Good H.P. Lovecraft movies are few and far between, and The Economist thinks there's a reason for that. Using the recent collapse of the big-budget Guillermo del Toro adaption of "At the Mountains of Madness" as a starting point, they take some time to explore the why's, wherefore's and howso's of the difficulties in making a good Lovecraft film adaptation. The main culprit:
The reason he has proved so difficult to adapt to the screen is that while his weird tales are full of monsters and curses and spooky books—all suitably cinematic—they are also peculiarly literary.
They go on to say that it might simply be impossible to capture the "cosmic awe" in Lovecraft's work on film. To back this up, they claim the most successful Lovecraft film (in their opinion anyway) works because it's based on a somewhat non-Lovecraftian story:
The one complete success might be Stuart Gordon’s “The Re-animator”, but its comic tone is anomalous for Lovecraft, perhaps because he wrote this story for a humour magazine.They directly and indirectly cite a few other reasons why we'll probably never see an amazing Lovecraft film:
- Lovecraft's premise that fear of the unknown is the most powerful kind of fear means that once his monsters are revealed, they become less terrifying.
- His part-human, part-monster mongrel creations in particular are scary because of the idea of them and what they imply, not because of how they look.
- Lovecraft was never good at creating realistic characters or compelling character relationships, which are the foundation for good cinematic stories.
They also note that Lovecraft himself hated films and walked out of a showing of Dracula (and would have left Frankenstein but for the respect he had for Mary Shelly). His work is much more suitable for theaters, where the minimal style and relatively small scale mean that "no one expects to see a heaving monster on stage." They conclude:
These theatre artists appreciate what Lovecraft understood: that the essence of horror is mystery and an actively wandering mind. No film director has made monsters with as much creativity and innovation as Del Toro, but if he directed “At the Mountains of Madness” he would give shape to its creatures, which would in turn domesticate them. As horrible as they looked, they could not approach the terror of what they might have been. Dormant, the project will receive an arguably happier fate, as fans can only imagine what they missed. The perfect cult film is the one never made. Lovecraft would surely understand.(From "Stories of Darkness")