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Film

The 10 best Lovecraftian horror movies

@Russellisation

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” – H.P. Lovecraft

To delve into the horrors of cosmic terror and the magical fantasy fiction of H.P. Lovecraft is a tricky task, as the descriptive writing of the American author accesses a dark truth of the human psyche that is almost impossible to project onto the silver screen. Outlining the physical matter of a horrifying creature or ethereal being with illusive description, the writing of Lovecraft is done in a way that avoids overtly listing the ins and outs of a particular being. 

For the writer, these cosmic beings were so otherworldly, so ethereal that to describe them would be futile as they defy the understanding of the human mind. Such is what has made his books such popular works, playing on the fears of the unknown and humanity’s place in an ever-expanding, impossible and mysterious universe. 

The horror genre has often tried to jump into this world of Lovecraft, attempting to translate the fears of the unknown by showing illusory images and bizarre sequences to try and recreate the same feeling. It’s a tricky approach to pull off, with many efforts falling short, though the history of horror has produced ten fantastic efforts that each do well to reflect the talent of Lovecraft.

The 10 best Lovecraftian horror movies

10. The Void (Steven Kostanski, Jeremy Gillespie, 2016)

Bizarre and utterly terrifying in the strangest way possible, The Void by Steven Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie follows a police officer who experiences odd occurrences linked to a group of mysterious hooded figures. Featuring strong violence, chaotic imagery and slithering Lovecraftian tentacles, the filmmaking duo commits their film fully to its narrative inspirations in spite of its thin narrative.

Defying its somewhat thin story, it is the visuals of the impressive 2016 film that helps it over the line, featuring bizarre creatures pictured in horrific, colourful lighting and intense strobes. 

9. Color Out of Space (Richard Stanley, 2019)

Perhaps it’s the bizarre acting of Nicolas Cage that attracts him to the eccentric world of H.P. Lovecraft, with Cage having appeared in both 2018s Mandy as well as 2019s Color Out of Space. Allowed to fully embrace his surreal persona, Cage goes wild in this film that follows a strange meteorite that strikes a secluded farmhouse that has apocalyptic consequences for the family living there. 

Though entertaining throughout, the story of Richard Stanley’s film doesn’t quite hold together, even if it does well to recreate the fear and panic of seeing something that is simply incomprehensible to the human eye.

8. Beyond the Black Rainbow (Panos Cosmatos, 2010)

An insane visual and narrative treat from the Italian-Canadian filmmaker Panos Cosmatos, Beyond the Black Rainbow, follows a young woman trying to escape from a futuristic commune named Arboria that is keeping her captive under heavy sedation. Starring Eva Bourne, Michael J Rogers and Scott Hylands, the film does well to contain its lofty ambitions, creating several spectacular sequences. 

Later becoming better known for his 2018 film Mandy that also shows off some Lovecraftian moments, Panos Cosmatos’ feature film debut has become a cult favourite that takes the viewer down a spiral of ethereal discovery. 

7. The Endless (Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, 2017)

Cults and cosmic terror surround this 2017 horror thriller from Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, with The Endless following two brothers who receive a strange video message that prompts them to return to the cult they left many years ago. Made on a stringent budget, Benson and Moorhead use the power of suggestion (as well as a few nifty effects) to invite questions as to what higher power is controlling the strange cult. 

Infused with existential dread, The Endless is an eerie watch that is creatively brought to life by the filmmakers who well translate Lovecraft’s love for the terror of the universe. 

6. From Beyond (Stuart Gordon, 1986)

A considerable fan of H.P. Lovecraft, Stuart Gordon adapted two great stories for the silver screen, with From Beyond being his second in 1986. Starring Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton and Ken Foree, the story, based on the short story of the same name by the iconic author, follows a group of scientists who create a machine that allows whoever within its range to see beyond the limits of perceptible reality. 

Obviously descending into chaos, Gordon takes a more horrifying approach to Lovecraft than his previous adaptation, Re-Animator by using gooey special effects that create a sickening monster at the film’s core. 

5. Event Horizon (Paul W. S. Anderson, 1997)

Paul W. S. Anderson should never be confused with Paul Thomas Anderson, with the two directors differing greatly in quality and the former being responsible for the likes of Mortal Kombat and Resident Evil. Event Horizon is, no doubt, his greatest film, telling the story of a rescue crew who are sent out to discover what happened to a starship that disappeared many years ago. The carnage they encounter is horrific and most certainly Lovecraftian. 

Questioning the horrors of the wider universe, Paul W. S. Anderson uses violent imagery and ethereal science fiction moments to create a genuine sense of unease in this fan-favourite. 

4. Re-Animator (Stuart Gordon, 1985)

Itself based on the serial novelette by H. P. Lovecraft Herbert West–Reanimator, this classic gooey horror from Stuart Gordon is one of the best adaptations of the author’s books. Embracing the horror subgenre of body horror, committing to its eccentric, gory and playful nature, Re-Animator told the story of a medical student who becomes obsessed with bringing dead flesh back to life. 

Recalling the work of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Lovecraft’s story toys with the concept of a scientist playing God, with Stuart Gordon efficiently bringing the film to life with humour and mucky gore.

3. In the Mouth of Madness (John Carpenter, 1994)

Though underappreciated at the time, audiences have come to respect John Carpenter’s 1994 film In the Mouth of Madness since its release, with the film presenting a narrative both terrifying and strangely believable. It all follows Sam Neill who plays a private investigator hired to find the missing novelist Sutter Crane and help deliver his final manuscripts to his publishers. 

The book in subject, however, contains horrors so horrific and unfathomable that it sends any reader insane. It’s an awesome concept, well pulled off by Carpenter with some bizarre, occasionally terrifying imagery.

2. The Thing (John Carpenter, 1982)

The true form of the cosmic beast of John Carpenter’s classic horror film is unknown, taking on the appearance of the friends and colleagues of those working on an American research station in Antarctica, a concept that is inherently Lovecraftian. Paranoid that the alien could be anyone, anywhere, the group begin to go mad as the creature picks them off one by one, occasionally baring its fleshy innards as it transforms, showing off a horrifying fleshy beast. 

Playing on two sides of Lovecraft’s favourite narratives, Carpenter toys with cosmic horror whilst also imbuing his film with an eerie realisation from his human characters that they are vulnerable to the powers of the outer universe. 

1. Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018)

Based on the novel by Jeff VanderMeer of the same name, Alex Garland’s 2018 film Annihilation follows a group of scientists who venture into ‘The Shimmer’, a strange cosmic zone that refracts the DNA of anything living within it. Creating wild vibrant vistas and horrific creatures whilst bending the matter of space-time itself, the scientists fall victim to the endless flow of time among other ethereal threats.

 Examining several aspects of Lovecraft’s greatness, Annihilation attempts to convey the visual terror of such a cosmic threat as well as offer an introspective look at how such an event could affect the human psyche.