H.P. LOVECRAFT & COSMIC HORROR | Offscreen
Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937) is one of the most important practitioners of 20th century fantasy and horror literature. A prolific writer with a strange and often dreamlike imagination, Lovecraft is known as the creator and pioneer of the term "cosmic horror". The overarching theme of this philosophy of "cosmism" is human futility.
In 1927 he declared, "The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown." What petrifies the protagonists of his stories is the realisation that they are absolutely powerless to effect any sort of change on the indifferent and ultimately incomprehensible universe surrounding them. Lovecraft's cosmism stems from his disdain for conventional religions, a fascination with paganism, and his sense of humanity's existential impotence in the face of vast cosmic emptiness.
On top of that, the cosmos of his stories is inhabited by innumerable ancient and powerful extraterrestrial or parallel-dimensional beings who are worshipped as gods. This elaborate fictional universe forms the thread running through the author's work, and is known as the "Cthulhu Mythos".
The Cthulhu Mythos gradually extended its tentacles into other media, such as games, manga and film. Adapting Lovecraft's writing for the cinema has proved no easy task, the problem being that directors must at some point depict the indefinable. Yet the writer's world has been a fruitful source of inspiration for many filmmakers, so much so that Lovecraftian horror has developed into a subgenre in its own right.
Since the successes of the film Color Out of Space and the HBO series Lovecraft Country, the writer's oeuvre has once again begun to creep into the "mainstream." Which means this is the perfect time to compile a programme of ten Lovecraftian films comprising adaptations, more or less faithful reworkings, and tributes.
COLOR OUT OF SPACE
Nicolas Cage moves his family to a New England farm to breed alpacas, but when a meteor crashes in their yard it exercises a baleful purple-tinged influence over the local flora and fauna, plunging them into a body horror nightmare. Lovecraft’s classic comes to the screen in all its mind-blowing cosmic terror.
+ short film Transfer (Jonas Govaerts, BE, 2021), introduced by the director
A troubled young American seeks refuge in southern Italy, where he meets a girl who might be his soulmate. Filmmakers Benson and Moorhead can always be trusted not to take the obvious route, so this slow-burning, sensitive and oddly optimistic romance has surprises up its sleeve, some of them involving tentacles.
THE DUNWICH HORROR
Dean Stockwell, channelling infamous occultist Aleister Crowley, plays a sinister stranger who shows interest in a rare copy of the Necronomicon and (not coincidentally) in an equally rare college student (Sandra Dee) who is still a virgin. Dark family secrets, psychedelic effects, cosmic mayhem? Yog-Sothoth ahoy!
THE CALL OF CTHULHU
Long thought unfilmable, Lovecraft's seminal text is filmed in the retro-style of a 1920s silent movie, emerging as one of the most faithful adaptations of the writer's work. This deep plunge into dark secrets, ancient cults and mounting terror culminates in a rare opportunity to see Cthulhu itself on the big screen.
+ short film Pickman's Model (Pablo Angeles, MX, 2014, 11')
The Shadow Over Innsmouth is transposed from New England to a Spanish fishing village, where an American couple is stranded after a yachting accident. But there is something fishy about the villagers, not entirely unconnected to an ancient god which demands blood sacrifices and human females for breeding purposes.
+ short film An Eldritch Place (Julien Jauniaux, BE, 2016, 17'), introduced by the director
NECRONOMICON: BOOK OF DEAD
Jeffrey Combs plays H.P. Lovecraft, whose perusal of the forbidden Necronomicon frames the three segments of this portmanteau film inspired by his work. Prepare to have your spine chilled by a slither of fishmen, slimy tentacles and batlike creatures from another dimension that will suck the marrow from your bones!
From the team that brought you Re-Animator, this interdimensional malarkey literally fuses mad scientists, body mutation, kinky sex and elongated pineal glands that suck people's brains out through their eye sockets. The cherry on top of this deliriously gloopy gateau? Barbara Crampton dressed in dominatrix gear!
Flanagan, of Netflix's Midnight Mass, first impressed genre fans with this low budget chiller in which his skill at evoking supernatural dread is already in evidence. A woman is plagued by nightmares about her missing husband, while her sister gets creeped out by a pedestrian tunnel in their Los Angeles neighbourhood.
IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS
Sam Neill plays an investigator hired to find a missing horror novelist in this eldritch yarn. The trail leads to a New England town not marked on any map, an unholy church, and tendrils in the oddest places on a wild and crazy ride that ends up picking at the threads of reality itself! One of Carpenter's best.
+ short film Family Matters (Steve De Roover, BE, 2019, 6'), introduced by the director
Jeffrey Combs gives a magnificently deadpan performance in this classic splatterfest as Lovecraft’s Herbert West, an arrogant medical student who claims to have conquered brain death. His demented experiments lead to a zombie cat attack, sexual assault by severed head, and a colourful riot of walking corpses.