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Translating a Lovecraft story into a film is no easy task, but here are ten underrated adaptations worth exploring for cosmic horror fans.

H.P. Lovecraft has always been — and continues to remain — a hot commodity in the world of horror. Recently (July 5th, 2022), Horror Wasteland Pictures International released a new horror film, H.P Lovecraft’s Witch House, based on Lovecraft’s short story The Dreams in the Witch House. 

Last year, news broke that Spike Lee was helping produce a new film for Netflix featuring Lovecraft’s most well-known monster, Cthulhu. Titled Gordon Hemingway & the Realm of Cthulhu, no release date has been announced, but Variety reports that Stefon Bristol (See You Yesterday) is on board to direct the feature that was written by Hank Woon.

However, as popular as Lovecraft is, fans of his literary work know that turning his fictional tales of cosmic horror into an effective film is not a simple task.

To depict the sheer otherworldliness of the terrifying Elder Gods bent on humanity’s destruction challenges even some of the industry’s best directors. Guillermo del Toro, a Lovecraft fan, has had a decade-long dream of bringing AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS to the silver screen.

There are rumors of screenplays that have been written and shelved multiple times due to project cancellations, and because to be successful at a Lovecraft adaptation it all relies on building the right atmosphere of dread.

It is a challenge to give shape to the indescribable horrors that exist somewhere on the edge of a reader’s psyche, but that doesn’t mean others haven’t tried. And while these films may not win any Academy Awards and tend to stray a bit from the original source material, they are our closest attempts to bringing the Cthulhu mythology to film. 

Here are the Top Ten Underrated H.P. Lovecraft adaptations that have been released since the 1960s.

A NOTE ABOUT THIS LIST:
This is by no means a definitive list as there are other films that may not be direct adaptations but instead inspired by Lovecraft’s work such as Die, Monster Die! (1965),  The Curse (1987), Colour from the Dark (2008), In The Mouth of Madness (1994), The Void (2016), and Annihilation (2018). 

1. Dagon (2001)

Dagon is a Spanish horror film directed by Stuart Gordon and It is based on Lovecraft’s novella The Shadow Over Innsmouth. It also shows elements of his earlier short story Dagon, which this film is named after. It has some pretty cheesy CGI effects, but it is one of the best adaptations because it shows great respect and appreciation for the source material.

From the moment the first storm comes and traps Paul, Barbara, Vicki, and Howard at sea, you can already sense the dread surrounding them. The atmosphere builds upon itself as the villagers slowly begin to show that they are something more than human and are driven by a sinister unseen creature whom they worship. It is a dark film that holds nothing good for anyone involved and this easily comes across to the audience.

Dagon is a low-budget film, but it shows a lot of heart and reverence for the unknown terrors of Lovecraft’s world. Watch it for free now on Tubi. 

2. Re-Animator (1985)

Re-Animator is an undeniable cult classic. It was also directed by Stuart Gordon (who you will see often on this list) and produced by Brian Yuzna. Both men have made significant portions of their careers based on film adaptations of Lovecraft’s literature. This is also the film where we are introduced to now horror legends Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton.

It is loosely based on the 1922 serial novelette “Herbert West – Reanimator”, known to be one of Lovecraft’s least favorite of his writings. Re-Animator adds elements from the short story such as West’s constant drive to reanimate the dead, his relationship with our Narrator (who is Dan in the movie), and the conflict between West and Dean Halsey. But that is as far as the movie goes in being a faithful adaptation.

Once Dean Halsey is killed and reanimated (which does happen in the short story), the film goes a tad off the rails and gives the audience of the 80s what they want to see: practical effects, lots of blood and a naked woman. Re-Animator becomes less about the horror of West’s unethical pursuit to conquer death, and more about the chaos that ensues. However, what also makes this a good adaptation is Jeffrey Combs’ portrayal of Herbert West.

Combs has the perfect look and delivers each line with a conviction that would make an Arkham cultist concerned about his modus operandi. Watch Re-Animator for free on Tubi or Shudder. 

3. Bride of Re-Animator (1990)

 This film is the sequel to Re-Animator and was written and directed by Brian Yuzna. Once again it is loosely based on the short story by Lovecraft and includes elements such as West’s time in the military and his experimentation with body parts that lead to a showdown with the undead.

This is adapted from the story “V. The Horror from the Shadows” as well as “VI. The Tomb-Legions”. Bride of Re-Animator adds more elements from the short story, making it more of a faithful Lovecraft adaptation. But again, Yuzna adds elements of overt gore and body horror with its practical effects. We also get another comedic but sincere performance from Jeffrey Combs (reprising his role as Herbert West).