Who owns HP Lovecraft film rights?

Brian G Turner

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#1
Considering how popular Lovecraft is, I'm surprised there are no big budget films about any of his works.

Is this because the film rights are locked up in production companies? Or is it simply a lack of interest in making them?

I actually wondered if film rights would even be required, considering the age of his stories.
 

Curt Chiarelli

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#2
Considering how popular Lovecraft is, I'm surprised there are no big budget films about any of his works.

Is this because the film rights are locked up in production companies? Or is it simply a lack of interest in making them?

I actually wondered if film rights would even be required, considering the age of his stories.
These are good questions with some surprising answers. Essentially, all of Lovecraft's stories have been in the public domain for decades now, in spite of Arkham House's obstinately proprietary attitude towards ownership of his work. However, their hegemony was based upon a well-maintained illusion and very shaky legal ground. The only reason larger publishing houses such as Ballantine paid them royalties for the stories was out of deference to August Derleth for saving Lovecraft's opus from oblivion . . . . and a very sensible avoidance of his combative and litigious nature. In many cases, Derleth's (and, later, his daughter, April Jacob's) first line of defense was saber rattling and outright bullying. It was a bluff, of course. These ham-fisted tactics did have a solid economic rationale, though: sales of Lovecraft's books were their company's bread-and-butter. Losing control of his work would hurt the company's bottomline. My own early experience with them will provide an illuminating, if unpleasant, example.

In 1986 I had written a screenplay adaptation of the short story, Pickman's Model. After finishing the storyboards and some pre-production illustrations, I decided to contact April Jacobs by phone and inquire after what the rights would cost. I got Ms. Jacobs on the phone, briefly and politely introduced myself and my proposed project and asked about the availability of the rights. She bellowed back at me: "IF YOU TRY TO MAKE THAT FILM I'LL SUE YOUR ASS OFF!" and then slammed down the receiver. The film world is fraught with rejection, but even this was a bit rich for my blood. Many years later I was told by an industry colleague that at the time of my call, Jacobs was under a lot of duress and steadily losing Arkham House's legal control of Lovecraft's work as more and more film makers were having their attorneys investigate the availability of purchasing the rights, film makers like Stuart Gordon and Guillermo del Toro.

Nowadays it's fairly common knowledge that Lovecraft's works are public domain. So, what's stopping film makers from creating direct adaptations instead of derivative pastiches that merely pay lip service to the master? There are several major barriers which will forever elude Hollywood: Lovecraft's stuff is heavily reliant upon texture and atmosphere, not gunplay and huge explosions (sorry Michael Bay) and softcore porn. But here's the real stumbling block: heresy of heresies - Lovecraft's work is animated by IDEAS . . . . grim, atheistic, nihilistic ideas about man's cosmic insignificance. Not exactly the mindlessly upbeat, pre-processed pabulum that usually gets spoon-fed to audiences at your local movieplex nowadays.
 

Deep Space Nina

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#3
I guess they must be public domain. It could be a problem, if you make long quotes in your movie in a language other than the original one based on a foreign issue as you may violate the translator´s rights (or the rights of the publisher who paid him/her).
 

Foxbat

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#4
Lurker Films produced five DVD volumes of short films on Lovecraft's work. I have them all and, although independent and low budget, are excellent. The problem is they no longer seem to be available last time I looked and vendors were asking extortionate prices. They also produced a silent movie (Call Of The Chthulhu) which is also very good. http://www.lurkerfilms.com/cat/hplc05.html

Finally, there's a movie called Cthulhu. I didn't realise when I bought it that it's part of the gay cinema scene but it's a pretty decent film loosely based on Lovecraft. The main character's sexuality plays closely with the plot but not to the extent that I felt disengaged from it.
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0478126/
 

JaimeRetief

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#10
Since somebody mentioned anime already I think that it is prudent to mention Haiyore! Nyaruko-san.
It is a comedy, and it probably has a lot less cosmic horror than the Hentai, but it is quite funny.
 

BAYLOR

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#16
There have been a number of film adaptations

The Haunted Palace 1963 loosely based on The Case o Charles Dexter Ward
Die Monster Die 1965 remade as film The Curse in 1988 both based on The Color of Space
The Dunwich Horror 1970 on the story of the same name
Reanimator 1985 based of of Herbert West Reanimator
From Beyond 1986 based on the story of the saw name
Dagon 2001 based on the story of the same name
 
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#17
There have been a number of film adaptations

The Haunted Palace 1963 loosely based on The Case o Charles Dexter Ward
The screenplay for this one was written by someone I generally admire, Charles Beaumont; but he was quite clear that he intensely disliked Lovecraft's work, and the film itself is... lackluster, to say the least, despite a rather good cast.

Die Monster Die 1965 remade as film The Curse in 1988 both based on The Color of Space
This isn't quite accurate. Die, Monster, Die (a.k.a. Monster of Terror) is extremely loose in its adaptation of "The Colour Out of Space", and the film as a whole is woefully dull. The Curse, while in many ways actually following the story much more closely, is about as abominable as I can well imagine without getting into Eurotrash territory. It is in no way a "remake" of the earlier film, believe me. Same source material, yes, but this does not a "remake" make.

The Dunwich Horror 1970 on the story of the same name
Moderately faithful to several points in the story... but that's about all that can be said for it.

Reanimator 1985 based of of Herbert West Reanimator
From Beyond 1986 based on the story of the saw name
Dagon 2001 based on the story of the same name
The Stuart Gordon/Dennis Paoli adaptations are curious things. Ramsey Campbell is right in saying that Lovecraft would have been appalled at the sexiness of them all (including the Dreams in the Witch-House entry in the Masters of Horror series) and they certainly stray very widely from HPL in many ways... and yet, the damn things are oddly faithful at the same time, as they really have put a great deal of thought into them from a Lovecraftian perspective. For all their over-the-top qualities, these folks have gone to much the same lengths of care as Lovecraft did when writing the stories. Listen to the commentary tracks sometime to get an idea of just how much, despite the variations, they really strove to capture not only much of the actual incident, but the spirit, of these works.

And as for Dagon (which is my personal favorite of the batch)... the story "Dagon" is dispensed with in something like the first 15 minutes of the film; the rest is an adaptation of "The Shadow Over Innsmouth"... a pair of stories which mesh rather well together....

There have been a huge number of other adaptations of Lovecraft's works, both professional and amateur/independent/small filmmaker types... for just a glimpse, take a look at the Lurker in the Lobby volume, or The Complete H. P. Lovecraft Filmography (now quite out of date).
 

hardsciencefanagain

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#18
JD,it says somewhere (amateur review)that Reanimator "exceeded the boundaries of good taste"
Surely Lovecraft is ABOUT good taste?
HPL is NOT about gore,unless i'm very much mistaken
 
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#20
JD,it says somewhere (amateur review)that Reanimator "exceeded the boundaries of good taste"
Surely Lovecraft is ABOUT good taste?
HPL is NOT about gore,unless i'm very much mistaken
Um, have you read the "Herbert West -- Reanimator" set? Gore galore; over-the-top by the bushel. It begins as a rather stiff, somewhat hackneyed bit (one of the very few HPL actually did for money), but he quickly began to parody himself with that one, and its increasingly excessive aspects (which themselves could be said to "exceed the boundaries of good taste" make that pretty obvious. The film caught hold of these aspects, and ran with them. At the same time, if you actually watch the thing without preconceptions, it is very carefully crafted and has a lot of layers. My first impression, back when it came out, was that it was a romp, but went a bit too far perhaps even so. Over time, I've come to see it rather differently. It's odd, but (with the exception of Dreams in the Witch-House), I've not tended to care for Gordon's Lovecraftian films that much the first time around; distinctly disliked Dagon, for instance. But as time goes on, I find myself drawn back to them, and on re-watching them I pick up so much that I didn't the first time around... and end up viewing them in a different light. They have subtleties, nuances, and a great deal of (admittedly unconventional) intelligence in the handling of their source material. They also do not lack pathos -- though, again, it is generally of an unconventional kind. And Paoli and Gordon often pick up on very elusive aspects of the stories and play on them in ways which brings them out more clearly. They are certainly not for everyone but, in their own way, they may be among the most faithful adaptations of Lovecraft around, at least when it comes to the spirit of the things.

As for Lovecraft being about good taste... I don't think I'd agree with that, at least not in the usual sense of that term. His stories contain incest and inbreeding in general ("The Lurking Fear", "Beyond the Wall of Sleep", at least implied in "The Dunwich Horror", among others); necrophilia or at least thanatophilia of one kind or another (the C. M. Eddy collaboration, "The Loved Dead", "The Tomb", "The Hound"); cannibalism ("The Rats in the Walls"); what amounts to bestiality ("The Shadow Over Innsmouth", "Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family", "Pickman's Model").... And that's just a start. Nor does he always handle such things with restraint; if such is fitting for the story, then certainly he does; if a more boisterous, flamboyant approach is more in line with a particular tale, he can pull out all the stops. Certainly, critics such as Edmund Wilson or even the generally favorable Peter Penzoldt, have taken him to task for excess. As Penzoldt put it:

Even if there is a true symbolism in Lovecraft's tales it is his realistic descriptions of pure shameless horror that strike one as the dominant feature. If any writer was able to cram his tales with more loathsome physical abominations than Crawford and Machen it is Howard Phillips Lovecraft. He delights in detailed descriptions of rotting corpses in every imaginable state of decay, from initial corruption to what he has charmingly called a "liquescent horror." He has a particular predilection for fat, carnivorous, and, if possible, anthropophagus rats. His descriptions of hideous stenches and his onomatopoeic reproductions of a madman's yowlings are something with which even "Monk Lewis" did not disgrace fiction. I could well understand Mr. Blackwood, when he once told me that to him "spiritual terror" seemed entirely absent from Lovecraft's tales; for if there is any, it is hidden under so much repulsive detail that the English master may well be excused for not noticing it.
I don't entirely agree with Penzoldt's (or, for that matter, Blackwood's) assessment -- I would say "spiritual terror" is a prime component of Lovecraft's tales, especially his better ones -- but I can well understand the latter point that the more obvious physical repulsiveness of much of Lovecraft's fiction might obscure this aspect to many. HPL played a difficult and dangerous role of fusing the physical repulsion of horror with the more ethereal, elusive impressions of "spiritual" terror... very much in line with the Goths who influenced him so much via their impact on such writers as Poe. The symbolism often lies in those very descriptions of physical abomination and decay (as in "The Outsider", where they bring home the tragic point of that tale on both a purely physical and a deep emotional, even pathetic, level at the same moment -- I believe that Don Burleson's reading of that tale, and its importance to the majority of Lovecraft's corpus, is spot on*), as these are powerful ways to address Lovecraft's theme of our own alienation, degradation, and lack of importance in the cosmos. In essence, Gordon and Paoli have picked up on that and used much the same approach, at least in From Beyond and Dagon (Re-animator is, as stated, more on a physical, human-centered plane), and done so with considerable skill and subtlety... ironically falling into the same category as HPL did with the earlier critics, who also missed the import of his use of such things.

*I've quoted Burleson's essay at length elsewhere; but I'll repeat some of that here, as it seems germane to the discussion:

[That] central apocalyptic moment at the mirror, the moment of terrible revelation when the Outsider, trying at first to believe the carrion horror in the frame to be a separate entity, reaches out and touches the polished glass and knows the abominable form to be his own. In a sense, the fateful mirror is also a lens, in that the moment at the glass brings to focus what is going to be the broad thematic concern of Lovecraft's entire oeuvre: the nature of self-knowledge, the effects of learning one's own nature and one's place in the scheme of things. The rotting finger that touches the glass sets ringing a vibration that will endure, will continue to resonate in varying pitches and intensities, throughout the whole experience of Lovecraft's fiction.[...]

[In At the Mountains of Madness the] humans who happen upon the ancient stone city learn not only of the previously unsuspected existence of the elder race (a race hinted at only in folklore); reading that race's historical murals, they learn the most devastating fact of all -- that the ancient race, experimenting with life forms, created people as a sort of jest. Here humankind has looked into the most cruelly candid mirror, has touched the glass and come away forever scarred.[...]

[...] Time after time, in various ways, the Outsider reaches forth to touch the glass, and suffers the agony of self-discovery. To be human is to be the Outsider, a meaningless speck adrift in the sea of stars. [Burleson terms this "ironic impressionism", and goes on to say:] The old saying is that "it shouldn't happen to a dog," and indeed it could not; dogs are unreflective on their lowly status in the universal scheme, while Homo sapiens -- ironically, the knowing animal -- can know its debasement, a debasement not even so elevated as true tragedy, since humankind has no genuinely tragic dignity, no dignity of great beings brought low, to fling back at the mocking stars.[...]

In literary theorist M. H. Abrams's well-known The Mirror and the Lamp, the mirror is a metaphor for mind, mind viewed (in pre-Romantic or Neoclassicist terms) as a mimetic reflector of externality, in contrast with the "lamp" metaphor of mind as a radiant contributor to what it perceives. For Lovecraft (in such a scheme decidedly the pre-Romantic) the mind is more mirror than lamp. But for Lovecraft the mirror is also a metaphor for the cosmos itself that reflects back humankind's true face, the face of a lost and nameless soul. Self-referentially, Lovecraft's career-long text itself is a sprawling hall of mirrors, mirrors mirroring mirrors, a labyrinth of iterated thematic reflections through which wanders the Outsider who forever reaches forth, in hope against hope, to touch the glass.
Lovecraft's use of such physically loathsome things as the rotting corpses and the shoggoths symbolize this debasement... a part of why, for instance, Dyer and Danforth are so appalled at the things -- given what they know from the historical murals of the Old Ones, they recognize that they are closer to the shoggoths in nature, that in fact this is a close, if not direct, relative; the theme of biological degeneration and evolutionary reversion frequent to Lovecraft. At the same time, the ultimate climax of that novel (one generally missed by readers) is not this revelation of the shoggoths, horrific as it is, but rather the implications of what Danforth sees as they fly back over the Mountains of Madness and he glances back just as the "merciful" mist lifts to reveal what lies beyond those other mountains. It is this which finally shatters him completely, and it is entirely a "spiritual" terror left only lightly hinted rather than described.
 
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