MIKE DAVIS’ LIST OF RECOMMENDED LOVECRAFTIAN MOVIES
Below is a list of Lovecraftian-themed movies that I recommend — what I consider to be the best of the best. Note that I did not say that this is a list of movies based on Lovecraft’s stories. Some movies on this list are adaptations of Lovecraft’s work, to be sure; but there are plenty that are not. That’s not important. What is important is that the movie makes good use of Lovecraftian themes, whether it’s an adaptation or not.
For example, you won’t find The Dunwich Horror on this list, but you will find Dagon (a Lovecraft adaptation) and Absentia (not a Lovecraft adaptation). Why? Because tentacles and adaptations don’t make movies Lovecraftian.
What does make a movie Lovecraftian, in my opinion? Wikipedia writes that “the hallmark of Lovecraft’s work was the sense that ordinary life was a thin shell over a reality which was so alien and abstract in comparison that merely contemplating it would damage the sanity of the ordinary person.” I agree wholeheartedly with that definition, and I put together this movie list with that in mind.
Also, this is a personal list; it’s movies that I think are very good to great and that use Lovecraftian themes. If you disagree, fair enough; your comments are welcome. If you think I’ve forgotten a movie that should be here, please let me know.
I’ll be adding to this list from time to time. To stay in the loop, sign up for email notifications at the top right side of this page.
Long story short: If you enjoy reading new stories of Lovecraftian horror like the ones found in The Lovecraft eZine, then you will probably enjoy the movies below. So grab the popcorn and turn down the lights — here’s the list!
ALIEN [streaming, DVD] On their voyage home, the crew of the deepspace tug Nostromo investigate an alien distress signal, inadvertently picking up and bringing aboard an extraterrestrial life form with violent and lethal survival instincts.
AM 1200 [DVD] Haunted by recent events and on the run, a man finds himself the unwitting pawn of a possessed evangelical radio station and like his unfortunate predecessor must ask himself whether it is better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.
ANNIHILIATION [streaming, DVD] A biologist and former soldier (Natalie Portman) must lead a mission into a mysterious quarantine zone known as The Shimmer, a beautiful but deadly world of mutated landscapes and creatures that threatens all life on Earth.
THE BANSHEE CHAPTER [streaming, DVD] On the trail of a missing friend who had been experimenting with mind-altering drugs, a young journalist – aided by a rogue counter-culture writer — finds herself drawn into the dangerous world of top-secret government chemical research and the mystery of a disturbing radio signal of unknown origin. A fast-paced thriller blending fact and fiction, Banshee Chapter is based on real documents, actual test subject testimony, and uncovered secrets about covert programs run by the CIA.
BLACK MOUNTAIN SIDE [streaming, DVD] Archaeologists find a strange structure that appears to be thousands of years old. The team becomes isolated when their communications fail and their sanity begins to unravel.
THE BURROWERS [streaming, DVD] The Dakota Territories. 1879. A handful of brave pioneers maintain isolated settlements in the badlands beyond civilization. Irish immigrant Fergus Coffey is near to winning the hand of his beloved Maryanne when she is suddenly taken from him, her family brutally abducted in a nighttime attack on their homestead. Suspicion falls immediately on hostile Indians. Experienced Indian fighters Will Parcher and John Clay form a posse and set out to rescue the kidnapped settlers, taking along a naive teenager hoping to prove himself a man, an ex-slave looking for his place, and their ranch hand, Coffey. But as men vanish in the night, and horrific evidence accumulates with the dead and dying, the group discovers that their prey is far more terrifying than anything human, and their prospects are far more terrible than death.
CLOVERFIELD [streaming, DVD] Told from the vertiginous point-of-view of a camcorder-wielding group of friends, Cloverfield begins like a primetime television soap opera about young Manhattanites coping with changes in their personal lives. Rob is leaving New York to take an executive job at a company in Japan. At his goodbye party in a crowded loft, Rob’s brother Jason hands a camcorder to best friend Hud, who proceeds to tape the proceedings over old footage of Rob’s ex-girlfriend, Beth–images shot during happy times in that now-defunct relationship. Naturally, Beth shows up at the party with a new beau, bumming Rob out completely. Just before one’s eyes glaze over from all this heartbreaking stuff (captured by Hud, who’s something of a doofus, in laughably shaky camerawork), the unexpected happens: New York is suddenly under attack from a Godzilla-like monster stomping through midtown and destroying everything and everybody in sight. Rob and company hit the streets, but rather than run with other evacuees, they head toward the center of the storm so that Rob can rescue an injured Beth. There are casualties along the way, but the journey into fear is fascinating and immediate if emotionally remote–a consequence of seeing these proceedings through the singular, subjective perspective of a camcorder and of a story that intentionally leaves major questions unanswered: Who or what is this monster? Where did it come from?
THE CREATURE BELOW [streaming, DVD] During a dive accident, Olive, a marine-biologist discovers a creature. She brings the creature home, intent on secretly studying it. Things begin to unravel, revealing her bond with it. One which drives her to carry out its sinister will.
CTHULHU [DVD] The H.P. Lovecraft story “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” gets a contemporary reworking in this eerie film following a gay college professor (Jason Cottle) as he arrives at his Oregon hometown to preside over the estate of his deceased mother. Finding both his father and the community at large involved in a strange cult, the young man confronts his ultimate destiny with an icy dread.
DAGON [DVD] Based on a short story by H.P. Lovecraft, the undisputed master of macabre. Paul and his girlfriend Barbara are celebrating the success of their new company on a yacht off the coast of Spain, when a sudden storm smashes their boat on a reef. Barbara and Paul swim to the nearest town for help. The decrepit fishing village of Imboca at first seems to be deserted, but unblinking eyes peer out from boarded-up houses. The strange inhabitants offer little help to the stranded couple. By nightfall Barbara is missing and Paul finds himself pursued by the entire town… but a town of what?
DIE FARBE [streaming, DVD] Arkham, 1975: Jonathan Davis’ father has disappeared. His tracks lead to Germany, to the Swabian-Franconian Forest where he was stationed after the Second World War. Jonathan sets out to find him and bring him home, but deep in the woods he discovers a dark mystery from the past. Based on H.P. Lovecraft’s short novel “The Colour Out of Space”.
DIRT DAUBER [DVD] In this disturbing Lovecraftian fairytale, a man awakes naked and confused in an isolated mountainous region. He soon encounters a strange local who offers to help him. The stranger recounts local folklore that speaks of a murderous religious cult, and an insect-like fertility god that is said to dwell deep within the mountain. The two men go underground in search of the truth and soon find themselves in a stygian black temple of horror…
DREAMS IN THE WITCH HOUSE [streaming, DVD] A graduate student questions his sanity after he rents a room in an old boarding house which was the residence of a 17th Century witch, and he figures out that the evil forces still roam within the walls.
THE ENDLESS [streaming, Blu-ray] Acclaimed filmmakers Moorhead and Benson return with this mind-bending supernatural thriller about two brothers who revisit the UFO death cult they escaped as teens, only to find there may have been truth to the cult’s otherworldly beliefs all along.
IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS [streaming, DVD] The mind-bending worlds of author H.P. Lovecraft have long interested horror directors, but the films have rarely successfully captured his nightmarish mix of madness and mythology. John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness is not directly based on Lovecraft’s work, but screenwriter Michael De Luca draws his inspiration from Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythology and then adds his own ingenious twists. John Trent (Sam Neill), an insurance investigator recently fitted for a straightjacket, tells his story to a psychiatrist. Hired to track down the missing pop-horror phenomena Sutter Cane, a Stephen King-like author whose fans are literally made for his books, Trent finds the supposedly fictional Hobb’s End. He watches the town collapse into madness, murder, and monstrous transformations: the fantastic horrors of Cane’s novels played out in front of his eyes. “Reality isn’t what it used to be,” deadpans one zombielike townsperson. In fact, it is how Cane writes it–but is he Devil, dark oracle, or simply a preacher in the service of an evil that grows stronger with every soul his books convert? The script never quite gets a grip on the blurry relationship between fact and fiction, but those details fade in the face of Carpenter’s demented imagery, shiver-inducing twists, and dark wit. It’s more eerie mind game than straight-out horror, a portrait of a world gone mad, and Carpenter relishes every hallucinatory moment.
THE LAST WAVE [streaming, DVD] (Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi once told me that The Last Wave is his favorite Lovecraftian-themed movie.) Richard Chamberlain stars as Australian lawyer David Burton, who takes on the defense of a group of aborigines accused of killing one of their own. He suspects the victim has been killed for violating a tribal taboo, but the defendants deny any tribal association. Burton, plagued by apocalyptic visions of water, slowly realizes his own involvement with the aborigines…and their prophecies.
THE LAST WINTER [DVD] In the Arctic region of Northern Alaska, an oil company’s advance team struggles to establish a drilling base that will forever alter the pristine land. After one team member is found dead, a disorientation slowly claims the sanity of the others as each of them succumbs to a mysterious fear…
THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN [streaming, DVD] A photographer propelled to explore his dark side begins tracking a subway serial killer whose brutal butchery makes for the most nightmarish images ever captured on camera in director Ryuhei Kitamura’s adaptation of a short story by horror heavyweight Clive Barker. Leon Kaufman (Bradley Cooper) is just another struggling photographer in search of the perfect subject. Encouraged to explore the sinister side of humanity by a prominent art gallery proprietor (Brooke Shields) who is set to display his upcoming debut, Leon goes against the wishes of his girlfriend, Maya (Leslie Bibb), and begins stalking notorious serial killer Mahogany (Vinnie Jones) — whose sadistic murder spree has been making headlines all across the country. As Leon’s fascination with Mahogany gradually grows into obsession, his descent into the killer’s putrid world of murder begins to corrupt his soul while simultaneously dragging his concerned girlfriend down a perverse path of darkness from which there is no return.
THE MIST [streaming, DVD] After a mysterious mist envelopes a small New England town, a group of locals trapped in a supermarket must battle a siege of otherworldly creatures…and the fears that threaten to tear them apart.
THE NEW DAUGHTER [streaming, DVD] Muddy footprints and straw dolls betray the presence of an ancient evil in The New Daughter. Author John James (Kevin Costner) has brought his innocent young son Sam and sullen teenage daughter Louisa to a new home to start their lives over after James’s wife abandoned them. The house, of course, is huge and in the middle of an overgrown forest–and the discovery of a strange mound nearby doesn’t make things any less spooky. Louisa’s adolescent hormones practically beg for supernatural possession, and before long she’s covered in mud, breaking out in a prickly rash, and pushing girls down the stairway at school. There’s nothing unexpected in The New Daughter, but that doesn’t mean it’s ineffective; Spanish director Luis Berdejo makes good use of ambient sound, well-timed jolts, and Baquero’s porcelain-doll features. Costner seems a little out of his element, but when he’s faced with some horrible choices, he captures the torment of a father who fears he can’t save his children. As is often the case, the more we see, the less scary it is, so it’s good that Berdejo holds back on the creepy-crawlies for as long as he can. Horror fans will find much to enjoy in The New Daughter.
PHANTOMS [streaming, DVD] Five lone survivors in a devastated town must face the unthinkable: a ferocious force of evil lying below the earth for centuries has surfaced with the power to destroy every human being! You’re in for a pulse-pounding experience as the survivors race to stop this terrifying threat before it wipes humankind off the face of the earth!
PICKMAN’S MUSE [DVD] A stellar adaption of “The Haunter of the Dark”. An artist, Robert Pickman, becomes obsessed by visions of unworldly horror, revealed to him through an ancient artifact discovered in an abandoned church.
POSSESSION [DVD] A spiral staircase movie, a never-ending metaphysical game of cat-and-mouse, a moral aspiration to the Heavens, a “spotlight” on God, a scornful detective movie, a horror movie and frightful, high-octane baroque work – Possession is all of that at once. It is a film that provokes, but it provokes intelligence above all – not just the merry continuation of our little social mechanisms.
PROMETHEUS [streaming, DVD] A team of explorers discover a clue to the origins of mankind on Earth, leading them on a journey to the darkest corners of the universe. There, they must fight a terrifying battle to save the future of the human race.
SPIDER LABYRINTH [DVD] Handsome Professor Alan Whitmore is assigned by his university to go to Budapest to seek out Professor Roth who has been investigating an ancient religion. Once there, he is met by Professor Roths’ beautiful assistant, Genevieve Weiss. But Professor Whitmore soon finds himself at the center of mysterious cult involving secrets, murder, and a monstrous mind controlling spider god . Will the professor solve this weird puzzle, or will he too be caught in the web of the Spider Labyrinth?
SPRING [streaming, DVD, Blu-ray] After the death of his mother and a fight in a bar that could lead to jail time, Evan leaves California for Italy, where he falls for Louise (Nadia Hilker), a young woman who he soon discovers is harboring a dark, primordial secret. This genre-bending horror romance from filmmakers Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead blends stunning locations, bold performances, and a unique visual style.
THE RESURRECTED [DVD] Charles Dexter Ward’s wife enlists the help of a private detective to find out what her husband is up to in a remote cabin owned by his family for centuries. The husband is a chemical engineer, and the smells from his experiments (and the delivery of what appear to be human remains at all hours) are beginning to arouse the attention of neighbors and local law enforcement officials. When the detective and wife find a diary of the husband’s ancestor from 1771, and reports of gruesome murders in the area begin to surface, they begin to suspect that some very unnatural experiments are being conducted in the old house.
THE THING [streaming, DVD] Researchers in the remote Antarctic dig up the remains of a spacecraft that has long been frozen in the ice. But the alien life unthaws and infects the living (not only humans but sled dogs too), living and gestating inside them. This Thing is chilling in every sense of the word, with plenty of terrifying, adrenaline-pumping moments that build it to a powerful and shockingly nihilistic conclusion. It’s a harsh and uncompromising movie (hewing more closely to the original 1930s story “Who Goes There?”)–so much so that it probably never would have been given a green-light by any studio in the more cautious and doggedly upbeat 1990s.
THE THING ON THE DOORSTEP [streaming, DVD] A psychological horror film based on the story by H.P. Lovecraft. Daniel Upton’s relationship with his friend Edward Derby is abruptly changed after Edward becomes romantically involved with an enigmatic hypnotist. As Edward’s behavior becomes more erratic and events unexplainable, Daniel investigates. Is it madness…or something far more terrifying?
THE VOID [streaming] A blood-soaked man limping down a deserted road is rushed by officer Carter to a nearby hospital with a skeleton crew. Trapped inside by hooded figures, Carter discovers that the patients and staff are transforming into something inhuman.
THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS [DVD] Written in 1931, H.P. Lovecraft’s iconic genre-bending tale of suspense and alien terrors is brought to life in the style of the classic horror films of the 1930s like Frankenstein, Dracula and King Kong. Using its MythoscopeTM process – a mix of vintage and modern techniques – the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society expands on Lovecraft’s original tale while still bringing you unparalleled authenticity. Horror and science fiction collide in the adventure of Albert Wilmarth, a folklore professor at Miskatonic University, as he investigates legends of strange creatures rumored to dwell in the most remote mountains of Vermont. Wilmarth’s investigation leads him to a discovery of horrors quite beyond anything he ever imagined, and ends in a desperate attempt to escape the remote New England hills with his life and sanity intact. The studio that brought you The Call of Cthulhu now presents one of Lovecraft’s weirdest tales as a feature-length talkie starring Matt Foyer as the intrepid folklorist, Albert Wilmarth. Celebrated television and stage star Barry Lynch plays Henry Akeley, supported by an ensemble of outstanding actors. Shot on location in New England and in Hollywood, The Whisperer in Darkness brings Lovecraft’s intense imagination to vivid life in the style of the 1930s.
UNDER THE SKIN [streaming, Blu-ray/DVD] A voluptuous woman of unknown origin (Scarlett Johansson) combs the highways in search of isolated or forsaken men, luring a succession of lost souls into an otherworldly lair. They are seduced, stripped of their humanity, and never heard from again.
Keep checking back because I’ll be adding to this list as needed. (Stay informed: You can subscribe via email at the top right side of this page, follow me on Twitter, and LIKE this ezine on Facebook.) I hope you enjoy the movies. And hey, after you watch them, please comment below.
Editor, Lovecraft eZine