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11 monstrous movies that were influenced by the unspeakable horrors of H.P. Lovecraft

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Jul 20, 2017, 1:30 PM EDT

Lovecraftian influence has been creeping, crawling, slithering, lurking in and otherwise possessing horror films almost as long as the Elder Things have existed.

So maybe he hasn't been around for a hundred thousand years like his leathery-winged creations, but the author's spirit has haunted the genre for decades with the unsettling idea that reality is no more than a shatter-thin illusion hiding monstrous terrors that will drag you into irreversible madness when you finally realize that thing you thought you saw is actually a human-fish hybrid or tentacled thing from outer space. You might even turn into one. "Madness" is a word you can never use quite enough when dealing with Lovecraft.

These films are not direct adaptations such as Re-Animator, Dagon (which was actually based on The Shadow Over Innsmouth and not Dagon) or The Call of Cthulhu, but rather inspired by the dark swirls of nightmare fodder spawned by Lovecraft's diabolically brilliant imagination. They take the unspeakable things he summoned from the deep and warp them even further into their own atrocities.

Get your tentacles on these 11 Lovecraft-inspired films for a monstrous movie marathon that will send you screaming into the chasm of the cosmos.

Alien 1979 trailer

Alien (1979)

Make that the whole Alien universe from Prometheus to Predator and beyond. With their elongated heads, freakishly long fingers and gnashing teeth, Xenomorphs could be a lost subspecies of Mi-Go. Even the H.R. Giger inspiration paintings for these things crawled out of a collection appropriately named Necronomicon. AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004) eerily mirrors At the Mountains of Madness with an Antarctic expedition that unearths an extraterrestrial pyramid, and so does Prometheus (2012) with a team of explorers who seek the origins of mankind and find themselves in the bowels of the universe. Ridley Scott's words regarding the prequel may be the most haunting of all: "We are talking about gods and engineers. Engineers of space." It’s almost as if Lovecraft spoke through him in a séance.

"Absentia" Official Theatrical Trailer

Absentia (2011)

Absentia is that classic Lovecraftian descent into madness where the tenuous line between real and unreal dissolves into shadows from which horrific things emerge. Lovecraft was no stranger to zombies, as was evidenced by Herbert West -- Reanimator, and the lack of mad scientists doesn't make its most recent successor any less terrifying. You know something is gravely wrong when the undead who were never actually confirmed as deceased even though it has been years since they mysteriously vanished. The horror only multiplies when the instigator of said zombification reveals itself as an insectoid being that could have been bred from a blasphemous union of Elder Gods. It also gladly accepts blood sacrifices. This is why you never, ever declare anyone dead until you actually find a body.


Matango (1963)

How could the psychedelic mushroom people of Matango not have been inspired by the Mi-Go, those alien fungoids that can fly you to Mars by extracting your brain and preserving it in a canister? These mutants that were warped by nuclear testing could very easily be classified as a lost subspecies despite their lack of wings. The theme of explorers venturing somewhere sinister and subsequently going mad from what they discover is another theme that pulses through the veins of the Lovecraftian universe, except this time it's an acid trip of a jungle instead of the Antarctic wilds. Eating mushrooms of indeterminate origin may have never morphed anyone into a humungous fungus in Lovecraft's world, but he probably would have thought of a similar phenomenon had he survived the '60s.

Dark City (1998) Official Trailer - Jennifer Connelly, Kiefer Sutherland Sci-Fi Movie HD

Dark City (1998)

Mind control? Check. Ritualistic murder? Check. Extraterrestrial parasites who feed off human corpses? Check and check. Imagine waking up in a hotel bathtub having no idea who you are. Except an extraterrestrial mafia does hellbent on making you their next human specimen does. These aren’t just aliens you’re dealing with. These are aliens with psychokinetic powers who freeze time and rearrange everything in the city down to the identities of the inhabitants. In other words, they're Lovecraft's type of aliens. The Lovecraft-verse is crawling with extraterrestrials who take a sick pleasure in using Earthlings as vessels for their deranged experiments, kind of like how the Elder Things dragged off one unfortunate explorer for a surgery he would never wake up from in At the Mountains of Madness.


The Thing (1982)

Explorers trek to Antarctica and unearth a humanoid corpse with two faces, autopsy the creature and burn it, then find unnerving evidence the specimen came from space just when they were trying to convince themselves it was just an earthly mutation. Sound remotely familiar? So does the fact that whatever it is they the ice had been hiding is over 100,000 years old. And that it isn't totally dead even though they think they torched it. While this film that kicked off John Carpenter's Apocalypse Trilogy was based on John W. Campbell, Jr.'s novella Who Goes There? you can't deny the Lovecraftian influence that seeped into both the story and the film. Horror movies about scientists who crawl into in creepy frozen caves and probe things they shouldn't, which leads to inevitable insanity, have apparently become a thing. Err, Thing.


Event Horizon (1997)

NASA might want to rethink a potential mission to Proxima Centauri. There must be something evil floating in space over there that possessed a spaceship which was once an inanimate object to come alive and create hallucinations that drive the astronauts insane. Insane enough to kill each other and themselves with explosions, eye-gouging and vivisection. Lovecraft's universe was permeated with this type of madness, a mental state that surpasses all reason to the point of committing unspeakable acts (think the homicidal demon-raising Curwen in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward). That part about the ship having a gravity drive that bends space-time to travel millions and even billions of light-years by creating an artificial black hole to plunge through probably doesn’t help with the dark forces, either.

The Evil Dead - Movie Trailer (1981)

The Evil Dead (1981)

This is probably the last movie you'd think of when it comes to Lovecraftian horror, but forget the hormonal coeds for a moment and you may realize that it is an eerie reflection of the master's short story The Picture in the House. Think about it: demonic possession, disembodied voices, haunted woods, strange incantations, shapeshifting, madness, random oozing blood and an unseen force so terrible that the audience is left to imagine it. Not to mention a total doppelgänger of the Necronmicon (because you know that thing is no Sumerian Book of the Dead). Lovecraft's story follows a genealogist who finds a creaky cabin in the woods full of artifacts you'd be better off never touching, including a book that brings on cravings for human flesh. Sound familiar?


Caltiki, the Immortal Monster (1959)

There is no way you could convince me that bloblike life-forms which arose out of some primordial ooze were not the spawn of a DNA merger between several types of Lovecraftian monstrosities. The amorphous Shoggoths that can shape-shift into terrifying things immediately come to mind. Except the globs in Caltiki attach themselves to human flesh like mutant leeches and slowly digest it until nothing is left but bones, making your blood getting sucked out sound downright tame. Also, like many unspeakable things that slithered their way out of the mind of Lovecraft, these neo-Shoggoths' origins are obviously from space if the way they absorb power is through an infernal comet. Something that thrives and multiplies by absorbing alien radiation couldn’t possibly be from anywhere else.


Prince of Darkness (1987) Prince of Darkness (1987)

Second in Carpenter's Apocalypse Trilogy is the blasphemous account of a glowing green ooze that is supposedly Satan in a test tube. Of course someone is going to get possessed, because this sort of thing is inevitable in Lovecraft and anything inspired by him, and so is the question of what distinguishes the realm of reality from dreams. Because you really don't want to believe that one of your research colleagues is actually turning into the devil just because she got some of this diabolical green mucus on her lab coat. Witnessing an even more evil force known as the Anti-God smashing its way through a mirror is also something you would probably rather wake up from knowing it was a nightmare. Except it all really is a nightmare. Or is it?


Uzumaki (Vortex) (2000)

Lovecraft may have conjured many scenarios that ended up spinning out of control, but in this film based on the terrifying manga by Junji Ito, everything — and everyone — literally spirals into madness when a menacing curse unleashes the ultimate vortex. An entire city is whirled and whorled and warped beyond recognition, even if when it is supposed to be physically impossible. Some people morph into human snails and others grow so unnaturally obsessed with swirls that they actually become the vortex. As in, when collecting enough spirals to fill an entire room isn't enough for one fanatic, he spins himself to death in a washing machine. Even the deceased can't rest in peace because the smoke of their earthly remains rises from the local crematorium as twisted versions of their faces.

In the Mouth of Madness - Trailer (1994)

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)

This final film in John Carpenter's Apocalypse Trilogy is like the infernal love child of The Shadow Over Innsmouth and Charles Dexter Ward. You tell the authorities everything they want to know mass murders among about a population that isn't quite human, but they pass it off as hallucinations and throw you back in your asylum cell. That's what you get for reading the novels of a deranged author who calls himself the prophet of the Old Ones and whose Cthuloid creatures are anything but fiction. The tentacles start writhing when you get possessed by those pages. As if things already haven’t gotten real, they start to get exponentially more real when Cane tears his face off to open a portal to whatever hellacious dimension the monsters came from. Please don't let this happen to Stephen King.