Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown (2008)

I don’t know if H.P. Lovecraft is my favourite author or not, but I would call him one of the most significant artistic figures in my life; if he were not, I wouldn’t have spent twelve years (and counting!) on and off working on my own book about him. It’s 21 years since I first read him back in Year 9 at high school, and this is the first film I’ve ever seen about him (as opposed to the various films I’ve seen made from his tales); it was on TV last week but I missed it thanks to the ABC completely failing to advertise the fact, so I was delighted to see it being repeated this afternoon… bit concerned too, as I usually am when faced with a doco on a subject I know quite a lot about cos I wonder how well it’ll cover the material. Pleasingly, therefore, the life and work of Grandpa is dealt with in good fashion… it’s talking heads stuff, mostly, featuring various luminaries listed in the cover art picture (but where was Dan Harms in all of this?), which poses the problem of how to dress that up, especially cos there’s no film or voice recordings of the man himself and not that many photos; here, the answer is to go with readings from the stories and letters, and illustrate them with visual renderings of same by various artists (including John Coulthart, whose stuff is terrific), which is a nice way of presenting the stuff without resorting (except at a couple of points) to dramatised re-enactment. Across 90 minutes it does a nice job hitting the high points of the life and work, and mercifully doesn’t go on too long about Lovecraft’s unpleasant racial thinking (which is inescapable, but the film does try and contextualise it without excusing it). Best of all, though, the film demonstrates what I’ve often thought about Lovecraft, i.e. that he himself was more interesting than his own stories, and it nails that well in its presentation of the course of his life over the short time he had to live it. Seasoned Lovecraftians won’t learn much new, but newcomers will find it more useful… and should possibly take to heart what Neil Gaiman says at one point about Lovecraft being one of those authors you should discover earlier rather than later in life.

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