A lot of written works are converted to a view-able media, such as movies or TV series, and the stories of H. P. Lovecraft are no different. There have been many adaptations and versions of various stories, whether keeping true to form or only loosely based. However, movies that accurately portray the feeling and style inherent within Mythos stories are few and far between, or at least from my point of view. There is a reason for this, but I will get to that later. In this article, I will explore a little of what Cthulhu Mythos exists within the cinema world.
The earliest film I could find that is directly based on Lovecraft’s work is the 1963 film The Haunted Palace, starring such big horror names as Vincent Price and Lon Chaney Jr. It is based on the story The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. Even though it has been released with the title Edgar Allen Poe’s Haunted Palace, it holds no similarity to Poe’s poem, besides a few lines of quoted text. The plot of The Haunted Palace derives its plot from the Lovecraft story, but is not quite the same.
A brief synopsis:
Joseph Curwen is a sorcerer who has been abducting females from Arkham to breed with the Old Ones to create some form of superior being. Members of the town, having witnessed one of these abductions, storm Curwen’s palace to save the girl. Curwen is captured and tied to a tree to be burnt. Before he succumbs to the flames, Curwen curses the town. 110 years later, the descendant of Curwen, Charles Dexter Ward, comes to Arkham with his wife, Anne, because he has inherited the palace. The spirit of Curwen possesses Ward through a portrait of the deceased sorcerer and begins enacting revenge upon the descendants of those who burnt him all those years ago. The town revolts against Curwen again, this time destroying the house, and the portrait, and thus the spirit’s connection to Ward. The couple, with help, barely escape, though something of Curwen still lingers within Ward.
So we can see this movie is significantly different from the story in its plot details, but the general idea is somewhat similar; an older and dead relative, and sorcerer (of some variety) takes the place of a descendant who looks very similar, and shenanigans ensue.
Other movies have come out over the years between then and now, however, not as many as you might think. There are perhaps a dozen movies that follow various stories in some form or fashion, and some more beyond those that only make references to the Mythos or things within it.
Some examples of films that follow stories are:
- Cthulhu (2000)
- Cthulhu (2007)
- The Call of Cthulhu
- The Curse
And some that make references but don’t follow stories are:
- The Evil Dead series
- Cast a Deadly Spell
- The Crimson Cult
- From Beyond
- At the Mouth of Madness
At one point, Guillermo del Toro was trying to get a movie based on the story At the Mountains of Madness made, but it has been in development hell for several years now. At one point, James Cameron entered as a producer, but that didn’t help it proceed at all.
There is one main factor for there being few movies made from H. P. Lovecraft stories, especially from big name studios, and that is money. One of the reported reasons that Paramount Studios hasn’t proceeded with production of the At the Mountains of Madness movie is that it doesn’t have a happy ending or a love story or anything of that sort. Lovecraft’s stories are not known for good endings, and studios don’t want that because they think it won’t make money, and at the end of the day, it is all about making a profit. Studios don’t want to lose money, and they think they will with films based on Mythos stories.
I like it, but most think it’s rubbish.
One might say “But there are lots of movies with unhappy endings!” and yes, there are, so I cannot say why those big studios choose not to make movies based on HPL’s writing. It could have to do with the general theme of a lot HPL’s works, especially his later phase, which involves humanity being insignificant within the universe, a theme that is probably not very appealing to most people. Combine that with the pantheon of various Elder Gods or Old Ones who at worst are evil and wish to destroy the human race or at best are completely indifferent, and you have an extremely depressive, bleak setting that fosters feelings of hopelessness and dread. These are the sorts of things that people generally don’t want to feel, and so studios don’t want to make movies about.
So, with big studios not wanting to make this style of movies, it is left to smaller studios or independents, often with very low budgets. In turn, the movies that do come out from the small producers can be laughably ridiculous. Sometimes they follow the stories accurately, but sometimes the story doesn’t translate well to film, or the original story is altered too heavily to bear much resemblance. Either way, the majority of films made that follow HPL’s stories are generally considered not very good. I had hoped for a good rendition with del Toro, but alas, that is unlikely to happen any more.
I can’t say I know a lot about cinema in general, I just know what I like. Since I like the writings of HPL (and other associated Mythos works), I assume I would like movies made from those stories too. But perhaps the stories, because of writing style, content or themes, just cannot be turned into movies, or at least decent movies. Alternatively, if the story is changed to make it suitable to be turned into a movie, then purists like me will complain that it doesn’t keep to the source material and call it rubbish anyway. That’s a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ sort of situation. There is also probably a lot of things to do with script writing, cost, and more that I don’t know anything about that also prevent HPL-based movies being made.
At the end of it all, after getting my hopes up on a movie that most likely won’t ever exist, I am now happy to let those stories remain in the literary world rather than trying to force them into cinema. TV might prove a better medium, but there have been no complete series based on HPL’s work as of yet, just a smattering of episodes across various shows, or references made, but even then, that is unlikely, as there isn’t enough content in a single story to make a series. So the creators would have to change things, either padding out the story with additional content, or merging multiple stories together, and that purist argument I mentioned earlier would rear it’s ugly head again.
While writing this article, I’ve been thinking of what I would like to see when it comes to HPL’s work in visual media, and I believe I might have an idea or two. The first is something similar to the first season of The X-Files or Supernatural, where central characters experience various situations as separate episodes, perhaps with some form of general over-arcing story line. The other idea is to present a setting, of a sort, and have a collection of mostly unrelated stories within that setting, and some sort of connection between them (such as all being Mythos stories) as seen in the movie Heavy Metal.
Do you have any idea about Mythos within the visual media realm? Let me know in the comments below.