Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown (2008)

"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is Fear of the Unknown."  So wrote Howard Phillips Lovecraft in the early part of the 20th century, and so begins the documentary Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown.

If you don't know who Lovecraft is by name, perhaps you are familiar with some of the film adaptations of his work, or those based on his writings and ideas?  The Thing, Alien, Hellboy, Re-Animator, From Beyond, and nearly a hundred others - not to mention those writers/filmmakers upon whom Lovecraft's influence is palpable.  Stephen King's The Mist?  Straight Lovecraft ripoff.  And John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness is widely regarded as one of the most successful interpretations of the Lovecraft mythos.

Perhaps Lovecraft's greatest contribution to the horror genre is that he created a completely new realm of possibility for horror; he left behind the gothic trappings of previous authors, the ghosts and witches, and introduced his readers to a much darker world ruled by old, vengeful gods, where mankind teetered on the brink of sanity and in which humanity's ultimate cosmic meaninglessness was stressed.  Some (intentional or not) very cool concepts are touched on in his stories - one such example is how he structures the final scene in The Rats in the Wall to parallel the relatively modern theory of Deep Time (which would have been known to Lovecraft).  Toss in some really creepy, slimy monsters (most resembling some kind of massive, mutated, deep sea thing), and some of the more purple prose you'll read, and you've got a bona fide heavyweight in American literature, albeit one who has only recently been recognized as such, finally elevated from the "lowly" designation of "pulp writer" with the stodgy Library of America's publication of Lovecraft: Tales.

The doc gathers together all the usual Lovecraft heirs - Ramsey Campbell, Stuart Gordon, Guillermo del Toro, Neil Gaiman, Peter Straub, ST Joshi, John Carpenter and a few others, and simply allows them to speak.  Interspersed with their musings are period photographs (don't say it), letters, and modern artworks that interpret some of Lovecraft's nastier beasties.  The film is fairly straightforward, following the course of the general "survey doc", and is thorough in its study of the troubled author in the context of his times and his impact on the present.  Kudos to the filmmakers for not shying away from Lovecraft's intense xenophobia, as I find many of these docs that present the subject adoringly tend to gloss over the less savoury aspects of the person's life.

An enjoyable, informative, and well-made doc that will please current fans but isn't so esoteric as to alienate the newcomer to Lovecraft's work.  Recommended.  And I cannot wait for House of Re-Animator - shit's gonna be so rad.


La Sporgenza said...

Not my thing but informative. I wasn't exactly sure who H.P. Lovecraft was to be honest. Influential to say the least huh?

the coelacanth said...

hahaha yeah, i don't expect many here (if any) to be familiar with him...i know kris is aware of him.

we'll say he's the dashiell hammett of horror (of whom, hpl was a contemporary, incidentally...)

Britarded said...

I'm vaguely aware of HP but didn't really know what he'd written. This should be an edumacation.