Every Lovecraft fan should check out these movies and games.
Howard Philip Lovecraft wasn’t exactly a sunny guy. His characters often wind up in a padded cell with their minds broken by what they’ve witnessed or suffering some other fate worse than death. (I can recall only one story in which the hero actually wins the day — “The Shunned House.”) Lovecraft never made a major stir in the literary world while he was alive, but since his death in 1937, his novellas and short stories have left an indelible impact on horror and science fiction.
Obsession. Insanity. Insignificance. Indescribable otherworldly beings.
Every Lovecraft fan looking for more — be it something based directly on his work, inspired by it or sharing some Lovecraftian motifs — would do well to check out these movies and games.
Loosely based on the short story of the same name, this 1986 film was directed by Stuart Gordon, who has adapted three other Lovecraft stories to film (Castle Freak, Dagon, and The Re-Animator). From Beyond features some incredible practical effects, a quick pace and a great performance by frequent Gordon collaborator Jeffery Combs. It shoots more for gore than existential dread and operates more as a sequel to the story than a true adaptation, but From Beyond still manages to capture some of the right ideas — namely, the leech-creature they find in the basement.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Developed by Frictional Games, Amnesia: The Dark Descent has players explore a shadow-drenched castle armed with only a lantern and the ability to hide in closets. While facing a castle full of monsters unarmed may sound unappealing to some gamers, it’s the feeling of complete defenselessness that sets Amnesia apart from most other horror games. The intense claustrophobia, isolation and dread (the game’s main draws) can sometimes become nearly intolerable. There is no other game that comes as close to the feeling of what it means to be a Lovecraft story protagonist digging for the truth and chugging laudanum to keep their sanity from splintering.
Those who enjoy Amnesia: The Dark Descent might follow up with Alien: Isolation. With its similar control scheme of hide-don’t-fight, players face trying to escape a decommissioned space station while one of the Alien series’ xenomorphs is in constant, heart-pounding pursuit.
During World War I, a group of British soldiers (Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis) end up behind lines and are forced to take refuge in a muddy labyrinth of German trenches. In addition to fearing the enemy soldiers’ return and one another’s unraveling sanity, the heroes soon come to suspect that something supernatural is with them in the rain-soaked desolation and things take a haunting, surrealistic dive into a mud-clotted barbed-wire world of madness. Though not adapted from any Lovecraft story, Deathwatch (2002) shares many of the author’s frequent themes of paranoia and hopelessness in a well-executed oppressive atmosphere.
Another Stuart Gordon adaptation, this 1985 comedic horror film was based on Lovecraft’s short story “Herbert West — Re-Animator” and stars Jeffery Combs in the titular role. Sticking closer to the source material than did From Beyond, Gordon’s The Re-Animator expands on Lovecraft’s original tale while maintaining its coffee-black humor — a rare thing in a Lovecraft story. The Re-Animator has two less-than-great sequels and was even later adapted for the stage as a musical.
Henry lives in an industrial wasteland. He’s a new father. His baby, possibly a potato/horse hybrid, is making it hard to woo the woman who lives across the hall. Perhaps more of a Kafka / Lovecraft mix, David Lynch’s seminal 1977 classic surrealistic take on fatherhood features a yowling worm-baby creature-thing, delusions of a chipmunk-cheeked woman who lives in a radiator and sings about everything being fine in heaven, super-weird in-laws and a pervasive droning of machinery that runs constantly in the background. Eraserhead delivers a walloping sense of isolation and despair as you watch Henry try to make sense of his strange and lonely monochromatic world.
FromSoftware, the makers of Dark Souls take their hard-as-nails approach to game design away from medieval sword-and-sorcery and plunge players instead into a fast-paced Victorian-era bloodbath with the PlayStation 4 exclusive Bloodborne. Though they start out in a simple story about werewolf hunters in the labyrinthine city of Yharnam, players soon realize something much more cosmically sinister is afoot — like tentacle-faced beings Lovecraft fans will find immediately familiar. There are many Lovecraft homages in Bloodborne — not just creature design, thick atmosphere or the feeling that your character is a mere speck in the eye of the Great Ones, but also a flooded fishing village in the DLC pack The Old Hunters with mutated fish-citizens straight from “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.”
The short story by Stephen King, perhaps Lovecraft’s most famous successor, The Mist is about as Lovecraftian as a story could hope to be without actually being penned by the Providence author. The 2007 film adaptation starring lantern-jawed hero Thomas Jane is rife with creatures and themes akin to a Lovecraft story. The Mist ends with a gut-punch of despair — a rare thing for a Hollywood-produced film. If he’d only waited a couple more minutes…
The Thing follows a team of researchers entrenched in the killing cold of Antarctica while an extraterrestrial parasite that’s found its way into their base kills them off one by one. Since the monster can replicate any living thing it has absorbed, naturally the researchers (led by Kurt Russell) begin to suspect one another, swiftly ushering in paranoia and panic. Based on the John W. Campbell Jr. novella Who Goes There? the story was adapted to film twice before Carpenter’s masterful turn — which saw an unnecessary prequel released in 2011 that eschewed practical effects for lackluster CGI.
With an ending that’s still hotly debated online today, 1982’s The Thing remains not only one of the best uses of practical effects but an unmatched horror classic from arguably the genre’s greatest auteur.
The cooperative tabletop game by Fantasy Flight Games Arkham Horror has four to eight players assuming the role of investigators tasked with preventing the Ancient Ones from breaking into our world. Players upgrade their characters, learn new abilities and spells and battle a range of Lovecraftian monsters while racing to prevent Cthulhu and his buddies from gaining a foothold to break the fabric of reality. Arkham Horror has many expansions available, including The Innsmouth Horror, The King in Yellow and The Dunwich Horror to keep players’ adventures fresh. Other titles in the world of Lovecraft – centered tabletop games include Call of Cthulhu by Chaosium and Cthulhu Dice by Steve Jackson Games.
The Call of Cthulhu
Lovingly put together by the HP Lovecraft Historical Society, this award-winning black-and-white silent film based on the novella by the same name was released on DVD in 2005. Combining modern and vintage filmmaking methods into a “Mythoscope” process, The Call of Cthulhu was designed and created to be viewed as a film that could’ve been contemporary to the story’s original publication in 1926 and is without a doubt one of the purest and most faithful Lovecraft adaptations to date.