Howard Phillip Lovecraft, or H.P. Lovecraft, is a name well known among horror, science fiction and fantasy enthusiasts; in the literary world as well as the cinematic and gaming worlds. His works have inspired such literary giants as Stephen King, Richard Matheson, Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore and Mike Mignola. Legendary directors John Carpenter, Guillermo Del Toro, Stuart Gordon and many others have been directly influenced by Lovecraft’s unique imagination, an imagination that would ultimately fuel the fire behind films such as The Thing, Hellboy, Re-Animator and From Beyond. Lovecraft himself was greatly inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe, whom he described as his “God of Fiction”.
Born August 20th, 1890 in Providence, RI, Lovecraft’s life was far from easy, never achieving financially success from his work. In fact, Lovecraft died in poverty on March 15th, 1937 leaving behind quite a legacy, specifically The Cthulhu Mythos, which includes such works as At the Mountains of Madness, The Shadow over Innsmouth, The Shadow Out of Time and The Call of Cthulhu. His writing primarily focused on our place in a vast, chaotic universe, feeling mankind had no value within the grander scheme of things; easily discarded and forgotten. God didn’t inhabit the worlds created by Lovecraft; at least, not the God we are all familiar with. Instead there were many gods but none benevolent and all very hungry, waiting to drive us insane as they make our world..theirs!
HBO’s Lovecraft Country, based on the novel of the same name written by Matt Ruff and created for the small screen by J.J. Abrams, Jordan Peele and Misha Green, aired it’s first episode, Sundown, on Sunday, August 17th. Starring Jonathan Majors (Da 3 Bloods), Jurnee Smollett (Birds of Prey), Courtney B. Vance (Dangerous Minds) and Michael Kenneth Williams (Hap and Leonard), Lovecraft Country couldn’t be more timely. Set during the 1950’s, a time when racial tensions were extremely volatile, Lovecraft Country is the tale of Atticus “Tic” Freeman (Majors) a young African American searching for his father, Montrose (Williams) who’s mysteriously gone missing. The only clue to his father’s whereabouts is in a letter Atticus received while overseas, written by his father, containing a clue; a town Atticus first reads as Arkham but in actuality is Ardam. Atticus, along with an old friend, Leti (Smollett) and his uncle, George (Vance), sets out on a journey to find his father. However, the quest will take them into Lovecraft Country where monsters are lurking…and not just the Lovecraftian kind.
Right out of the gate, Lovecraft Country Ep 1: Sundown quickly establishes that our hero, Atticus, is an extremely well read individual. A sequence at the beginning cleverly incorporates elements from not only Lovecraft’s works but also Edgar Rice Burroughs (John Carter of Mars) and H.G. Wells (War of the Worlds). As someone who reads a lot, I especially enjoyed this peek into Atticus’ imagination, being something I could relate to. As Atticus and his friends attempt to locate Montrose, we’re introduced to an America during it’s Jim Crow days when segregation was legal. A time when what was known as ‘sundown towns’ was the norm, when it was completely legal to lynch any African-American caught inside a certain town’s city limits after sunset. A practice that, tragically, still occurs to this very day. Atticus, Leti and George eventually, in a nerve shattering scene, find themselves in such a town…and the sun is getting real low (see what I did there?).
Much like Stephen King’s The Mist novella and subsequent film, Lovecraft Country makes it clear who the real monsters are. What sets it apart from that tale (itself inspired by the works of Lovecraft), is that the white folk Atticus and company encounter seem to have no redeeming qualities, they haven’t been frightened into turning on their fellow man. Although it could be argued that maybe they have been frightened enough to turn on their fellow man because isn’t that what racism and bigotry really are at their core? Fear of anyone who looks differently? Fear derived from misinformation, of someone having different opinions or thoughts? Fear from decades of misunderstanding and brainwashing, leading to the thinking that African-Americans were a lower class, lower even than that of the family dog?
Lovecraft Country doesn’t fail to put you smack dab in the middle of some of the most turbulent and woefully horrific times of American history. The soundtrack almost becomes a character in and of itself, painting a picture of racial adversity while at the same time, showing the unbreakable spirit of a people who refuse to bow, who simply refuse to give up. Lovecraft, himself a racist and bigot, wrote tales of Elder Gods and monstrosities that saw humanity as insignificant, acting as allegories to what actually took place between Caucasians and African Americans before the Civil Rights Movement.
However, it wouldn’t be a Lovecraft homage without a few monsters on hand, would it? And there ARE monsters…oh boy, are there ever! The creature effects are surprisingly good, using a blend of practical and CGI SPFX to bring Lovecraft’s insanity-inducing creations to gory life. Yes, you read that correctly…there IS plenty of gore on display for even the most jaded gore hound.
While Lovecraft Country is similar in spirit to The Mist, what it most resembles on it’s surface is John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness which is a spectacular example of a Lovecraft homage done correctly. Rather than being a play on a specific Lovecraft theme, the novel and series wisely chooses to tell a different tale with a Lovecraftian presence expertly interwoven throughout. Exploring themes of abuse, abandonment, heritage and legacy, Lovecraft Country Ep 1: Sundown masterfully sets the stage for more Shoggothian madness, or worse, to come!