For a writer so beloved of the film industry’s core target market — i.e., teenagers with cash to burn — H.P. Lovecraft has remained curiously untouched by Hollywood. That was due to change this year, of course, with Guillermo del Toro realizing his long-cherished dream of a Lovecraft adaption. But with the $150 million project now having been put on hold indefinitely due to the studio’s budget worries, the door will have to remain closed. We can’t really think of anyone better placed to adapt Lovecraft than del Toro, but still — here’s a lighthearted look at how Lovecraft adaptations might haved turned out if they’d been helmed by various other prominent directors.
Federico Fellini Il Terrore Di Dunwichi (1950) A gritty slice of neo-realism in which disenfranchized working-class farmer Wilbur Whatelio struggles to feed his family in a desolate post-war landscape — and, particularly, his strange twin brother, who is locked in a side room but can be heard off camera bellowing “Io ho fame!” throughout the film. Poor Wilbur is eventually killed by a bunch of ravenous stray village dogs, and his twin brother is left to fend for himself. Which he does quite admirably, growing into a 10-foot-high interdimensional being and laying waste to the oppressive institutions of the town and the Church. That’ll teach them.
Spike Lee The Rats in the Walls (1992) A gritty urban drama in which Italian-American pizza shop proprietor Giuseppe Delapore (John Turturro) inherits a family property in the middle of Bedford-Stuyvesant and decides to move in. His arrival leads to tensions within the neighborhood (particularly because of the spectacularly offensive name that Delapore gives to his black cat), and those tensions are heightened as Delapore investigates his family history and discovers that the property was purchased with money made via the oppression of the local community. The situation starts to get worse as Delapore goes bonkers, convinced that there are rats in his walls, and he’s eventually driven out of the area, leaving audiences to ponder whether the right thing was done.
Martin Scorsese The Horror at Red Hook (2002) A gritty exploration of New York’s underbelly, which follows down-at-heel Irish-American cop Thomas F. Malone (Leonardo DiCaprio) as he tries to infiltrate the gangs of post-war Brooklyn. Unfortunately, he gets more than he bargains for in the figure of gang leader Robert Sudyam, who is a raving, murderous lunatic and also apparently some sort of latter-day black magic-using warlock type. The over-long film spends an eternity exploring the relationship between Malone and Sudyam, and ends with the former in a lunatic asylum, the latter sentenced to life imprisonment for killing his wife, and pretty much everything else brought to a thoroughly depressing conclusion.
James Cameron The Call of Cthulu (1997) A not-at-all-gritty CGI extravaganza that follows the adventures of Francis Thurston (Leonardo DiCaprio) as he investigates the papers of his late grand-uncle George Angell. The story leads him around the world, from Auckland to Scandinavia, all of which are shot at great expense with a new helicopter-mounted camera system. Eventually, Thurston arrives at a small island near Antarctica (which is constructed at great expense in Cameron’s studio), where he comes face-to-face with the Cthulu monster! Audiences gasp, then slowly drift off to sleep as the rest of the film is given over to then-cutting edge CGI technology, which renders the monster in lifelike detail as it slowly devours any semblance of plot and dramatic tension.
Wes Anderson The Shadow Over Innsmouth (2004) A somewhat gritty exploration of the dysfunctional Allen family in the Massachusets town of Innsmouth. The hero, Zadok Allen (Owen Wilson), relates the story of his family to an unnamed narrator. As the film goes on, we become aware that the Allens aren’t quite right. In fact, they’re not quite human! Non-sequiturs and black comedy abound as the audience realises that the Allens are descended from strange fish creatures who worship the outer-dimensional deity Cthulu. But in the end they pull together and work out their differences, and everyone lives weirdly ever after. Also features a fish creature playing the songs of David Bowie in a strange alien tongue. The hilarity!
Note: If you live in New York, be sure to check out RadioTheatre’s HP Lovecraft Festival which begins today and runs through April 3rd.