Resurrecting H. P. Lovecraft on the Big and Small Screen
Before Stephen King (and after Edgar Allan Poe), the master of American literary horror was H. P. Lovecraft. Born a decade before the turn of the century in Providence, Rhode Island, Lovecraft grew up a sickly kid who never left his house and read all the time. Adding to his circumstances, both of his parents died in insane asylums.
Though Lovecraft was reportedly a prodigy – a poet by the age of six – he didn’t really get into writing full tilt until his mid-twenties, through the then burgeoning amateur press association scene of the early twentieth century. This would lead to a massive collection of correspondence with other amateur writers across the country, some of whom went on to become big names in genre fiction (including Pyscho author Robert Bloch and Conan the Barbarian creator Robert E. Howard). Lovecraft eventually parlayed this into a professional writing career (though financial success forever eluded him), selling short stories to fantasy and horror pulp magazines like Weird Tales, and even doing some ghost-writing work, most famously for legendary magician Harry Houdini. Upon his death in 1937, Lovecraft remained obscure and unknown, but in the decades since he’s become a cornerstone of the fantasy/horror genre with a colossal and fervent fan base, alongside writers like King and Neil Gaiman, who often cite him as a major influence on their work.
For the most part, Hollywood has benefited more from the influence and themes of Lovecraft’s writing than the actual stories themselves. The writer’s most famous premise of a larger hidden cosmology that humanity is unable to fully comprehend has become so prevalent in the sci-fi and horror film genre that it borders on cliché. And thanks to Lovecraft’s meticulous self-referencing and off-handed callbacks in stories to previous works, his bibliography consists of a constant and underlying mythology known as the Cthulhu Mythos. Arguably, the author’s most prominent legacy is probably the adjective “Lovecraftian,” which (like fellow literary descriptors “Dickensian” and “Kafkaesque”) refers to a story featuring similar themes to the writer’s work.
Still, there exists a wide canon of Lovecraft tales turned into films and television. Here’s a look at the most noteworthy instances in which his writing has been adapted for the screen.
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