There was a time when adaptions of the literary works of H.P. Lovecraft could be counted on one hand. I sought them all out because of their reported potency, and the horrors he described were unique and terrifying.
The Haunted Palace (1963)
Die, Monster, Die! (1965)
The Shuttered Room (1967)
Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968)
The Dunwich Horror (1969)
...as well as two adaptions for Rod Serling’s Night Gallery (1971) compendium TV series (the Cool Air and Pickman’s Model segments)
...used to be all the Lovecraft there was to see.
The other major inspiration in American horror literature, Edgar Allan Poe, quickly had many of his titles plundered in the 1960’s, but filmmakers braked sharply when moving onto Lovecraft, because many of his stories were considered “unfilmable”. Lovecraft’s trump card was his medium – on paper, the viewer imagines what he describes, sometime huge, sometimes vague, always nasty. If you have an imagination, a cinema screen can’t possibly better it.
I still have a fondness for these 'Old Ones', the early entries in the Lovecraft filmography, and am currently drawn to watching them again -reviews will be appearing here shortly.
When I sought out horror movies on TV in the seventies, I’d rewatch these five films on TV to wring out any elements of Lovecraft, though sometimes there’s very few to find. If you ignore the often disappointing climaxes and unworthy special effects, the premise of each movie still evokes an unusal atmosphere, albeit mostly updated to modern dress.
Having watched all five films, The Shuttered Room is easily the best film, but the least Lovecraftian. The Dunwich Horror would be the most Lovecraftian story but is set in modern times. The Haunted Palace looks suitably gothic, and is in period dress. Take your pick.
A further slew of adaptions in the 1980’s, helped by a surge of low-budget cinema to fuel the videotape boom, like The Unnamable (1988) and From Beyond (1986), were an equally mixed bag. Re-Animator (1985) is easily the best of this next wave, though director Stuart Gordon struggled valiantly on to try and match it for many years.
the Unfilmable website with news of a raft of recent and future adaptions of the works of H.P.L., and an extensive list of past efforts and possible influences. Proof that Lovecraft’s influence over horror cinema is far-reaching, and definitely thick-bookworthy.
A shorter, rather more 1990’s guide to Lovecraft cinema is on this website here, summarising the contents of the reference book, The Lurker in the Lobby.