Lovecraftian horror  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Lovecraftian horror is a sub-genre of horror fiction which emphasizes the cosmic horror of the unknown (in some cases, unknowable) over gore or other elements of shock, though these may still be present. It is named after American author H. P. Lovecraft (1890–1937).

Wiktionary describes the term Lovecraftian as "especially used to describe fictional creatures with terrifyingly unnatural anatomy, such as misplaced organs and additional limbs. It may also describe beings with combinations of features from disparate creatures normally shunned, such as combining tentacles, bat-wings, and scales."



Lovecraft refined this style of story-telling into his own mythos that involved a set of supernatural, pre-human, and extraterrestrial elements. His work was inspired by and similar to previous authors such as Edgar Allan Poe and Algernon Blackwood.

The hallmark of Lovecraft's work is cosmicism: the sense that ordinary life is a thin shell over a reality which is so alien and abstract in comparison that merely contemplating it would damage the sanity of the ordinary person. Lovecraft's work is also steeped in the insular feel of rural New England, and much of the genre continues to maintain this sense that "that which man was not meant to know" might be closer to the surface of ordinary life outside of the crowded cities of modern civilization. However, Lovecraftian horror is by no means restricted to the countryside; 'The Horror at Red Hook', for instance, is set in a crowded ethnic ghetto.

Themes of Lovecraftian horror

Several themes found in Lovecraft's writings are considered to be a component of a "Lovecraftian" work:

  • Anti-anthropocentrism, misanthropy in general. Lovecraft's works tend not to focus on characterization of humans, in line with his view of humanity's insignificant place in the universe, and the general Modernist trend of literature at the time of his writings.
  • Preoccupation with viscerate texture. The horror features of Lovecraft's stories tend to involve semi-gelatinous substances, such as slime, as opposed to standard horror tropes such as blood, bones, or corpses.
  • Antiquarian writing style. Even when dealing with up-to-date technology, Lovecraft tended to use anachronisms as well as old-fashioned words when dealing with such things. For example, he used the term "man of science" rather than the modern word, "scientist" and often spelled "show" as "shew" and "lantern" as "lanthorne."
  • Detachment. Lovecraftian heroes (both in original writings and in more modern adaptations) tend to be isolated individuals, usually with an academic or scholarly bent.
  • Helplessness and hopelessness. Although Lovecraftian heroes may occasionally deal a "setback" to malignant forces, their victories are temporary, and they usually pay a price for it. Otherwise, subjects often find themselves completely unable to simply run away, instead driven by some other force to their desperate end.
  • Unanswered questions. Characters in Lovecraft's stories rarely if ever fully understand what is happening to them, and often go insane if they try.
  • Sanity's fragility and vulnerability. Characters in many of Lovecraft's stories are unable to mentally cope with the extraordinary and almost unreasonable truths they witness or hear. The strain of trying to cope, as Lovecraft often illustrates, is too impossible to bear and insanity takes hold.
  • Questionable parentage. Relatives of characters are typically depicted as paranormal or abnormal, whereas intimate relations in general are often represented as foreboding and sinister.
  • A first-person perspective.

Collaborators and followers

Much of Lovecraft's influence is secondary, as he was a friend, inspiration, and correspondent to many authors who would gain fame through their creations. Many of these writers also worked with Lovecraft on jointly-written stories. His more famous friends and collaborators include Robert Bloch, author of Psycho; Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian; and August Derleth, who codified and added to the Cthulhu Mythos.

Subsequent horror writers also heavily drew on Lovecraft's work. While many made direct references to elements of Lovecraft's mythos, either to draw on its associations or to acknowledge his influence, many others drew on the feel and tone of his work without specifically referring to mythos elements. Some have said that Lovecraft, along with Edgar Allan Poe, is the most influential author on modern horror. Author Stephen King has said: "Now that time has given us some perspective on his work, I think it is beyond doubt that H. P. Lovecraft has yet to be surpassed as the Twentieth Century's greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale."

By the late 20th century, Lovecraft had become something of a pop-culture icon, resulting in countless reinterpretations of and references to his work. Many of these fall outside the sphere of 'Lovecraftian horror' proper and are not discussed here; see instead Cthulhu Mythos in popular culture.

Literature and art

Lovecraft's work, mostly published in pulp magazines, has never had the same sort of influence on literature as his high-modernist literary contemporaries such as Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. However, his impact is still broadly and deeply felt in some of the most celebrated authors of contemporary fiction. The fantasias of the Argentinian short story writer and essayist Jorge Luis Borges display a marked resemblance to some of Lovecraft's more dream influenced work. Borges also dedicated his story, "There Are More Things" to Lovecraft, though he also considered Lovecraft "an involuntary parodist of Poe." The controversial French novelist Michel Houellebecq has also cited Lovecraft as an influence and has written a lengthy essay on Lovecraft entitled H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life in which he refers to the Cthulhu cycle as "the great texts".

Lovecraft's penchant for dreamscapes and for the biologically macabre has also profoundly influenced visual artists such as Jean "Moebius" Giraud and H. R. Giger. Giger's book of paintings which led directly to many of the designs for the film Alien was named Necronomicon, the name of a fictional book in several of Lovecraft's mythos stories. Dan O'Bannon, the original writer of the Alien screenplay, has also mentioned Lovecraft as a major influence on the film. With Ronald Shusett, he would later write Dead & Buried and Hemoglobin, both of which were admitted pastiches of Lovecraft.


Lovecraft has cast a long shadow across the comic world. This has included not only adaptations of his stories, such as H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu: The Whisperer in Darkness, Graphic Classics: H.P. Lovecraft and MAX's Haunt of Horror, but also the incorporation of the Mythos into new stories.

Alan Moore has touched on Lovecraftian themes, most obviously in his The Courtyard and Yuggoth Cultures and Other Growths (and Antony Johnston's spin-off Yuggoth Creatures), but also in his Black Dossier where the story "What Ho, Gods of the Abyss?" mixed Lovecraftian horror with Bertie Wooster.

Gordon Rennie not only used various Lovecraft creations, like Tcho-Tcho, in his Necronauts, but he also included Lovecraft himself as a character, teaming up with an influence of his, Charles Fort, a combination that would occur again in Fort: Prophet of the Unexplained. Necronauts wasn't the first appearance of Lovecraftian horror in 2000 AD as Grant Morrison's Zenith involved the eponymous hero trying to stop the Lloigor, known as the Many-Angled Ones. Entities also called Many-Angled Ones appear in the Marvel Universe in the storyline "Realm of Kings" where they rule an alternate reality. This story line was in their "Guardians of The Galaxy" comic where an alternate universe invades the main Marvel Universe. The invading universe, dubbed the "Cancerverse" in the comics, is a universe where Lovecraft's Elder Gods triumph over death and conquer the universe. The inspiration for the universe is clearly Lovecraftian as even the words are taken directly from Lovecraft's writings. The most obvious example of this is the word fhtagn. As the story is set in space, fighting alien gods, the only thing stopping the story from being truly a tale of Lovecraftian horror is that the good guys resoundingly win, though they only do so by releasing a galactic mass murderer loose on the other universe as well as theirs. So there is some lasting horror in that. The Marvel Universe also contains a range of Cthulhu Mythos comics, including the Elder Gods.

As well as appearing with Fort in two comics stories, Lovecraft has appeared as a character in a number of Lovecraftian comics. He appears in Mac Carter's and Tony Salmons's limited series The Strange Adventures of H.P. Lovecraft from Image and in the Arcana children's graphic novel Howard and the Frozen Kingdom from Bruce Brown. A webcomic, Lovecraft is Missing, debuted in 2008 and takes place in 1926, before the publication of The Call of Cthulhu, and weaves in elements of Lovecraft's earlier stories.

Boom! Studios have also run a number of series based on Cthulhu and other characters from the Mythos, including Cthulhu Tales and Fall of Cthulhu.

The creator of Hellboy, Mike Mignola, has described the books as being influenced primarily by the works of Lovecraft, in addition to those of Robert E. Howard and the legend of Dracula. This was adapted into the 2004 film Hellboy. His Elseworlds mini-series The Doom That Came to Gotham reimagines Batman in a confrontation with Lovecraftian monsters.

The manga artist Junji Ito was heavily influenced by Lovecraft.

The third volume of the comic series Atomic Robo features a Lovecraftian monster as the antagonist.

Issue #32 of The Brave and the Bold was heavily influenced by the works and style of Lovecraft. In addition to using pastiches of Cthulhu, the Deep Ones, and R'lyeh, writer J. Michael Straczynski also wrote the story in a distinctly Lovecraftian style. Written entirely from the perspective of a traumatized sailor, the story makes use of several of Lovecraft's trademarks, including the ultimate feeling of insignificance in the face of the supernatural.Template:Citation needed

The Illustrated Ape magazine features a Lovecraft-related web comic on its site in the gallery section. The strip is written and illustrated by Charles Cutting and uses "The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath" as its basis.Template:Citation needed

Movies and television

With the advent of film, Lovecraftian horror truly became a sub-genre, not only fueling direct adaptations of Poe and Lovecraft, but providing the foundation upon which many of the horror films of the 1950s and 1960s were constructed.

One notable movie maker to dip into the Lovecraftian well was 1960s B-movie maker Roger Corman, with his Die, Monster, Die! being very loosely based on The Colour Out of Space, and his X featuring a protagonist driven to insanity by heightened vision that allows him to see a godlike entity at the heart of the universe. Amongst the other well-known adaptations of this era are The Haunted Palace based on The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, The Dunwich Horror, and Curse of the Crimson Altar (Us title: The Crimson Cult). The Shuttered Room was based on an August Derleth 'posthumous collaboration' with Lovecraft.

Rod Serling's 1969-73 series Night Gallery adapted at least two Lovecraft stories, "Pickman's Model" and "Cool Air". The episode "Professor Peabody's Last Lecture", concerning the fate of a man who read the Necronomicon, included a student named "Mr. Lovecraft" along with other students sharing names of authors in the Lovecraft Circle. (Another five minute short, called "Ms. Lovecraft Sent Me", about a babysitter and her strange client, has no relevance to anything written by Lovecraft.)

In the late 1970s a revival of the horror movie genre was based on the success of Stephen King and Brian De Palma's Carrie; John Carpenter's the Thing; and Dan O'Bannon and Ridley Scott's Alien. All three movies bore Lovecraftian influences to one degree or another, and their authors were deeply influenced by Lovecraft's works.Template:Fact

As the 1980s and 1990s played out, Lovecraftian horror became a recognizable film staple in such varied films as the self-referential Necronomicon and the comedic Re-Animator. Carpenter's Antarctic horror The Thing and his In the Mouth of Madness and Prince of Darkness are very Lovecraftian in nature, especially In the Mouth of Madness. The blockbuster Ghostbusters (which novelist/screenwriter Barbara Hambly has called "marvelously Lovecraftian") is noticeably reminiscent of Lovecraft's style. The 1991 HBO movie Cast a Deadly Spell starred Fred Ward as "Harry Phillip Lovecraft" a noir detective investigating the theft of the Necronomicon in an alternate universe 1948 Los Angeles where magic was commonplace. The sequel Witch Hunt had Dennis Hopper as "H. Phillip Lovecraft" in a story set two years later.

The The Evil Dead comedy horror film franchise created by Sam Raimi after studying H. P. Lovecraft, consists of the films The Evil Dead (1981), Evil Dead II (1987), and Army of Darkness (1992). The Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, or simply The Book of the Dead, is depicted in all three of the films.

Stuart Gordon has directed several large-scale Lovecraftian movies including From Beyond and Dagon (the latter largely based on Lovecraft's The Shadow Over Innsmouth).

Such elements can also be seen in the Swedish horror film Marianne where the helpless teacher Krister is unsure whether he is being haunted or if he is going mad. The Swedish horror writers John Ajvide Lindqvist and Anders Fager have both written their own installments in the Cthulu-mythos.

The Swedish director Måns Mårlinds next project is a screen version of Anders Fagers book "Collected Swedish Cults", an anthology about ancient beings and the Swedish cults dedicated to them.

A reference work that covers this field extensively is Charles P. Mitchell, The Complete H.P. Lovecraft Filmography. (Greenwood Press, 2001). ISBN 0-313-31641-4. There is also Lurker in the Lobby: The Guide to the Cinema of H. P. Lovecraft by Andrew Migliore.


Despite the fact that Lovecraft despised games, his characters and settings have appeared in many video games and role-playing games. Some of these used Lovecraft's creations chiefly for name value (see Cthulhu Mythos in popular culture), but others have embraced Lovecraft's characteristic mood and themes.

Other media

In Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, the Dungeon Dimensions are the endless wastelands outside of space and time. Lovecraftian horrors dwell there, seeking to invade reality, and warp existence when they do.

In a lighter vein, the cult of Inglip portrays cultist zealots who take their dark commands directly from reCaptcha images, which, they believe, come mysteriously from their lord and master...often to very

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