Results of yesterday’s poll so far:
Favorite Lovecraftian Horror Movie?
In the Mouth of Madness (1994) 50%
Re-Animator (1985) 33.33%
From Beyond (1986) 16.67%
Dagon (2001) 0%
Dreams in the Witch House (Masters of Horror) (2005) 0%
Well, my first Monday Night Monster post is going up later than usual, but here it is. I figured I’d start it off with some thoughts on Lovecraftian horror movies. The poll only covers five — a very small representation of Lovecraft’s influence on monsters in horror cinema — but here’s my reasoning.
To me, a movie like Cloverfield, the monster of which is arguably influenced by the Cthulhu Mythos, is more of a Kaiju movie in the tradition of Godzilla, you know? The Lovecraftian movies I was thinking of are ones where the monster, generally stronger/larger/more tentacled than us as humans, indicates the presence of some otherworldly, other-dimensional realm of power, literally and figuratively, that the characters of the movie previously could hardly even have imagined. The essence of Lovecraft’s theme, I mean, is captured in movies where the horror, once known, can never be unknown, and once unleashed (if fully unleashed), can never really be stopped.
I’ll attempt not to give any spoilers, but here’s how I think the movies in the poll fit into this thematic framework.
Dreams in the Witch House is pretty much a direct (though modernized) adaptation of Lovecraft’s story of the same name. It’s one of those movies, I think, that pits your basic innocent intellectual against the kind of forbidden knowledge (introduced in small spurts through dreams) that is ultimately consumptive. Now, while DitWH has never really been one of my favorite Lovecraft stories, I can appreciate the film’s ability to look at the inexorable and horrific inter-dimensional power of Nyarlahotep’s minion, the witch, without having things get so esoteric that those unfamiliar with the source story would be lost.
Huh…it didn’t occur to me then, but two more Stuart Gordon films, Re-Animator and From Beyond, also appear on the poll, and both work pretty directly from the source material. (Incidentally, Jeffrey Combs is, I feel, to Lovecraft movies what Vincent Price was to Edgar Allan Poe’s movie adaptations.) From Beyond most definitely keys into the theme of otherworldly horror — in fact, the basic premise is the discovery of a world of other entities and powers overlapping our own. Re-Animator, on the other hand… well, it does explore the idea of the first and foremost other world significant to mankind — the realm of death. And I guess in that light, you could say once Dr. Herbert West discovers the secret of re-animation, he is consumed by exploring and perfecting it, in spite of the obvious…uh, drawbacks.
Dagon is a little bit “Shadow Over Innsmouth” and a little bit “Dagon,” with lots of monstery goodness bridging the gaps between the two. Ezra Godden (of Dreams in the Witch House!) does a good job as Paul Marsh, a reluctant hero stranded in Imbocca (Innsmouth in Spanish) who is forced to dig deeper into the secrets kept by the residents in order to rescue his girlfriend. I like that this movie is willing to acknowledge the underlying sexual perversion that contributes to this particular story’s horror. It also looks at the nature of humanity — what you lose and what you retain as you make the change between being human and being something else.
Do you read Sutter Cane?
A brilliant take, in my humble opinion, on modern Lovecraftian horror is one of my personal favorite movies of all time, In the Mouth of Madness. God, I love this movie, as a writer, reader, and a horror fan. Some of Sutter Cane’s passages are out of the mouth of the monster master himself, as are certain elements, like the Byzantine church, a “seat of evil older than mankind and wider than the known universe.” In true Lovecraftian fashion, it explores both sides of the boundaries between fact and fiction, reality and fantasy, and sanity and insanity, showing how frighteningly easy it is to slip from one side to the other. There are some truly memorable and chilling scenes, as well as a final reveal of tentacled ancient monstrosities in all their glory. So much of this movie’s strength is in its visuals, from colors to camera angles, from mounting tension and building threat in subtle background changes to jarring and overt monstrous metamorphoses.
If you haven’t seen these, particularly the last two, I definitely recommend them. Thanks for giving this inaugural post of Monday Night Monsters a read — I look forward to hearing your thoughts on these movies, and any other Lovecraftian horror movies you want to recommend.
Until next Monday….