Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown Film Review - 2008 Shriekfest Documentary

"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown."
-H.P. Lovecraft

Thus the name of Frank H. Woodward’s documentary explores life, literary works and contributions to legendary horror, sci-fi and otherworldly fiction writer H.P. Lovecraft. The documentary Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown followed Lovecraft early years in Providence where he was raised by his mother, two aunts (Annie E. Phillips Gamwell and Lillian D. Clark) and grandfather, Whipple Van Buren Phillips after the prolonged demise of his father in a mental hospital. The seed of Lovecraft’s lifelong predilection for the fantastic can be found in his an early interest in Greek mythology and an obsession with the “Arabian Nights”.

The documentary chronicles Lovecraft’s eventual modest popularity and unwitting success as a professional writer for comics and magazines such as “Weird Tales”, and his first and only marriage to Sonia Haft Greene, a Russian Jewish, hat shop owner, from Brooklyn, New York. The couple’s honeymoon period was brief, and they soon found themselves on different life paths that led Sonia to Cleveland, Lovecraft, back to Providence and the dissolve of their marriage in 1929. Lovecraft would die young at 46 from intestinal cancer, but his works worth live on to inform and influence the literary world of horror and fantasy.

Director Frank Woodward examines the personal life of the acclaimed strange fiction author with an abundance of tolerance. Woodward’s documentary bravely explores Lovecraft’s many character flaws that shadowed the author’s literary greatness. The film acknowledges that at worse, Lovecraft was a reclusive, indolent, bigoted xenophobe, but at best, a genius, visionary writer, functioning with a probably hereditary mental illness, who is simply a product of his time.

"Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown" directed by Frank H. woodward

“Lovecraft tells you about the scale of man in the cosmos. He is really the most articulate about saying, ‘there is an indifference from the ancient gods to man.’ Lovecraft takes that and ups the ante.” - Guillermo del Toro on Lovecraft’s contribution to the horror and fantasy genre.

Del Toro (Hellboy, The Hobbit) is one of several contemporary authors, filmmakers and horror & fantasy authorities who attest to the value and volume of the late Lovecraft’s then groundbreaking writings. The doc boasts a dozen respected voices in the world of horror and fantasy including author and scholar S. T. Joshi (“H.P. Lovecraft: A Life [1996]”) Professor of Theology Robert M. Price, sci-fi/fantasy/graphic novelist & Palentologist  Caitlin R. Kierman ("The Dreaming" [Aug. 97-May 01] ), director Stuart Gordon (From Beyond, Fortress), writer Neil Gaiman (“Babylon 5", Beowulf), Peter Straub ("Magic Terror", "House Without Doors") and legendary writer, director, composer John Carpenter (The Thing, Vampires). Almost unanimously, the collection of experts see Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos as his greatest contribution of modern day horror.

While it is interesting to learn about the horror / fantasy icon who was H.P. Lovecraft, those of us without and high interest in the “early adaptors” and foremost characters and concepts within the world of horror and sci-fiction may be left out in the cold on this documentary. While the does provide a brief and vigorous impromptu forum regarding the undervalued work of the science fiction writers by the likes of Carpenter and Straub, the presentation is very generic and academic. The enthusiasm of the testimonials from the filmmakers and authors is exciting; however they are not contagious enough to keep me engaged. The narrative is told exclusively though voiceover, renderings of the period, interview footage and still artwork.

"Supplicant of Leng" An H.P. Lovecraft influenced work of a dweller on the Plateau of Leng Artist: Rick Sardinha

It’s the still artwork that is the best and most universal reason to seek out this film. Truly incredible artwork by artists like Rick Sardinha (Battleduck.com)  and Mac Carter & Adam Byrne (The Strange Adventures of HP Lovecraft). for me, those were the moments when this feature is elevated beyond a very long slideshow.

Fans of the Fantasy / Sci-Fi genre will eat this documentary up, as illustrated by the film’s win for Best Documentary at the 2008 ComiCon in San Diego earlier this year. For those of us interested in the genre, but not so much in its founding fathers, you may wanna coffee up before viewing. 

Lovecraft: Fear of trhe Unknown @ MySpace

 

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