23 October, 2006

lovecraft and the movies

what is it about lovecraft stories that inspires people to make such terrible movies from them?

halloween is nearly upon us, so it's time to watch creepy movies. so, whilst scanning what was on, my lovely pers selected "beyond the walls of sleep", noting it was an adaptation of lovecraft's story, and knowing that i thourghly enjoy reading lovecraft. awfully kind and thoughtful of her. however, the look of dismay and disgust that overwhelmed my face after about 2 minutes of watching that dreck quickly resulted in us watching "the omen" instead.

there were two grievious fault in the film: one forgivable, one not. the forgiveable fault was that it was just plain bad. a prime example of the downside of inexpensive and easily available digital cameras. while they do allow for talented filmmakers to show their potential, without having to have much in the way of a budget, they also allow the same opportunity to hacks with willing friends. note to all young, aspiring film makers: spastic cuts and editing do NOT bestow an atmosphere of horror and suspense. they just irritate, annoy, and occassionally cause seizures. we won't comment on the acting, because there wasn't any.

the unforgivable sin though, what what these assholes tried to do to lovecraft. i think they were trying to make the story hip and modern. lovecraft is not hip. lovecraft is certainly not modern (no lovecraftian character would ever call someone a cunt). certainly there are faults in his work (racism, sexism, a tendency towards purple prose, having inspired far too many hack imitations, etc.). however, they are still a pleasure to read. much of that pleasure is derived from the peculiar lovecraftian elements of his writing. high on the list here is setting. lovecraft is one of those rare writers whose work must remain rooted in it's time and place. just doesn't work otherwise. the turn of the century atmosphere is important, because it defines the character of his protaganists. who are dillatantes; amatuer scientists and men of "society". thoughtful, sensitve souls capable of attuning to the eldritch mysteries of the cosmos. lovecraft's heros faint, often as a result of their exposure to blasphemies from beyond the stars. they are not men of action, they are men of thought and theory (for the most part).

moreover, his brand of horror depends on what you do not see, not what is shown. the indescribable, the unnameable. actually, most good horror works off of this. it is what we don't see, don't know, don't understand that terrifies us. once the horror has been defined, it loses some of its power.

so what do people do with this? try to make slasher flicks. it's just plain wrong.

it's not hard to figure out what makes lovecraft enjoyable. what i cannot figure out is why filmmakers try to change it.


Claude Scales said...

I haven't seen Beyond the Walls of Sleep, and, thanks to your post, won't bother. Indeed, I don't think I've ever seen any film or video adaptation of Lovecraft. I think you've hit on a good reason - his style is slow-paced and cerebral, and therefore not amenable to the "action" mode.

One of the criticisms I recall reading of Lovecraft some years ago is that he's not a good descriptive writer: he lets abstract adjectives like "horrific" do the work of eliciting the desired response in the reader, instead of providing concrete detail. In your post, you seem to suggest that this may be a generic problem, in that the abstract is always more terrifying than the concrete. I'm not sure I agree, but then I may be overstating your position.

twiffer said...

not overstating by much. we do fear the unknown more than the known. what's more frightening: a tiger standing in front of you, or the prospect of a tiger waiting around every corner?

the unknown adds more suspense. a classic example, movie-wise, is the difference between Alien and Aliens. the nearly indestructable, impossible to find beastie that decimates the cast in the first film is mowed down by the hundreds in the second. so much of the suspense is lost with that change.

anyway, with lovecraft, i think the vagueness works. but it might not work with everyone or for everyone. and, admittedly, works better on the page than the screen. but can be done on the screen, rather well. shadow, sound, etc.