Who owns HP Lovecraft film rights?

  1. Brian G Turner

    Brian G Turner He's a very naughty boy! Staff Member

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    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.
     
    Mar 16, 2015
    #1
  2. Curt Chiarelli

    Curt Chiarelli Yog-Sothothery on the Fly

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    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.
     
    Mar 16, 2015
    #2
  3. Deep Space Nina

    Deep Space Nina Well-Known Member

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    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).
     
    Mar 21, 2015
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  4. Foxbat

    Foxbat None The Wiser

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    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/
     
    Mar 22, 2015
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  5. Deep Space Nina

    Deep Space Nina Well-Known Member

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    There is also a hentai just in case you fell in love with Lovecraftian porn. *lol*
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mystery_of_the_Necronomicon
     
    Apr 20, 2015
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  6. JaimeRetief

    JaimeRetief ...of the Mountain of Red Tape

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    In this line of thought you might be interested to hear that there is an entire short story collection of Lovecraftean smut, titled Cthulhuerotica.
     
    Apr 28, 2015
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  7. Clifford Beal

    Clifford Beal Member

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    I remember Rod Serling's Night Gallery TV series in the early 70's did Pickman's Model. Scared the living crap out of me. And then there was the 1970 movie version of The Dunwich Horror. But precious little since.
     
    Apr 29, 2015
    #7
  8. Dan Jones

    Dan Jones Refreshed

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    The Night Gallery adaptation of PM is on Youtube (obviously)...
     
    Apr 29, 2015
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  9. Clifford Beal

    Clifford Beal Member

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    Oh yeh, baby! I'm there tonight.
     
    Apr 29, 2015
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  10. JaimeRetief

    JaimeRetief ...of the Mountain of Red Tape

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    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.
     
    May 2, 2015
    #10
  11. Christopher Lee

    Christopher Lee Formerly BluePhoenix711

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    I'd love to see an animated series based off The Shadow over Innsmouth
     
    May 4, 2015
    #11
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  12. BAYLOR

    BAYLOR There Are Always new Things to Learn.

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    Someone did do an animated At The Mountains of Madness . It's on Youtube .:)
     
    May 5, 2015
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  13. JaimeRetief

    JaimeRetief ...of the Mountain of Red Tape

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    Can you provide a link, please?
     
    May 5, 2015
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  14. BAYLOR

    BAYLOR There Are Always new Things to Learn.

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    It's about 33 minutes long, for some reason my computer can't seem to link it.
     
    May 5, 2015
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  15. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator

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    Try the following:

     
    May 11, 2015
    #15
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  16. BAYLOR

    BAYLOR There Are Always new Things to Learn.

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    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
     
    Last edited: Jun 8, 2015
    Jun 8, 2015
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  17. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator

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    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.

    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.

    Moderately faithful to several points in the story... but that's about all that can be said for it.

    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).
     
    Jun 8, 2015
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  18. hardsciencefanagain

    hardsciencefanagain Well-Known Member

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    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
     
    Jun 8, 2015
    #18
  19. J Riff

    J Riff The Ants are my friends..

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    Cthulhu IS in fact into gore, he just can't usually get his tentacles on it.
     
    Jun 8, 2015
    #19
  20. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator

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    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:

    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:

    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.
     
    Last edited: Jun 8, 2015
    Jun 8, 2015
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