One of the hallmarks of the Lovecraftian stories is the element of COSMIC HORROR. In many of his stories, the antagonistic force is from beyond space, a sometimes unnameable, often insanity-inducing thing that is quite beyond human comprehension. Lovecraft actually crafted an entire pantheon of alien beings, the ELDER GODS or OLD ONES, and elements from these mythologies pop up all over the stories in various ways.
This idea of persecution and death at the hands of an unknown alien force is also a common ingredient in a lot of Science Fiction movies. Some of the most influential films for me growing up are brimming with these Lovecraftian ingredients...
John Carpenter's THE THING is based on the short story WHO GOES THERE?, by the author John W. Campbell Jr. While it's arguable that his story was influenced by H.P. Lovecraft ( they were both being published regularly in the 30's ), I think the film is gets right to the heart of imagery and themes that are typical in HPL's work. In fact, I'd argue that this film is one of the BEST of it's kind, and that John Carpenter succeeded here in making the ULTIMATE Lovecraft film.
From the setting of of an isolated Antarctic Research Base, where a group of scientists discover an ancient spacecraft in the ice, to the UNSPEAKABLE horror that emerges from it, this film covers the gamut of Lovecraftian elements. But it isn't simply superficial ingredients that make THE THING so effective. It amplifies the horror even more by delving into the deep, psychological trauma and paranoia felt by the men as they are infiltrated by the chameleonic visitor.
From a DESIGN standpoint, THE THING is also a high water mark. Most of the original Lovecraft stories only vaguely hint at what the the creature looks like, while the protagonists risk insanity if the look too closely. I think it's one of the most unsettling aspects of the original stories ( I will touch on this idea in more detail in later posts... ).
INSANE might be the best term to describe Rob Bottin's creature design work in THE THING. Testing the limits of Animatronics in the early 80's, the work in the film still has quite an impact. The very nature of the THING, a creature who mimics the cellular structure of it's victims, is realized to great effect... With it's different biological components mixing and taking elements of man and dog and more, it's whipping tentacles, oozing and gibbering...It is the EPITOME of Lovecraftian imagery.
Bill Lancanster wrote the screenplay adaptation of the original story , and he does a great job capturing the tone of it, as well as preserving a number of great scenes and characters. I was pleasantly surprised to see how closely the film adheres to the original story, since the the first film adaptation, THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, strays a bit further...I'm still personally curious what sort of influence Lovecraft had on Campbell. HPL's classic AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS was serialized just a couple of years before WHO GOES THERE?and they have some definite parallels. The remote Antarctic expedition, evidence of ancient alien 'things' preserved in ice and brought to the camp, mayhem and death and madness...I'm sure John Carpenter was aware of these things too, but regardless of his sources, he has a clear appreciation for the Lovecraftian sensibility. I think THE THING remains one of his very best films, a quintessential exploration of the HORROR COSMIC.
next up : LOVECRAFT IN FILM Pt.2 :