The movie that he most longs to make is an adaptation of a grandly ridiculous H. P. Lovecraft novella, At the Mountains of Madness, in which explorers, venturing into Antarctica, discover malevolent aliens in a frozen, ruined city. Some of the aliens mutate wildly, which would allow Del Toro to create dozens of extreme incarnations. He said, “If I get to do it, those monsters will be terrifying.” . . . To anybody who owns thousands of comic books [as Del Toro does], At the Mountains of Madness is as central to the American canon as Moby-Dick. . . . Del Toro loves the story, in part because Lovecraft combines terror—the panicked effort to escape the creatures—with metaphysical horror: “The book essentially says how scary it is to realize we are a cosmic joke.”Although the project has yet to receive a green light, Del Toro recently confirmed that he will be the final judge of the winner of the short film competition at this year’s H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival.
Prompted by Zalewski’s piece, Jon Michaud wondered whether the name “Cthulhu,” the giant alien being that recurs in many of Lovecraft’s tales, had ever appeared before in the magazine’s pages. It had, once before, in a 1945 essay, “Tales of the Marvellous and the Ridiculous,” by Edmund Wilson. Lovecraft fans had besieged Wilson with complaints when his 1944 essay, “A Treatise on Tales of Horror” failed to include their revered author. In the earlier essay Wilson contended that the contributors to several recent collections of horror stories suffered by comparison with the genre’s more literary practitioners—Joseph Conrad, Nikolai Gogol, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry James, Rudyard Kipling, Herman Melville, Edgar Allan Poe, and Robert Lewis Stevenson. The only contemporaries he thought worthy of inclusion were Walter de la Mare and Franz Kafka.
But the “enthusiasm of [Lovecraft’s] admirers” was “so insistent” that Wilson decided to look into his work “more seriously.” The 1945 essay detailed his findings and as a “tribute to such power as H. P. Lovecraft possesses” Wilson was willing to “suspend disbelief . . . in regard to the omniscient conical snails.” But overall he was not impressed: “The only real horror in most of these fictions is the horror of bad taste and bad art.” Wilson did find Lovecraft intriguing as a person and a scholar. “His long essay on the literature of supernatural horror is a really able piece of work.”
Also of interest:
- An overview of previous movies based on Lovecraft’s work
- Peter Straub discusses the perennial debate about literary versus genre treatments of horror in a Reader’s Almanac excerpt from his interview with The Library of America about American Fantastic Tales
- Read “What Robert Bloch owes H. P. Lovecraft,” a previous Reader’s Almanac post