Lovecraftian horror is a subgenre of horror fiction that emphasizes the cosmic horror of the unknown (and in some cases, unknowable) more than gore or other elements of shock, though these may still be present. It is named after American author H. P. Lovecraft (1890–1937), who is largely credited as the first author to pioneer the genre.
Lovecraft refined this style of storytelling 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, Algernon Blackwood and Lord Dunsany.
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.
Several themes found in Lovecraft's writings are considered to be components of a "Lovecraftian" work:
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, but represent Cthulhu Mythos in popular culture.
Lovecraft'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 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, in particular 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. 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 Fort: Prophet of the Unexplained. 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.
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 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 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.
From 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. For instance Caltiki - the Immortal Monster has been considered Lovecraftian in subject matter and approach.
One notable filmmaker to dip into the Lovecraftian well was 1960s B-filmmaker Roger Corman, with his The Haunted Palace (1963) being very loosely based on The Case of Charles Dexter Ward , and his X: The Man with the X-ray Eyes 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 (1965) which has some passing references to the Cthulhu Mythos; The Shuttered Room (1967), based on an August Derleth "posthumous collaboration" with Lovecraft, and Curse of the Crimson Altar (US title: The Crimson Cult) (1968), based on "The Dreams in the Witch House".
The Dunwich Horror (1970) 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. (Another five-minute short, called "Ms. Lovecraft Sent Me", about a babysitter and her strange client, has no relevance to anything written by Lovecraft but was probably an affectionate tip of the hat from Jack Laird, who had scripted the other Lovecraft-based episodes).
Dan O'Bannon and Ridley Scott's 1979 Alien bore a strong Lovecraftian influence, especially in the set design of H. R. Giger, who has published two art books inspired by Lovecraft's fictional Necronomicon. O'Bannon later made The Resurrected, based on The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.
As the 1980s and 1990s played out, Lovecraftian horror became a recognizable film staple in a variety of films.
In 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 (1981), Evil Dead II (1987), and Army of Darkness (1992). The Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, or simply The Book of the Dead, is depicted in each of the three films.
The 1984 blockbuster Ghostbusters (which novelist/screenwriter Barbara Hambly has called "marvelously Lovecraftian") is noticeably reminiscent of Lovecraft's style. Three episodes of the animated spin-off series ("The Collect Call of Cathulhu", "The Hole in the Wall Gang" and "Russian About") are directly inspired by the Cthulhu Mythos.
The 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 (1993), 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 In the Mouth of Madness contains plot elements and settings/themes reminiscent of Lovecraft's writings.
The television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and its 1999 spin-off Angel, have essentially a Lovecraftian background setting, in which the world was once ruled by the demonic Old Ones before being forced into another dimension by a revolution where they wait to return one day.
The 2003 Italian-made feature The Shunned House, directed by Ivan Zuccon, is loosely based on Lovecraft's novella of the same name.
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 Lovecraft's story was written (1926).
2008's Syfy film The Dunwich Horror (originally known as The Darkest Evil) features Jeffrey Combs and Dean Stockwell. The action is transplanted from Lovecraft's New England town Dunwich to a town in Louisiana.
2009's The Last Lovecraft: Relic of Cthulhu plays Lovecraftian themes for laughs. Lovecraft's last relative must help save the world from Cthulhu's return.
Lovecraftian 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 Cthulhu Mythos.
The 2010 film Die Farbe is based on the short story "The Colour Out of Space" by H.P. Lovecraft. One notable difference from the original short story is that it takes place in Germany instead of in Massachusetts. It is shot mainly in black and white, the exception being the "Colour" itself.
The 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.
In the "Coon and Friends" trilogy of the animated show South Park, Cthulhu, cultists, and Lovecraftian elements of hopelessness, confusion, and the paranormal are major plot elements, and often parodied, throughout the three episodes.
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.
The 2011 episode "Let it Bleed" in Season 6 of Supernatural features Lovecraft as a backstory character. The protagonists discover diary accounts of Lovecraft inviting guests for a first-hand look into another dimension during a dinner party, where all of them eventually ended up dead or insane.
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.
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.
Sleepy Hollow, Season 2, Episode 2 uses an incantation for a magic spell drawn from Lovecraft.
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.
In 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 (e.g. the Mind Flayers, or illithid) and even gods (e.g. Tharizdun) 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 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 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 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.
Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth for PC and Xbox is a first person Shooter with strong survival horror elements.
The game Amnesia: The Dark Descent is heavily inspired by Lovecraft's works, both in visual design as well as in plot device.
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 and the game makes this very clear by reminding the player how many days are left until the end.
While other media have portrayed Lovecraftian elements in humorous ways as diverse as the Illuminati: New World Order card game and a plethora of plush Cthulhu dolls, video games such as Cthulhu Saves the World (2010) 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 Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem and Hellgate: London 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 (distinguished by their grotesque purple forms and always having an apostrophe in their name) strongly resemble Lovecraftian monsters.
The Binding of Isaac and its sequel The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth are roguelike games based on many biblical themes. Both games feature an item called Necronomicon, a direct reference to Lovecraft's Necronomicon. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth also contains the ability for the player to transform into the Leviathan, whose design is really 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, civilisation under threat and more. Bold heroes, sent into dungeons filled with unholy cultists and eldritch abominations, can become emotionally distraught after seeing the horrors within; they can become paranoid, devoid of hope, irrational and so on. 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.
Sunless Sea is heavily inspired by Lovecraftian horror, especially with themes like the fear of the unknown.
The Sinking City is an upcoming Lovecraftian horror game where you play as a private investigator.
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.
Only a half-wit can mess up a concept like Batman if written by H.P. Lovecraft. Mike Mignola's mind has been enslaved by the Great Ones. He easily evokes the atmosphere of the grandmaster of horror.