movie that may hold interest to fans of Lovecraft is The Shuttered Room, which in reality was a posthumous story that had been written by August Derleth and based on notes by Lovecraft. In 1970, twenty-five years after debuting on the radio, The Dunwich Horror was finally adapted into a movie, once again by Haller. Produced by AIP and Corman, who had first been offered the chance to direct, the feature is notable for being an early effort for writer Chris Hanson, whose subsequent filmmaking career would include the hits The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and L.A. Confidential. Audiences and critics were divided but over the years the film has gained a cult following. Regardless, by this point the studio had lost interest in Lovecraft and he would remain absent from cinemas for the next fifteen years.
Having been adapted for both radio and film to varied degrees of success, it would be Rod Serling who would bring Lovecraft to the small screen during the 1970s. When Serling’s anthology series The Twilight Zone came to an end in 1964 he was eager to launch a new show of a similar style and, having failed to see his first success to another network, pitched an idea called Rod Serling’s Wax Museum, in which each story would be presented from inside a museum. Failing to impress producers, he eventually reworked the idea and changed the setting to an art exhibition. This new concept would be called Night Gallery. Universal expressed interest in Serling’s proposal and, by 1969, had commenced work on the pilot episode. Among the three stories that were broadcast on the evening of 8 November was Eyes, starring screen legend Joan Crawford. This segment has some historic value as it would mark the professional debut of a young Steven Spielberg, whose association with Universal would eventually lead to his 1975 blockbuster Jaws.
In November 1971 an episode was broadcast entitled Professor Peabody’s Last Lecture which, in paying homage to one of the inspirations behind the show, a character was featured called Mr. Lovecraft. On 1 December 1971 Night Gallery unveiled an adaptation of Pickman’s Model, which had first been published by Weird Tales in 1927. One of Lovecraft’s lesser known stories, the episode was written by TV veteran Alvin Sapinsley. Like Lovecraft, Sapinsley was a native of Providence and had gained some notoriety during the 1950s when he was blacklisted after attending several meetings of the Communist Party. Sapinsley was not the only writer to fall victim to America’s fear of Communism, however, as Dalton Trumbo would receive a similar ban, causing him to miss collecting an Academy Award for his work on the Audrey Hepburn classic Roman Holiday. For Sapinsley, adapting Lovecraft was a frustrating experience. With little interest in the horror genre, Sapinsley struggled to fully understand the material and so director Jack Laird would assist in completing the final draft.
Lovecraft’s monsters are generally too horrific to show on film
Opinions on how effective the end result was has varied over the years. Will Murray of Fangoria said, ‘The problem with Pickman’s Model is that they showed the monster: ‘Lovecraft’s monsters are generally too horrific to show on film. And when they are presented as stuntmen in latex suits, they look silly.” Authors Scott Skelton and Jim Benson, meanwhile, in their excellent book Rod Serling’s Night Gallery: An After-Hours Tour claimed, ‘Pickman’s Model is an exceptional Night Gallery episode. Jack Laird’s imaginative direction, both here and earlier in A Question of Fear, proved that his work was as good as any of his colleagues on the show.’ First appearing in the short-lived Tales of Magic and Mystery in March 1928, having been rejected from Weird Tales, the lack of availability for many years caused Cool Air to be one of Lovecraft’s most overlooked stories. Adapted by Serling and directed by Jeannot Szwarc, the shortcomings of Pickman’s Model were mostly absent, with Serling wisely paying more attention to the characters than monsters.
Following the broadcast of Cool Air on 8 December 1971 Lovecraft would remain untouched for over a decade, although the mythology of his stories would influence a new generation of filmmakers during the early 1980s. Having spent the last twenty years flirting with almost every genre, Italian director Lucio Fulci found his niche with his 1979 splatter classic Zombi 2/Zombie Flesh Eaters. Over the next two years he would make a trilogy of loosely connected supernatural zombie movies that play with traditional narrative, while also providing some of the most gruesome set pieces of recent years. The first of these, Paura nella città dei morti viventi/City of the Living Dead, would be set in the fictional town of Dunwich, where the unexplained suicide of a priest causes the dead to rise from the ground. While George A. Romero’s zombies were slow and relatively easy to manipulate, Fulci’s undead were menacing, rotten and impossible to escape.
Fulci’s unofficial follow-up to The City of the Living Dead was what many critics now consider his masterpiece; E tu vivrai nel terrore! L’aldilà/The Beyond. While there is no explicit reference to Lovecraft, there is a sense of fear of what could be lurking in the shadows that lingers throughout the movie, while Fulci’s refusal to play out the events logically gives the story a dream-like quality. His final entry in what fans often referred to as the ‘Gates of Hell trilogy’ was Quella villa accanto al cimitero/The House by the Cemetery, a traditional gothic horror laced with moments of extreme gore that, along with Zombie Flesh Eaters and The Beyond, caused the film to be banned in the United Kingdom during the 1980s. Once again, there are no direct references to Lovecraft, yet the overall feel of the movie owed a debt to his Cthulhu Mythos.
Sam Raimi’s low budget classic The Evil Dead also paid homage to Lovecraft, most notably with the inclusion of the Necronomicon. Originally filmed under the name The Book of the Dead, Raimi’s movie saw a group of friends arriving at an isolated cabin deep in the woods, where they unwittingly resurrect long-dead spirits that possess them one- by-one, until the lone hero manages to burn the book, thus breaking the curse. That is until the following morning when he is attacked by unseen forces from the forest. Perhaps most famous for scene in which a young woman is raped by a tree, The Evil Dead was an inventive and surprisingly original horror that successfully mixed shocks and humour without reducing itself to parody. The Necronomicon is discovered in the fruit cellar of the cabin, which is accompanied by an old tape player that recites an ancient incantation, releasing the ancient evil upon the world.
The Necronomicon was first mentioned by Lovecraft in his 1922 story The Hound; ‘Alien it indeed was to all art and literature which sane and balanced readers know, but we recognised it as the thing hinted of in the forbidden Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred; the ghastly soul-symbol of the corpse-eating cult of inaccessible Leng, in Central Asia.’ The book would become a key figure of Sam Raimi’s sequels, Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness, released in 1987 and 1992, respectively. In the latter, the reluctant hero is sent back in time to save the world from the army of Deadites, who are determined to obtain the book in order to enslave humanity.
In The Necronomicon Files: The Truth Behind The Legend, Daniel Harms and John Wisdom Gonce III criticised Raimi’s approach to Lovecraft’s creation: ‘I find it difficult to comment seriously on the authenticity of this cinematic Necronomicon other than to say that Lovecraft never describes the book as being bound in human skin, nor is it actually a sentient entity that physically attacks its users. How seriously am I supposed to take a Necronomicon that can only be handled when saying, ‘Klaatu barada nicto (sic)’ – the code words used to appease Gort, the killer robot in The Day the Earth Stood Still?’ Regardless of its merits in the world of Lovecraft, The Evil Dead and its sequels would introduce horror fans to a writer whose work had been almost forgotten for several years. But by the mid-1980s, Lovecraft would once again be rediscovered through a low budget splatter feature entitled Re-Animator.
Published over six issues throughout 1922 at a total fee of $30, Herbert West – Reanimator had proved an arduous task for Lovecraft and was a collection of short stories he had little passion for. Following their release they would remain almost undiscussed for over six decades, relegated to forgotten work that even his most passionate readers rarely returned to. Yet theatre director Stuart Gordon and independent producer Brian Yuzna sensed the cinematic potential of the concept, which explored themes of resurrection that Mary Shelley had indulged in with her 1823 masterpiece Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. Far more graphic and reflective of the society in which it had been produced, Herbert West – Reanimator featured six distinct standalone stories that both Gordon and Yuzna would source from to develop a basic concept for their filmmaking debut.
‘Someone suggested that I read the story and I had a real hard time finding it. Finally I went to the library and put in one of those call slips and about a year later they sent me a postcard saying they had found it in one of their archives,’ recalled Gordon in the book Filmmaking on the Fringe: The Good, the Bad and the Deviant Directors. ‘Originally we – myself, Dennis Paoli and William Norris – conceived it as a serial; we started out thinking that maybe it could make a good TV show, something like a miniseries that would run at midnight on Saturday nights, maybe on HBO. So we took the fist of the six parts and tried to sell it as a pilot. We found that the word was out that nobody was interested in half-hours so we said, ‘Okay, we’ll make it an hour.’ We added the second segment, took it around and were then told nobody wanted to do horror on television. That’s when we decided that we should really think in terms of a feature.’
Re-Animator would prove to be the surprise horror success of 1985, earning superior reviews to George A. Romero’s long-awaited zombie sequel Day of the Dead and earning acclaim for both its no-holds-barred violence and playful tone. Its success would prompt filmmakers to capitalise on the newfound interest in Lovecraft by developing their own low budget genre pictures, although both Gordon and Yuzna would be the first to follow the popularity of Re-Animator with an adaptation of another Lovecraft story, From Beyond. Yuzna would later return to the writer’s work on several occasions over subsequent years, both with two sequels to Re-Animator, a loose reworking of Dagon and the anthology feature Necronomicon: Book of Dead. John Carpenter, meanwhile, would draw from the weird and wonderful fantasy world of Lovecraft to serve as the basis for his original horror picture In the Mouth of Madness in 1995, a movie that many argue was the director’s last true classic.
While other independent filmmakers would continue to produce straight-to-video features loosely based on Lovecraft’s writings, acclaimed director Guillermo Del Toro had intended to follow the success of Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth with a big budget adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness. The marriage of Del Toro and Lovecraft seemed ideal, as both had a surreal imagination and refused to conform to the expectations of the mainstream, yet sadly a faithful interpretation of the author’s 1936 story would fail to escape the grip of development hell. But as the director would declare in 2011 regarding H. P. Lovecraft, ‘I’d say he’s not only influential but one of the great unacknowledged writers.’