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6 H.P. Lovecraft Stories That Need to Be Big Movies

Anyone who’s read the work of H.P. Lovecraft knows how evocative and chilling his horrific tales are, painting evocative ideas just beyond our ability to grasp. So why haven’t more of these stories haven’t been adapted to major feature films? I tried to get to the bottom of it by interviewing the founders of the Lovecraft Historical Society (read that here) but any explanation fails to quell my desire to see Eldritch evils and unspeakable creatures on the big screen. So, below are six Lovecraft stories that deserve to be films.

Note: while most of his stories have been made into shorts or low-budget films, I’m including in this list stories that haven’t yet had a proper feature film. Conversely, if a story has already gotten one of those, even if that movie isn’t very good, I’m not including it. So, Re-Animator, From Beyond, The Colour out of Space, The Shadow over Innsmouth, The Whisperer in Darkness, The Dunwich Horror, and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward are out.

1. The Music of Erich Zann

(image: Laurent Cozic)

Written in December 1921 and published a few months later, “The Music of Erich Zann” is considered by many to be Lovecraft’s first truly great and Lovecraftian short story, even though there’d obviously been some good ones prior to that. The story follows a young university student who is forced to find lodgings in an old building in a part of the city he’d never been to before. The only other tenant is an elderly German man named Erich Zann, a mute violist who plays in a local theater troupe. At night, the student can hear Zann play music the likes of which he’d never heard before. After gaining the man’s trust, he learns that Zann’s music is the sound of a dark abyss that exists just outside his window, and he plays night after night to keep the otherworldly entities at bay.

This would make a great movie, despite its short length, because of just how ethereal and scary it could be. We could get all sorts of visions of the horrors that exist just across the dimensional barriers as the student uncovers other such “windows” in a detective narrative There have been many shorts based on this story, but full Hollywood movie could be terrific.

2. The Rats in the Walls

(image: Sphinx Games)

Lovecraft wrote this story in 1923 and published it in 1924, and it marks the high-point in his Gothic/Poe-inspired horror output of his early career. An American man inherits a huge manor house called Exham Priory in England and moves in. Quickly he begins hearing scratching sounds somewhere in the bowels of the manor. As he begins to learn the histories of his family and the house, he begins to learn the awful truth: he is descended from a line of wealthy hedonists who kept “human cattle” in the pits of the house, ultimately for food purposes.

Aristocratic cannibals is such a great concept for an Old Dark House style of Gothic horror movie, and it deals with many of Lovecraft’s most prevalent themes, namely learning of dark family histories, and unreliable narrators slowly going insane. The movie would need to introduce other characters so our main character can have someone to talk to, but everything’s in place for a cracking good scary movie.

3. The Call of Cthulhu

(image: Fantasy Flight Games)

Written in 1926 and published two years later, this is the H.P. Lovecraft story. Not only did it create the creature that gave the author’s connected mythos a name, it’s quite possibly Lovecraft’s best work. The story unfolds through the Francis Wayland Thurston’s receipt of a box of evidence from his great-uncle that points to a cult that worships a creature memorialized in strange statuettes, a humanoid, octopoid, and dragon-like entity called Cthulhu.  The Cult of Cthulhu comes into greater focus after we learn of an old police inspector’s notes. Additionally, stories from an Australian sailing expedition detail the confrontation with the gargantuan beast itself, a Great Old One who waits in dormant sleep to awaken and bring with it the end of all things.

“The Call of Cthulhu” is one of the most cinematic stories Lovecraft wrote. It has action sequences perfect for the big screen, including a huge sea battle between pirates and Australian sailors in addition to the Cyclopean city of R’lyeh and the awakening and subsequent battle with Cthulhu itself. The story was turned into a fantastic silent short in 2005 by the Lovecraft Historical Society, but we’ve never gotten a depiction of one of the most famous horror monsters on the big screen. With CGI as good as it is these days, we could easily have a terrifying and iconic vision, to rival Godzilla or Kong.

4. The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath

(image: Pete von Sholly/The Pulps Library)

Written between 1926 and 1927, Lovecraft himself didn’t think this story worthy enough to be published so it was published in 1943 long after his death. It’s a lengthy tale of epic fantasy and horror that finds Lovecraft’s go-to hero, surrogate, and traverser of the dreamscape, Randolph Carter, attempting to find the unseen kingdom of Kadath within the dream dimension. Along the way, he encounters characters, themes, and locations from a dozen other Lovecraft stories earlier in his career, as well as appearances of some of the author’s most well-known deities, including the blind idiot god Azathoth, creator of everything, the bearded hunter god Nodens and his army of bat-like Night-Gaunts, and the crawling chaos himself, Nyarlathotep.

Now I’m not here to tell you this story is one of Lovecraft’s best written; it definitely meanders and spends a whole lot of time on stuff like the Cats of Ulthar (from a previous story) and beats around the bush. But! It’s got some of his most inventive locations, is a proper quest narrative of a classical hero type, refers to a full-on war with ghouls and night-gaunts, and has a true villain in Nyarlathotep. I mean, I think a movie on a par with Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings could be made, given the right screenwriter.

5. At the Mountains of Madness

(image: Astounding Stories)

I’m still holding out hope for Guillermo del Toro to make his long-touted version of this, but even if that doesn’t happen, someone is bound to turn Lovecraft’s 1931-written novella into a film. It describes an Antarctic expedition that uncovers evidence of ancient alien races, described in the Necronomicon as the “Elder Things,” the first extraterrestrial species to come to the Earth, colonizing the planet about one billion years ago. We learn about the history of the Elder Things and their creation of other beings, such as humans.

There’s a lot of amazing world-building in this story, and while a lot of the beginning drags, a film adaptation is worth it if for no other reason than the monstrous shoggoths, the tentacled, subway-train-sized creations of the Elder Things made to do menial labor who revolted and killed their makers. The heart-pounding chase through darkened, frozen, alien cities could be one of the scariest scenes in film history.

6. The Shadow out of Time

(image: Astounding Stories)

And finally we have a sort of pseudo-sidequel to “At the Mountains of Madness.” In the previous story, there are mentions of a race called the Great Race of Yith, an alien race that keeps itself alive by trading consciousnesses with different species on other planets across time and space. Our narrator is one of the unfortunate folks who gets forcibly mind-swapped with a Yithian and he has vivid “dreams” of the strange, giant civilization of bug-eyed aliens. This is originally intended by the Yithians for research, but eventually an invasion of the minds of humanity seems imminent.

This movie could start out like a simple ghost or demon movie, since the Yithian mind-swap looks to the observer like a case of possession, but the rabbit hole goes deep into dark sci-fi. This would make an excellent follow-up to Mountains, with references to the Elder Things (one of which is seen as another prisoner in the Yith jail).

These are my picks for Lovecraft stories that deserve to be movies, but what’re yours? Let me know in the comments below!

Featured Image: Fantasy Flight Games

Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. He is the writer of 200 reviews of weird or obscure films in Schlock & Awe. Follow him on Twitter!

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