Any conversation about Lovecraftian horror isn’t complete without addressing the man the genre itself is named after, and that’s a tough talk to have — putting it mildly. While all genres of horror have their fair share of baggage (slashers can often be sexist and racist, for example), nothing really compares to the baggage of H.P. Lovecraft’s personal beliefs.

Born in 1890, Lovecraft wrote 65 novels, short stories, and novellas before his premature death in 1937 due to cancer, and his writings eventually birthed an entire subgenre. The name Lovecraft is synonymous with a type of cosmically tinged horror that emphasizes the terror of the unknown, beings incomprehensible to the human mind, and the thin divide between sanity and insanity. These are potent themes that quickly spread beyond Lovecraft and his influential Cthulhu mythos and into other writers’ and storytellers’ works.

But this fear of the unknown that is so pivotal to Lovecraft and his work is easily traced back to the author’s intense xenophobia, racism, and anti-Semitism, all of which are heavily documented in his personal journals and writings. Many of his earliest fiction work was also explicitly racist, with several short stories focusing on “racial impurity” as a “horror” to avoid, although his later work largely lacked this explicit prejudice. HBO’s “Lovecraft Country”  smartly presented a combination of cosmic horror and the ugliness of the Jim Crow South as an explicit rejection of Lovecraft’s worldview.

The ugliness of Lovecraft’s personal beliefs makes it understandable why many would write off reading his works or watching anything that cites him as an inspiration. But the thing is, Lovecraft’s influence is as far reaching as Cthulhu’s tentacles. The list of horror directors who take at least some cues from the author and his exploration into the terrors of the unknown ranges from John Carpenter to Guillermo del Toro, and includes many of the greatest horror directors of all time. Many of the greatest horror classics owe some debt to Lovecraft, even when it’s not entirely obvious; “The Thing” and “The Evil Dead,” for example, were inspired by Carpenter and Sam Raimi’s respective research into the author’s canon.

It’s impossible to fully separate the genre Lovecraft spawned from the man himself, and all films that were directly adapted from his work certainly bear a heavy asterisk. But Lovecraft’s work continues to endure for a reason. His stories dig into deeper fears than your average haunting or monster sighting, exposing existential fears about humanity’s place in the world that prove more bone-chilling than many other scary subsets. There’s a reason why the films inspired by or directly adapted from Lovecraft’s work are often so acclaimed; if you come to horror to be scared, look no further than a Lovecraft movie.

With Halloween approaching, IndieWire decided to round-up the single scariest subgenre in the horror canon, and present the cosmic horror films that most terrify us. The films selected range from actual Lovecraft adaptations, like “The Haunted Palace,” to films that were obviously inspired by Lovecraft’s work, like “Event Horizon,” to films that were not so obviously inspired by Lovecraft’s work, such as “The Thing” or “The Evil Dead.” The following entries all share a common delirious effect, mixing tangible horror with a psychological terror that is consistently unsettling to watch.

Entries are listed in chronological order. Read on for the top 10 greatest Lovecraftian horror films of all time.

Leave a comment