Lovecraftian horror


Lovecraftian horror, sometimes used interchangeably with "cosmic horror" is a subgenre of
horror fiction Horror is the one of the largest genre Genre () is any form or type of communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European language ...
weird fiction Weird fiction is a subgenre of speculative fiction originating in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.John Clute,Weird Fiction", in ''The Encyclopedia of Fantasy'', 1997. Retrieved 29 September 2018. Weird fiction either eschews or radically re ...
that emphasizes the horror of the unknowable and incomprehensible more than gore or other elements of shock. It is named after American author
H. P. Lovecraft Howard Phillips Lovecraft (; August 20, 1890 – March 15, 1937) was an American writer of weird and horror fiction Horror is a genre of speculative fiction which is intended to frighten, scare, or disgust. Literary historian J. A. Cuddon ...
(1890–1937). His work emphasizes themes of cosmic dread, forbidden and dangerous knowledge, madness, non-human influences on humanity, religion and superstition, fate and inevitability, and the risks associated with scientific discoveries, which are now associated with Lovecraftian horror as a subgenre. The cosmic themes of Lovecraftian horror can also be found in other media, notably
horror films A horror film is one that seeks to elicit fear in its audience for entertainment purposes. Horror films additionally aim to evoke viewers' nightmares, fears, Disgust, revulsions and Horror and terror, terror of the unknown or the macabre. Init ...
horror games A horror game is a video game genre centered on horror fiction and typically designed to scare the player. Unlike most other video game genres, which are classified by their gameplay, horror games are nearly always based on narrative or visual pres ...
and comics.


American author
H. P. Lovecraft Howard Phillips Lovecraft (; August 20, 1890 – March 15, 1937) was an American writer of weird and horror fiction Horror is a genre of speculative fiction which is intended to frighten, scare, or disgust. Literary historian J. A. Cuddon ...
refined this style of storytelling into his own
mythos Myth is a folklore genre Folklore is the expressive body of culture shared by a particular group of people; it encompasses the traditions common to that culture, subculture or group. This includes oral traditions such as Narrative, tales, pr ...
that involved a set of
supernatural The supernatural encompasses supposed phenomena or entities that are not subject to the . This term is attributed to , such as s, s, , and . It also includes claimed abilities embodied in or provided by such beings, including , , , , and . Th ...

, pre-human, and
extraterrestrial Extraterrestrial refers to any object or being beyond (wikt:extra-, extra-) the planet Earth (wikt:terrestrial, terrestrial). It is derived from the Latin words wikt:extra, ''extra'' ("outside", "outwards") and ''terrestris'' ("earthly", "of or rela ...
elements. His work was influenced by authors such as
Edgar Allan Poe Edgar Allan Poe (; born Edgar Poe; January 19, 1809 – October 7, 1849) was an American writer, poet, editor, and literary criticism, literary critic. Poe is best known for his poetry and short stories, particularly his tales of mystery and ...

Edgar Allan Poe
Algernon Blackwood Algernon Henry Blackwood, Order of the British Empire, CBE (14 March 1869 – 10 December 1951) was an English broadcasting narrator, journalist, novelist and short story writer, and among the most prolific ghost story writers in the history of ...
Ambrose Bierce Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce (June 24, 1842 – circa 1914) was an American short story writer, journalist, poet, and Civil War veteran. His book ''The Devil's Dictionary ''The Devil's Dictionary'' is a satirical dictionary written by American Civil ...

Ambrose Bierce
Arthur Machen Arthur Machen (; 3 March 1863 – 15 December 1947) was the pen-name of Arthur Llewellyn Jones, a Welsh people, Welsh author and mysticism, mystic of the 1890s and early 20th century. He is best known for his influential supernatural fiction, s ...
, Robert W. Chambers and Lord Dunsany. However, Lovecraft was keen to distinguish his work from existing Gothic fiction, gothic and supernatural fiction, elevating the horror, in his own words, to a "cosmic" level. Stephen King has said the best of Lovecraft's works are "uniquely terrible in all of American literature, and survive with all their power intact." 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, insignificance and powerlessness at the cosmic scale, and uncompromising negativity. Author China Miéville notes that "Lovecraft's horror is not one of intrusion but of realization. The world has always been implacably bleak; the horror lies in our acknowledging that fact." 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.


The core themes and atmosphere of cosmic horror were laid out by Lovecraft himself in "Supernatural Horror in Literature", his essay on Gothic Fiction, gothic, Weird fiction, weird, and
horror fiction Horror is the one of the largest genre Genre () is any form or type of communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European language ...
. A number of characteristics have been identified as being associated with Lovecraftian horror: * Fear of the unknown and unknowable. * 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". Here horror derives from the realization that human interests, desires, laws and morality have no meaning or significance in the universe-at-large. Consequently it has been noted that the entities in Lovecraft's books were not evil, they were far beyond human conceptions of morality. * 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". * That "technological and social progress since Classical times has facilitated the repression of an awareness of the magnitude and malignity of the macrocosm in which the human microcosm is contained", or in other words, a calculated repression of the horrifying nature of the cosmos as a reaction to its "essential awfulness." * Having protagonists who are helpless in the face of unfathomable and inescapable powers, which reduce humans from a privileged position to insignificance and incompetence. * Preoccupation with wikt:visceral, visceral textures, protean semi-gelatinous substances and slime, as opposed to other horror elements such as blood, bones, or corpses.

Collaborators and followers

Much of Lovecraft's influence is secondary, as he was a friend, inspiration, and correspondent to many authors who developed their own notable works. Many of these writers also worked with Lovecraft on jointly written stories. His more famous friends and collaborators include Robert Bloch, author of ''Psycho (novel), Psycho''; Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian; and August Derleth, who focused on extending the Cthulhu Mythos. Subsequent horror writers also heavily drew on Lovecraft's work. While many made direct references to elements of Lovecraft's
mythos Myth is a folklore genre Folklore is the expressive body of culture shared by a particular group of people; it encompasses the traditions common to that culture, subculture or group. This includes oral traditions such as Narrative, tales, pr ...
, 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 art

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 Edgar Allan Poe, Poe." The French novelist Michel Houellebecq has also cited Lovecraft as an influence in his essay ''H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life'' in which he refers to the stories written in the last ten years of Lovecraft's life as "the great texts". Lovecraft's penchant for dreamscapes and for the biologically macabre has also profoundly influenced visual artists such as Jean Giraud, Jean "Moebius" Giraud and H. R. Giger. Giger's book of paintings which led directly to many of the designs for the film Alien (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 (film), 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 Worlds'', ''H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu: The Whisperer in Darkness'', ''Graphic Classics: H. P. Lovecraft'' and MAX (comics), 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 ''Alan Moore's The Courtyard, The Courtyard'' and ''Alan Moore's Yuggoth Cultures and Other Growths, Yuggoth Cultures and Other Growths'' (and Antony Johnston's spin-off ''Yuggoth Creatures''), but also in his ''The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier, Black Dossier'' where the story "What Ho, Gods of the Abyss?" mixed Lovecraftian horror with Bertie Wooster. ''Neonomicon'' and ''Providence (comic), ''Providence'''' posit a world where the Mythos, while existing as fiction written by Lovecraft, is also very real. 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 and Tony Salmons's limited series ''The Strange Adventures of H. P. Lovecraft'' from Image Comics, Image and in the Arcana Studio, 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 in film, 2004 film ''Hellboy (2004 film), Hellboy''. His Elseworlds mini-series ''Batman: The Doom That Came to Gotham, The Doom That Came to Gotham'' reimagines Batman in a confrontation with Lovecraftian monsters. The manga artist Junji Ito is heavily influenced by Lovecraft. Gou Tanabe has adapted some of Lovecraft's tales into manga. 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.

Film and television

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.


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 (1963 TV 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; 1965 also saw Boris Karloff and Nick Adams (actor, born 1931), Nick Adams in ''Die, Monster, Die!'' based on Lovecraft's short story "The Colour Out of Space"; ''The Shuttered Room'' (1967), based on an August Derleth "posthumous collaboration" with Lovecraft, and ''Curse of the Crimson Altar'' (U.S. title: ''The Crimson Cult'') (1968), based on "The Dreams in the Witch House".


The 1970s produced a number of films that have been classified as Lovecraftian horror. This includes the themes of human fragility, impotence in the face of the unknowable, and lack of answers in Picnic at Hanging Rock (film), ''Picnic at Hanging Rock'', and The Dunwich Horror (film), ''The Dunwich Horror'', with its source in Lovecraft's work and emphasis on "forces beyond the protagonist's control." The 1979 film ''Alien (film), Alien'' has been described as Lovecraftian due to its theme of "cosmic indifference", the "monumental bleakness" of its setting, and leaving most questions unanswered. 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 H. P. Lovecraft#Lovecraft's influence on culture, Lovecraft Circle.


In 1981, ''The Evil Dead (franchise), 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 film), 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. John Carpenter's "Apocalypse Trilogy" (''The Thing (1982 film), The Thing'', ''Prince of Darkness (film), Prince of Darkness'' and ''In the Mouth of Madness'') feature Lovecraftian elements, which become more noticeable in each film. The blackly comedic ''Re-Animator'' (1985), was based on Lovecraft's novella ''Herbert West–Reanimator''. ''Re-Animator'' spawned two sequel films. 1986's ''From Beyond (film), From Beyond'' was loosely based on Lovecraft's From Beyond (short story), short story of the same name. The 1987 film ''The Curse (1987 film), The Curse'' was an adaptation of Lovecraft's "The Colour Out of Space". Its sequel, ''Curse II: The Bite'' was loosely inspired by "The Curse of Yig", originally a collaboration between Lovecraft and Zealia Bishop.


The 1991 HBO film ''Cast a Deadly Spell'' starred Fred Ward as Harry Phillip Lovecraft, a Film noir, 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 (film), 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 ''The Lurking Fear (film), 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. 1995's ''Castle Freak'' is loosely inspired by Lovecraft's story "The Outsider (short story), The Outsider".


This period saw a few films using lovecraftian horror themes. 2007's ''The Mist (film), The Mist'', Frank Darabont's movie adaptation of Stephen King's The Mist (novella), 1985 novella by the same name, featuring otherworldly Lovecraftian monsters emerging from a thick blanket of mist to terrify a small New England town, and 2005's ''The Call of Cthulhu (film), The Call of Cthulhu'', made by the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society, a black and white adaptation using silent film techniques to mimic the feel of a film that might have been made in the 1920s, at the time that The Call of Cthulhu, Lovecraft's story was written. 2001's ''Dagon (film), Dagon'' is a Spanish-made horror film directed by Stuart Gordon. Though titled after Lovecraft's story "Dagon (short story), Dagon", the film is actually an effective adaptation of his story ''The Shadow over Innsmouth''. ''Cthulhu (2000 film), Cthulhu'' is a 2000 Australian low budget horror film that was directed, produced, and written by Damian Heffernan. It is mostly based on two Lovecraft stories, "The Thing on the Doorstep" and ''The Shadow Over Innsmouth''. 2007's ''Cthulhu (2007 film), Cthulhu'', directed by Dan Gildark, it is loosely based on the novella ''The Shadow over Innsmouth'' (1936). The film is notable among works adapted from Lovecraft's work for having a gay protagonist.


Since 2010, a number of popular films have used elements of cosmic horror, notably Alex Garland's ''Annihilation (film), Annihilation'' (based on the 2014 Annihilation (VanderMeer novel), novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer) with its strong themes of incomprehensibility and outside influence on Earth. Robert Egger's 2019 movie ''The Lighthouse (2019 film), 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. Ridley Scott's 2012 science-fiction horror epic ''Prometheus (2012 film), Prometheus'' and Gore Verbinski's 2016 film ''A Cure for Wellness'' have been noted for their Lovecraftian elements. HBO's 2019 miniseries ''Chernobyl (miniseries), Chernobyl'' has been described as "the new face of cosmic horror", with radiation filling the role of an incomprehensible, untamable, indifferent terror. The films of Panos Cosmatos, ''Beyond the Black Rainbow'' and ''Mandy (2018 film), Mandy'' take cosmic horror themes and blend them with psychedelic and new age elements, while the work of Justin Benson (director), Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead in ''Resolution (film), Resolution'', ''Spring (2014 film), Spring'' and ''The Endless (film), The Endless'' has also been described as "Lovecraftian." Other films directly incorporating or adapting the work of Lovecraft include the 2011 film ''The Whisperer in Darkness (film), The Whisperer in Darkness'' based on Lovecraft's The Whisperer in Darkness, short story of the same name, the 2017 Finnish short film ''Sound from the Deep'' incorporating elements from ''At the Mountains of Madness'' in a modern-day setting, and Richard Stanley (director), Richard Stanley's ''Color Out of Space (film), Colour Out of Space'' based on Lovecraft's short story "The Colour Out of Space". Of note also is Drew Goddard's 2012 film ''The Cabin in the Woods'', a comedy horror which deliberately subverts cosmic horror conventions and tropes.


William Eubank, director of the 2020 film ''Underwater (film), Underwater'', has confirmed that the creatures of his film are tied to the Cthulhu Mythos.
''Masking Threshold'' (2021) uses Lovecraftian story elements. Director and writer Johannes Grenzfurthner confirms the influence in interviews.


Elements of Lovecraftian horror have appeared in numerous video games and role-playing games. These themes have been recognized as becoming more common, although difficulties in portraying Lovecraftian horror in a video games beyond a visual aesthetic are recognized.


Lovecraft was an influence on ''Dungeons & Dragons'' starting in the early 1970s, and initial printings of ''Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, AD&D'' ''Deities & Demigods'' included characters from Lovecraft's novels. ''Dungeons & Dragons'' influenced later role-playing games, including ''Call of Cthulhu (role-playing game), Call of Cthulhu'' (1980), which in turn recruited new fans for the Cthulhu mythos. ''Magic: The Gathering'' expansions such as ''Battle for Zendikar'' (2015) and ''Eldritch Moon'' (2016) contain Lovecraftian components.

Video games

1980s and 1990s

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 interactive fiction, text-based adventure game, released by Infocom, who are best known for the ''Zork'' series. Alone in the Dark (1992 video game) contains Lovecraftian elements and references. ''Shadow of the Comet'', a game which takes place in the 19th century, is strongly inspired by the myth of Cthulhu. 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. Quake (video game), ''Quake'' (video game), a FPS Game that has Lovecraftian elements.


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. ''Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth'' for PC and Xbox is a first person shooter with strong survival horror elements. ''Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem'' on the Nintendo Gamecube utilizes heavy themes of cosmic horror throughout the game, in particular with the player characters' sanity being affected through their interactions with the supernatural.

2010 to Present

The survival horror game ''Amnesia: The Dark Descent'' is heavily inspired by Lovecraftian horror, in visual design, plot and mechanics, with a recognized lasting impact on horror games as a genre. ''The Last Door'' is a Graphic adventure game#Point-and-click adventure, point-and-click adventure game which combines Lovecraftian horror with Gothic horror, and the FromSoftware, From Software game ''Bloodborne'' includes many Lovecraftian and cosmic horror themes, without using the Cthulhu Mythos. The roguelike game The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, ''The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth'' features a Lovecraftian horror as the in game Leviathan transformation. Other games released since 2010 with elements of Lovecraftian horror include ''Sunless Sea'', a gothic horror survival/exploration role-playing video game, role-playing game, ''Darkest Dungeon'' a role-playing video game with an emphasis on mental trauma and affliction, ''Edge of Nowhere'', an action-adventure virtual reality game, and ''The Sinking City'', an open world detective and survival horror game set in 1920s New England, drawing inspiration from ''The Shadow over Innsmouth'' and "Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family".

Other media

*Junji Ito's ''Uzumaki'' *''Mansions of Madness'' 1st and 2nd edition board game *SCP Foundation *''The Magnus Archives'' *The call of Ktulu, The Call of Ktulu song by Metallica

See also

* Cosmicism * Cthulhu Mythos ** Characters of the Cthulhu Mythos ** Cthulhu Mythos deities ** Elements of the Cthulhu Mythos ** Cthulhu Mythos anthology ** Cthulhu Mythos in popular culture * Weird fiction * Dark fantasy * Utopian and dystopian fiction * Cloverfield (franchise)



* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

External links

H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival & CthulhuCon , The only convention that understands
* {{DEFAULTSORT:Lovecraftian Horror Lovecraftian horror, Cthulhu Mythos Horror genres Dark fantasy