Adopting One Of The Most Popular Dark Stories Of H.P. Lovecraft
There are many literary stories and unique narratives that could be adapted into a cinematic experience, especially in horror. Enter H.P Lovecraft, a man who’s considered the forefather of a unique subgenre of horror through his writing of the Cthulhu mythos. Call of Cthulhu is one of the most popular stories written by Lovecraft that follows the mysteries of several artifacts connected to a cult and the ancient force they hope to awaken. The original story is split in three interconnected scenarios that follow the protagonists of the stories as they uncover and attempt to stop the horrific awakening of the ancient being called Cthulhu. The story is praised for being the archetype of cosmic horror and its focus on a group of protagonists getting involved with a crazy monster or abstract situation that leaves them helpless to the price of knowing too much. Call of Cthulhu is next to other major Lovecraft stories like Shadow of Innsmouth, Rats In the Walls, and Mountain of Madness to adapt into a cinematic experience.
The Nature Of Lovecraftian Horror
Lovecraft’s idea of horror isn’t just jump scares or building up to a scary monster that tears into an unsuspecting victim, it’s an existential dread. It’s the idea that humanity is just a small insignificant part of the universe and we aren’t meant to venture deep into its mysteries. Lovecraft’s anxieties when he looked into astronomy and cosmology fed into this aspect by giving his creatures and characters a sense of neutral standing. Our heroes are either indifferent to the human condition, reflect the flaws of curiosity, or stereotypical action heroes that get deconstructed in the face of the terrible truth.
Even the monsters of the Cthulhu mythos, named in honor of the most popular creature Lovecraft made, are generally treated with a sense of chaotic mystery. Whether they’re pure evil, good, or simply chaotic “things” with their own sense of being tends to never be clear. Cthulhu is a sleeping monster at the bottom of the ocean treated like deity, but by waking up, he can trigger horrific nightmares, disastrous cataclysms, and all manner of terrible things. Even worse, the stories always end with a sense of ambiguity. Monsters of Lovecraftian horror are never killed, only defeated, sealed away, or barely avoided. Their threat still exists and it’s a matter of not how they’ll return, but when.
Ways That Make The Film Adaptation Work
An adaptation of a Lovecraft story is tricky at best, almost downright impossible at worst. One thing to understand is the atmosphere of the story. The Cthulhu mythos is full of shadowy conflicts against cults and fearsome monsters with a sense of gritty realism supported by dreary townsfolk plagued by dark rumors and creepy atmosphere. It’s similar tone wise to Gothic Horror stories from Frankenstein to Dracula which is why many see Lovecraftian stories as an extension of Gothic Horror. The protagonists in these stories tend to dress in mostly Noir styles of clothing, and when it’s not treated as a pure creature feature, these stories tend to be a period piece of the times.
The biggest difference between Gothic Horror and Lovecraftian Horror is that the monsters in traditional horror tend to follow certain rules on how to beat them and they’re easy to perceive and explain. Lovecraftian monsters are horrifying chaos in design and nature, either a mass of tentacles or numerous eyes surrounding a shape that could or couldn’t be a body. They make little to no sense and understanding them is virtually impossible, meaning that the means to defeat them tend to be just as abstract and confusing. Even the idea of defeating them seems to be an illusion by itself.
Elements That Are Difficult To Adapt For Film
At the same time, the things that make Lovecraftian Horror incredibly interesting and unique are the same things that are difficult to adapt for a film. There is a slow buildup of the tension as the mystery of the dark events unfolds, to the point that it might drag on. Monsters are hardly the point of the story as well, so despite how cold the design of the creatures are they would not be the focus. It’s simply the perspective of the humans as they explore the case surrounding these things. There is a lot of philosophical discussion and there always seems to be a point or an attempt to explain the plot to a fault. Lovecraftian movies make an attempt to make fear and tension also smart and contemplative, which may not work for audiences who want a straight forward flick.
Then there’s the way they end. There is no happy ending, no triumph, and no final battle with a satisfying conclusion, only a bittersweet relief and blind sense of hope that the nightmare has ended. Movies inspired by Lovecraft such as The Void and Annihilation are guilty of the ambiguous situation ending, where the conclusion of the horrific events are left to interpretation. The looming dread of the unknown and the brutal indifference of the nature of the unknown leaves little to no comfort and is incredibly difficult to adapt in a way that leaves audiences satisfied. Even by horror movie standards, these are not happy movies and they tend to be incredibly pessimistic.
Interestingly enough, an adaptation of Call of Cthulhu had been around for several years now. Produced by Sean Branney and Andrew Leman and distributed by the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society, this film was released in 2005 and uses Mythoscope, being a combination of modern filming techniques and vintage 1920s era silent films like Nosferatu (1922) and the original Lost World (1925). Despite being really short, under an hour long, the movie was praised for many of the points that can make a successful Lovecraftian film, bleak atmosphere, compelling characters, and the overarching mystery that leads to a classic Cosmic Horror reveal. To see a full length adaptation that takes a similar route to this indie film would be incredibly interesting.
The Call of Cthulhu (2005) Official Trailer