Strange creatures chained in dungeons and locked in shuttered rooms – indescribably entities that come from beyond – lurking beasts that hide in the shadows of your darkest imaginings – the gates of Hell being flung open and the unspeakable unleashed – welcome to the weird and unsettling world of the titan of literary terror H.P. Lovecraft, whose stories have provided endless ghoulish riches for film adaptations, including THE DUNWICH TERROR, starring Dean Stockwell, released this month on Blu-ray from Arrow Video.
To celebrate this splendid new restoration of a gothic horror classic here, to haunt your dreams, are the ten best Lovecraftian films ever…
Director Stuart Gordon started his memorable series of Lovecraft adaptations with this insanely gory and brilliantly funny 80s horror favourite. The superb Jeffrey Combs plays Herbert West, a medical student with ideas above his station, who conducts questionable experiments in his basement. His belief that the dead can be re-animated leads to all sorts of unexpected mayhem suggesting he might not get his degree in medicine at the end of the course.
Tagline: Herbert West has a good head on his shoulders… and another one on his desk
Memorable moment: When West injects his re-animation serum into a dead cat. The results aren’t pretty.
FROM BEYOND (1986)
Director Gordon followed up Re-Animator with another Lovecraft horror, reuniting Re-Animator starring Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton, this time joined by genre star Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead). Combs is Crawford Tillinghast, lead scientist with a team who have developed a device called ‘the Resonator’, that allows you to see into an alternate dimension – basically, it unleashes a host of creatures from beyond! Outstanding special effects and outrageous, psychedelic visuals make this one of the best Lovecraft films ever to slither onto celluloid.
Tagline: Humans are such easy prey!
Memorable moment: Poor Tillinghast is attacked by a hideously mutated worm creature that attaches a giant sucker onto his head. That’s gonna to resonate!
THE HAUNTED PALACE (1963)
Director Roger Corman’s film is the first high-profile Lovecraft adaptation, in this case based on the novella The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. Ward is one of two characters played by the great Vincent Price, the other being Ward’s great-great-grandfather Joseph Curwen, burned as a warlock 110 years before. When Ward returns to the village of Arkham to reclaim the family mansion, his striking resemblance to his ancestor is just the first of many macabre events that proceed to unfold, including the screen debut of Lovecraft’s legendary Necronomicon. The marvellous sets are by Daniel Haller, who would go on to direct The Dunwich Horror.
Tagline: What was the hideous thing in the pit that came to honour her?
Memorable moment: There’s a genuinely creepy moment where we see the crowd of deformed villagers still living under Curwen’s curse
BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR (2003)
Unsurprisingly, considering the carnage his reanimation hi-jinks caused, Herbert West is in prison. But fear not, the mad doctor is still up to his old tricks, setting up a secret lab within the prison and experimenting on prisoners (of which there are plenty to choose from!).
Tagline: They Thought Prison Would Be The Death Of Him. But For Dr. West, Death Is Only The Beginning.
Memorable moment: A certain re-animated body part has a fight with a rat.
DIE, MONSTER, DIE! (1965)
The directorial debut of Daniel Haller (the genius art director of numerous Corman classics, who would go on to direct The Dunwich Horror) is based on Lovecraft’s The Colour Out Of Space. Horror icon Boris Karloff plays a wheelchair-bound scientist attempting to destroy a meteorite that has landed in his greenhouse and has had an adverse affect on his plants. The story was recently used as the basis for the 2019 film starring Nicolas Cage.
Tagline: Can you stand the ultimate in diabolism… can you stand pure terror?
Memorable moment: It’s hide-behind-the-sofa time when Karloff’s disfigured wife is finally revealed.
THE SHUTTERED ROOM (1967)
Based on a collaboration between authors August Derleth and Lovecraft, and directed by David Greene (I Start Counting), this British-filmed horror stars Carole Lynley and Gig Young and as a couple who arrive at Dunwich Island to look at the property that Lynley has inherited. Naturally, this being a story of macabre, something strange is lurking within! Watch out for a young Oliver Reed, and listen out for Donald Sutherland’s voice.
Tagline: Sleep one night in the house with the shuttered room and you may never want to sleep again…
Memorable moment: The POV shots of the creature from the shuttered room are truly bloodcurdling.
THE BEYOND (1981)
Luci Fulci’s undisputed horror masterwork, starring Catriona MacColl and David Warbeck, was inspired by Lovecraft, and concerns a hotel unfortunately built on the gates of hell. Lucky for the owner these were the days before Trip Advisor.
Tagline: Through the Gates of Hell They Came…
Memorable moment: The fate of the hotel architect in the town library is skin-crawlingly horrific.
CALTIKI, THE IMMORTAL MONSTER (1959)
Drawing heavily on the works of HP Lovecraft, Caltiki the Immortal Monster is a unique and unforgettable sci-fi chiller which showcases two legendary giants of Italian cult cinema at their most inventive – Riccardo Freda (The Vampires, The Horrible Dr Hichcock) and Mario Bava (5 Dolls for an August Moon, Blood and Black Lace). In this chilling gem, a team of archaeologists led by Dr John Fielding (John Merivale, Circus of Horrors) descends on the ruins of an ancient Mayan city to investigate the mysterious disappearance of its inhabitants.
Tagline: Will the first life on Earth be the last terror of Man?
Memorable moment: The luckless explorers get more than they bargained for when their investigation of a sacrificial pool awakens the fearsome and malevolent god Caltiki.
CASTLE FREAK (1995)
Stuart Gordon teams up again with Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton for another excursion into Lovercraftian madness, this time based on the story The Outsider. Combs and Crampton play a husband and wife who come to Italy to look over a castle Coombs has inherited. Unbeknownst to them, something is lurking in the depths of the castle – namely, the ‘freak’ of the title. Cue lots of wailing in the night, chains rattling, and some very gruesome sequences where the Castle Freak gets loose and starts snacking on the locals.
Tagline: Hideous. Hungry. And Loose.
Memorable moment: The cowardly Combs character redeems himself on the castle ramparts – defending his family from the Castle Freak.
THE DUNWICH HORROR (1970)
Dean Stockwell stars as Wilbur Whateley, a mysterious young man who travels from the small town of Dunwich to the library of the Miskatonic University which holds one of the only copies of the Necronomicon, a legendary book of occult lore that Wilbur hopes to borrow. Graduate student Nancy Wagner (Sandra Dee) falls under his malign influence and travels with him back to his home where Wilbur has plans to use her in a ritual to raise ‘The Old Ones’, cosmic beings from another dimension. Directed by Daniel Haller, this was also the first screenwriting credit for Curtis Hanson, who would later direct the multi award-winning L.A. Confidential.
Tagline: The Devil’s Spawn Is About To Open The Gates Of Hell!
Memorable moment: Watch out when whoever, or whatever, in the locked room at the top of the stairs, gets out!
The Dunwich Horror is the only one of this bunch I’ve seen and it scared the living daylights out of me as a kid. If you like adaptations from Lovecraft, have you seen the recent series, “Lovecraft Country”? It combines his ideas with full bore racism from the Jim Crow south just after the Korean War. I’ve seen it twice so far and it is so well-done!
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Started it, kept meaning to revisit – as really interesting work. Thanks for the reminder tbh! 🙂
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