I've ranted and raved about my boy Howard Phillips Lovecraft before, but if I'm going to keep doing this here blog for long, y'all are going to be hearing me repeat myself quite a bit. I don't really have very many good ideas.
Something I really dig about Lovecraft's legacy is that adaptations of his writing usually end up pretty sweet. His dense, baffling style of prose is Hollywood poison, usually keeping the cokehead producers at bay while the obsessive, low-budget gore-hounds tackle his best stories. Stuart Gordon, whose films you'll read about LOTS below, is probably the most Lovecraft-obsessed director in the field, with no less than 5 movies based on The Man's work.
For those of you who are already fans of HPL, check out the website for the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society. They've filmed their own versions of both "The Call of Cthulhu" and "The Shadow Over Innsmouth", and although I haven't had a chance to see either film, respect is due to The Society for keeping the word alive.
Anyhow, without further ado, let's jump right into this Top 5 list, a morbid assembly of ghoulish tales beyond the realm of mortal comprehension. THE HORROR! IA! IA! YOG-SOTHOTH! THE HORROR!!!
5) DAGON (2001)
I was skeptical when I first picked this one up. Though directed by Stuart Gordon, the cover made it look a bit too cheezy (not in the good, 80's way, but in the modern, too-much-CGI way), and the preview (which you can watch below) wasn't too promising either. But by the first scene, when the main character, Paul, is shown wearing a Miskatonic University sweatshirt (a common setting in many of Lovecraft's stories), I knew I was in for a good ride.
The story, more an adaptation of the 1932 story "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" than 1919's "Dagon", follows the story of Paul and his lady Barbara, two American tourists who are shipwrecked off the coast of Spain and find themselves stranded in a decrepit town full of mutant sea-people who worship the Fish-God Dagon (above left, in a more Biblical depiction).
I think what put "Dagon" over the top for me was that the special effects were much more of the latex-and-fake-blood variety, not the weak-looking computer animation that has become so prevalent in the Horror genre in the 2000's. Gordon didn't let his fans down, and "Dagon" delivers the gore and freakish monsters that you need in a good fright flick. Everything about this movie is pretty kick-ass, and although it's still a bit "modern" for my 80's-centric taste in Horror, it's definitely a winner, earning its inclusion on this elite list.
Below: The vaguely Cthulhu-esque Fish-God Dagon.
Trailer (Warning - BOOBS):
4) FROM BEYOND (1986)
Another one from Mr. Gordon. Here, he teamed up with all the same dudes that brought us the ruling "Re-Animator", including actor Jeffrey Combs, soundtracker Richard Band, producer Brian Yuzna, and writer Dennis Paoli. Good call, Stuart.
"From Beyond", based on the 1920 HPL story of the same name, tells the story of Dr. Crawford Tillinghast (Combs), an experimental physicist who accidentally opens an interdemensional portal, letting through all manner of ghastly fiends.
The real stars here are the over-the-top special effects, on par with "The Thing" as far as slimy, latex creature arts go. "From Beyond" is a true pot of gold for the obscure Horror fan, with just enough sci-fi and weird fantasy to make Lovecraft proud. I'm pretty sure you can get it on Netflix, but if you can't and it's not at your local video store, I suggest writing your Congressman. This movie is THAT important.
Below: This is what happens when you fuck with Physics. Consider yourself WARNED.
Get the awesome soundtrack to this movie, by Richard Band, here.
3) THE DUNWICH HORROR (1970)
Here's a great piece of Necronomicon-oriented exploitation from the master of the B-movie, Mr. Roger Corman. Based on a 1928 story, "The Dunwich Horror" stars a young, moustachioed Dean Stockwell as Wilbur Whateley, a creepy dude of questionable fathering who seeks to solve the black secrets of The Book Of The Dead.
Sorry about the spoiler, but Wilbur finds out deep into the film that his father is none other than the dread Yog-Sogoth (artist's rendering at left), and must retrieve a cursed copy of the Black Book from the library at Miskatonic to summon him home. A mysterious old man by the name of "Wizard Whateley" aids him on his quest, revealing the secrets of his past but never speaking of That Which Cannot Be Named.
Corman knew how to sell a film, and the addition of an often scantily-clad Sandra Dee to the cast was a foreseeable development. Much of the film is dedicated to Black Masses and quasi-Satanic rituals, which are campy and awesome at the same time. As usual in Horror films of the 70's, this movie is chock full of samples just waiting to be plucked out and placed on a Death Metal album.
Added bonus: Ed Begley Sr. pops up here and there. Nice.
Super weak: "The Dunwich Horror", another blasphemous (in a bad way) Hollywood remake, arrives later this year.
Below: Stockwell prepares a human sacrifice to appease the hunger of the Great Old Ones. 70's style.
2) RE-ANIMATOR (1985)
What can be said about this epic milestone in the Horror genre that hasn't been said already? I fell in love with this flick years and years ago, and have watched it dozens of times. But I'm always down to watch it again (although Sweet Baby Jay won't watch it with me - one too many scalp surgery scenes for her tastes). This was the movie that established the Gordon/Combs/Lovecraft/Band team as the cream of the crop, and was the pillar of strength that provided funding for "From Beyond" and "Castle Freak". Besides the whole Lovecraft aspect (it was based on the 1922 story "Herbert West: Re-Animator, by the way), it's just one of the BEST GODDAMN Horror movies ever, up there with the "Evil Dead" series and "Dead Alive". Period. End of story. Next case.
Great tagline, too: "Herbert West has a great head on his shoulders... And another one on his desk!"
Get the "Re-Animator" and "Bride of Re-Animator" soundtracks, also by Richard Band, here.
1) RUDIMENTARY PENI'S "CACOPHONY" LP (1989)
The only piece of art on this list that isn't a movie IS my overall favorite. Not so much an adaptation of a single story as an adaptation of Lovecraft's ENTIRE body of work and persona, "Cacophony" is a gibbering glimpse into R.P. frontman Nick Blinko's own spiral into paranoia and mental illness, told through the eyes and words of HPL. An obsessive romp through a twisted mind accompanied by buzzsaw guitar and driving drums, this album is one of my most treasured possessions, a fucked-up trip through a fucked-up brain that I can never get tired of. Check out "Nightgaunts" and "the Horrors In The Museum", and tell me that this isn't the sound of Lovecraft himself, had he been born 60 years later and started a punk band. Go ahead. TELL ME.
If you haven't already, for God's sake get this album NOW.
PS: A bit of HPL/RP trivia - if you look closely at the cover art, you can make out the words "Erich Zann", an allusion to the story "The Music of Erich Zann", about a mad violinist who opens portals to other dimensions with his music.
Now, if we can only talk Terry Gilliam into directing "Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath"...