Lovecraftian horror is a subgenre of horror fiction that emphasizes the cosmic horror of the unknown more than gore or other elements of shock. It is named after American author H. P. Lovecraft. His work emphasizes a philosophy of cosmicism, the idea that the reality underlying the veneer of normality is so alien that seeing it would be harmful.
Some scholars use "Lovecraftian horror" and "cosmic horror" interchangeably. Cosmic horror has been characterized as:
- The "fear and awe we feel when confronted by phenomena beyond our comprehension, whose scope extends beyond the narrow field of human affairs and boasts of cosmic significance".
- A "contemplation of mankind's place in the vast, comfortless universe revealed by modern science" in which the horror springs from "the discovery of appalling truth".
- A naturalistic fusion of horror and science fiction in which presumptions about the nature of reality are "eroded".
The hallmark of Lovecraft's work is cosmicism: the sense that ordinary life is a thin shell over a reality that 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 not restricted to the countryside; "The Horror at Red Hook", for instance, is set in a crowded ethnic ghetto.
Themes of Lovecraftian horrorSeveral themes found in Lovecraft's writings are considered to be components 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 texture. The horror features of Lovecraft's stories tend to involve protean semi-gelatinous substances, such as slime, as opposed to standard horror elements 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." Lovecraft was an Anglophile, and frequently used British spelling, as in the title of "The Colour Out of Space".
- Detachment. Lovecraftian heroes tend to be socially isolated, reclusive individuals, usually with an academic or scholarly intent to compensate for social shortcomings.
- Questionable parentage. Relatives of characters are typically depicted as paranormal, dysfunctional or abnormal, whereas intimate relations in general are often represented as foreboding, mysterious, and sinister.
- 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 to do so.
- Sanity's fragility and vulnerability. Characters in many of Lovecraft's stories are unable to cope mentally with the extraordinary and almost incomprehensible truths they witness, hear or discover. The strain of trying to cope, as Lovecraft often illustrates, is impossible to bear and insanity takes hold.
Collaborators and followers
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, but represent Cthulhu Mythos in popular culture.
Literature and artLovecraft's work, mostly published in pulp magazines, 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 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 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.
ComicsLovecraft has cast a long shadow across the comic world. This has included not only adaptations of his stories, such as ', 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, in particular in his The Courtyard and Yuggoth Cultures and Other Growths, but also in his ' where the story "What Ho, Gods of the Abyss?" mixed Lovecraftian horror with Bertie Wooster. Neonomicon and 'Providence' posit a world where the Mythos, while existing as fiction written by Lovecraft, is also very real.
Gordon Rennie not only used various Lovecraft creations, like the 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 '. Necronauts was not 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".
Unlike a tale of Lovecraftian horror, however, the forces of good triumph; this is achieved only by releasing a galactic mass murderer loose on both universes, providing some lasting horror. 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 ' reimagines Batman in a confrontation with Lovecraftian monsters.
The manga artist Junji Ito was heavily influenced by Lovecraft. Gou Tanabe has adapted some of Lovecraft's tales into manga.
The third volume of the comic series Atomic Robo, named "Atomic Robo and the Shadow from Beyond Time" features a Lovecraftian monster as the antagonist, and indeed has an appearance from H. P. Lovecraft himself.
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.
The magazine Illustrated Ape 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.
Film and televisionFrom the 1950s onwards, in the era following Lovecraft's death, Lovecraftian horror truly became a subgenre, not only fueling direct cinematic adaptations of Poe and Lovecraft, but providing the foundation upon which many of the horror films of the 1950s and 1960s were constructed.
1960sOne notable filmmaker to dip into the Lovecraftian well was 1960s B-filmmaker Roger Corman, with his The Haunted Palace being very loosely based on The Case of Charles Dexter Ward , and his featuring a protagonist driven to insanity by heightened vision that allows him to see God at the heart of the universe.
Though not direct adaptations, the episodes of the well-known series The Outer Limits often had Lovecraftian themes, such as human futility and insignificance and the limits of sanity and understanding.
Amongst the other well-known adaptations of this era are Dark Intruder which has some passing references to the Cthulhu Mythos; 1965 also saw Boris Karloff and Nick Adams in Die, Monster, Die! based on Lovecraft's short story "The Colour Out of Space"; The Shuttered Room, based on an August Derleth "posthumous collaboration" with Lovecraft, and Curse of the Crimson Altar , based on "The Dreams in the Witch House".
1970sThe Dunwich Horror was based directly on Lovecraft's story of the same name, though with such plot diversions as introducing a female love interest for the character of Wilbur Whateley.
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.
The 1979 science-fiction horror film Alien, directed by Ridley Scott and written by Dan O'Bannon, has been described as Lovecraftian.
1980sIn 1981, The Evil Dead comedy horror film franchise was created by Sam Raimi after studying H. P. Lovecraft. It consists of the films The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, and Army of Darkness. The Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, or simply The Book of the Dead, is depicted in each of the three films.
John Carpenter's "Apocalypse Trilogy" feature Lovecraftian elements, which become more noticeable in each film.
The 1984 blockbuster Ghostbusters is noticeably reminiscent of Lovecraft's style. Three episodes of the animated spin-off series are directly inspired by the Cthulhu Mythos.
The blackly comedic Re-Animator, was based on Lovecraft's novella Herbert West-Reanimator. Re-Animator spawned two sequel films.
1986's From Beyond was loosely based on Lovecraft's short story of the same name.
1987's film The Curse was an effective adaptation of Lovecraft's "The Colour Out of Space". However, its sequel, , had no Lovecraftian relevance.
1988's The Unnamable was a loose adaptation of Lovecraft's short story of the same name.
1990sThe 1991 HBO film 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.
1992's The Resurrected, directed by Dan O'Bannon, is an adaptation of Lovecraft's novel The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. It contains numerous elements faithful to Lovecraft's story, though the studio made major cuts to the film.
The self-referential Necronomicon, featured Lovecraft himself as a character, played by Jeffrey Combs. The three stories in Necronomicon are based on two H. P. Lovecraft short stories and one Lovecraft novella: "The Drowned" is based on "The Rats in the Walls", "The Cold" is based on "Cool Air", and "Whispers" is based on The Whisperer in Darkness.
1994's The Lurking Fear is an adaptation of Lovecraft's story "The Lurking Fear". It has some elements faithful to Lovecraft's story, while being hijacked by a crime caper subplot.
As stated, 1994's In the Mouth of Madness contains plot elements and settings/themes reminiscent of Lovecraft's writings.
1995's Castle Freak is loosely inspired by Lovecraft's story "The Outsider".
2000s2001's Dagon is a Spanish-made horror film directed by Stuart Gordon. Though titled after Lovecraft's story "Dagon", the film is actually an effective adaptation of his story The Shadow over Innsmouth.
2005's The Call of Cthulhu, made by the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society, is a largely successful cinematic version of Lovecraft's story, using silent film techniques to mimic the feel of a film that might have been made at the time that Lovecraft's story was written.
2007's The Mist, Frank Darabont's movie adaptation of Stephen King's 1985 novella by the same name, featuring otherworldly Lovecraftian monsters emerging from a thick blanket of mist to terrify a small New England town.
2008's Syfy film The Dunwich Horror features Jeffrey Combs and Dean Stockwell. The action is transplanted from Lovecraft's New England town Dunwich to a town in Louisiana.
2009's plays Lovecraftian themes for laughs. Lovecraft's last relative must help save the world from Cthulhu's return.
2010sThe 2010 film Beyond the Black Rainbow takes several elements from Lovecraft's cosmic horror ideals and blends them with psychedelic and new age themes of science and introspection.
The 2011 film The Whisperer in Darkness is based on an H. P. Lovecraft short story of the same name. It was produced by Andrew Leman, who directed The Call of Cthulhu in 2005. It was shot in black and white like The Call of Cthulhu, but it is not a silent film. Instead, it mimics the feel of a 1930s-era horror film.
Drew Goddard directed the 2012 film The Cabin in the Woods. The film, scripted by Goddard and Joss Whedon features an organization known as the Facility that sacrifices five young people in the theme of a horror film in order to placate the Ancient Ones, who once dominated the earth and now live below, so that they will not rise again.
Ridley Scott's 2012 science-fiction horror epic Prometheus has been described as Lovecraftian.
2013's Evil Dead, directed by Fede Alvarez, has the Necronomicon play a key role in the plot just as the original The Evil Dead did.
2013's Haiyore! Nyaruko-san, an anime series, is about the human descendants of several of the Lovecraft Cthulhu Mythos deities being directly mentioned as main characters, such as the Crawling Chaos "Nyarlathotep/Nyaruko", The Living Flame "Kyuko/Kuuko", and the Wind Deity "Hastur/Hasuta", along with other incantations and references to Lovecraft's works.
Gore Verbinski's 2016 film A Cure for Wellness has been noted for its Lovecraftian elements.
The works of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead Resolution, Spring and The Endless have been noted for containing Lovecraftian elements and themes of cosmic horror.
The 2017 Finnish short film Sound from the Deep incorporates elements from At the Mountains of Madness in a modern day setting.
Alex Garland's 2018 movie Annihilation contains similarities with The Colour Out of Space, as it revolves around an alien entity that crash lands on Earth and begins to expand mutating nearby plant and animal life.
Featuring Nicolas Cage and directed by Richard Stanley, Colour Out of Space was released in 2019 based on the short story of the same name.
Robert Egger's 2019 movie The Lighthouse has been compared to Lovecraft's works due to the dreary atmosphere, deep sea horror imagery and the otherworldly and maddening power of the titular lighthouse that drives the protagonists to insanity.
2020s, director of the 2020 film Underwater, has confirmed that the creatures of his film are tied to the Cthulhu Mythos.
GamesAlthough 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, but others have embraced Lovecraft's characteristic mood and themes.
Role-playingIn the early 1970s, Dungeons & Dragons drew from many of the most popular fantasy settings of the pulp era and weird fiction, including those of Lovecraft, whom Gygax has cited as an influence from the beginning. However, direct reference to Lovecraft's creations by name would wait until Dragon magazine issue #12 in 1978 with Robert J. Kuntz's, "The Lovecraftian Mythos in Dungeons & Dragons". In the AD&D First Edition Dungeon Masters Guide in 1979, Lovecraft was listed among the recommended authors, which named authors and stories that influenced the feel and setting of the game. In 1980, a hardcover collection of the various fantasy and historical pantheons available for the game was published under the title Deities & Demigods. The first and second printings contained a version of the Cthulhu Mythos.
Another gaming company, Chaosium, owned the rights to use Lovecraft's creations in games, and a deal was struck between TSR and Chaosium that allowed TSR to use the Cthulhu Mythos in Deities & Demigods for the rights to use elements of TSR copyrights in one of Chaosium's future books. The Cthulhu Mythos section was removed in the third and subsequent printings, and collectors prize early printings that contain it.
As the game has evolved, many of the oldest creatures and even gods of the game have their inspirations in Lovecraft, as well as newer elements, such as the Far Realm, an entire plane of insanity inspired by Lovecraft's works, and in October, 2004, Dragon magazine published a lengthy article titled "The Shadow over D&D: H. P. Lovecraft's Influence on Dungeons & Dragons" discussing these influences.
Dungeons & Dragons was not the only role-playing game to incorporate Lovecraftian horror. The most overt example was published in 1980 by Chaosium. Call of Cthulhu is directly based on the Cthulhu Mythos. In keeping with its source material, and unlike most other role-playing games, characters who attempt to confront its monsters directly are likely to die or be driven insane rather than succeed. This is reinforced by the game's best-known feature, a mechanism by which knowledge about Mythos entities can only be gained at a permanent cost to one's sanity. The Call of Cthulhu rules and source material have been adapted and included in a number of subsequent science fiction and fantasy role-playing games and rules supplements.
Steve Jackson Games' GURPS, a genre-neutral game system, was first published in 1986 and brought diverse elements of fiction and non-fiction together across their lengthy list of published supplements which included Cthulhupunk, a licensed adaptation of Cthulhu into a cyberpunk setting among many other Lovecraft-inspired works in role-playing, card and board games.
The Magic: The Gathering creatures known as the Eldrazi appear to share many characteristics with Lovecraftian monsters. The sets Shadows Over Innistrad and Eldritch Moon incorporated a goth setting while also adding creatures who were changed into mutations with various tentacles and other Lovecraft inspired characteristics.
Video gamesVideo games, like films, have a rich history of Lovecraftian elements and adaptations. In 1987, The Lurking Horror was the first to bring the Lovecraftian horror subgenre to computer platforms. This was a text-based adventure game, released by Infocom, who are best known for the Zork series.
The 1996 first-person shooter Quake contains Lovecraftian elements and references.
The 1998 text adventure game Anchorhead is heavily inspired by Lovecraftian Horror and features many elements of the Cthulhu mythos, as well as quotes from Lovecraft.
The Scribblenauts series features monsters from the Cthulhu Mythos.
The From Software game Bloodborne includes many references to Lovecraftian elements, especially cosmicism, putting in familiar terms from Lovecraft, such as the inclusion of "The Great Ones" or "Outer Gods" as the main driver of the game's events. The game also uses the Lovecraftian theme of insanity as a driving point for its plot.
The seminal Lovecraftian role-playing game Call of Cthulhu has lent its name and other material to several video games in the adventure and RPG genre for platforms as diverse as the PC, consoles and mobile devices.
' for PC and Xbox is a first person shooter with strong survival horror elements.
The game ' is heavily inspired by Lovecraft's works, both in visual design as well as in plot device.
The indie game Terraria contains many references to Lovecraft's work, examples include Celestial beings interfering with the world after the Lunatic Cultist is defeated and the many creatures referencing Cthulhu such as the Eye of Cthulhu, Brain of Cthulhu, Servants of Cthulhu, True Eye of Cthulhu, and the Moon Lord.
The 2005 Russian game Pathologic features many themes common in Lovecraftian works: The three main characters are all in some way outsiders to the city. The game centers around an unstoppable plague which leaves gelatinous bloody slime in contaminated areas; the player character is completely helpless in stopping the plague.
The 2007 Ukrainian game is set after a fictitious second Chernobyl disaster, which further contaminated the surrounding area with radiation, and caused strange otherworldly changes in local fauna, flora, and the laws of physics.
The Last Door is a point-and-click adventure game which has many Lovecraftian elements. Isolation and the unknown are prominent features of the series.
While other media have portrayed Lovecraftian elements in humorous ways as diverse as the ' card game and a plethora of plush Cthulhu dolls, video games such as Cthulhu Saves the World have been less common.
Though Lovecraftian elements have appeared in MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft and Age of Conan since EverQuest, the 2012 game The Secret World was the first to feature Lovecraftian elements as one of its primary inspirations.
The games ' and ' draw inspiration from H.P. Lovecraft.
Shadow of the Comet, a game which takes place in the 19th century, is strongly inspired by the myth of Cthulhu.
League of Legends, a popular MOBA, has characters that come from the Void, a dark and entropic space beyond the world of Runeterra. These characters strongly resemble Lovecraftian monsters.
The Xel'naga are an ancient interdimensional race from the fictional universe of the StarCraft. The originated in the Void, a space or dimension that is separate from the material universe. Every time a new universe was born they took physical form and entered that universe. The Xel'naga created both the Protoss and the Zerg.
The Binding of Isaac and its sequel ' are roguelike games based on many biblical themes. Both games feature an item called Necronomicon, a direct reference to Lovecraft's Necronomicon. also contains the ability for the player to transform into the Leviathan, whose design is inspired by Lovecraftian horror.
Darkest Dungeon is a role-playing game that displays many themes of Lovecraft's writing such as forbidden knowledge, non-human influences on humanity, inherited guilt, fate, civilization under threat and more. Darkest Dungeon's developer, Red Hook Studios Inc., incorporates elements of H.P. Lovecraft's writing in the aesthetic of the company's branding: the name alluding to his story "The Horror at Red Hook," and the company's logo which features a prominent tentacle, alluding to Lovecraft's iconic cosmic entity, Cthulhu.
On April 26, 2016 Hearthstone, a free-to-play digital collectible card game, released a 134 card expansion called "Whispers of the Old Gods" which is based on a theme which revolves around Lovecraftian horror.
Edge of Nowhere is a 2016 Lovecraftian action-adventure virtual reality game from Insomniac Games.
Sunless Sea is heavily inspired by Lovecraftian horror, with themes like the fear of the unknown.
The Sinking City is an open-world horror game in which the player character is a tormented private investigator in the '20s who explores the fishing town of Okamont, cut off from mainland by a mysterious flood, and progressively finds clues about the madness-inducing entity of Cthylla, a star-spawn of Cthulhu.
Sundered is a 2017 metroidvania video game that makes heavy use of Lovecraftian elements. The main character, Eshe, is guided through an ever-shifting underworld by an eldritch being known as the "Shining Trapezohedron". The game involves fighting off monsters and gathering Elder Shards, which allow the Shining Trapezohedron to grant Eshe new abilities at the cost of her humanity.
The Flood of the video game Halo franchise contains Lovecraftian horror elements, particularly its leader the Gravemind. These elements are even more prominent in Halo's expanded universe such as the Forerunner Saga books, where the Flood is revealed to be the reanimated remains of an ancient race known as the Precursors who themselves are inspired by Lovecraftian deities. The Precursors were higher-dimensional beings that existed for at least 100 billion years, could assume any form they desired, physical or incorporeal and created most if not all life in the universe and potentially the universe itself.
- 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.
- Junji Ito's Uzumaki
- Mansions of Madness 1st and 2nd edition board game
- SCP Foundation
- The Magnus Archives