I recently watched a video from YouTuber Rossatron asking why there weren’t many (if any) big-budget Lovecraft adaptations. One thing he really nailed was that Lovecraftian horror comes from confronting cosmic truths that make us question the place of humanity in the universe and the insignificance of an individual existence, and the inevitable madness that confrontation triggers. His conclusions- that direct adaptations do not easily lend themselves to the low-budget horror OR blockbuster genres as they currently are, but that Lovecraft’s themes work their way into many cinematic works- are certainly well-founded and well-argued. I would argue, however, that there could be an argument that those who have attempted or desired to make direct Lovecraft adaptations before haven’t been looking at the right stories.
Gou Tanabe is “known in Japan for using the manga format to adapt literary works”, and has serialized quite a few manga adaptations of Lovecraft’s short stories in Comic BEAM and other collections, starting with The Temple in March 2009. He shows a great understanding of Lovecraft’s work but is able to adapt it into a more digestible format. Lovecraft’s writing style has been described as “turgid…uses a boatload of purple prose…Plus, his language is archaic”. But he was excellent at building believable, engaging worlds with absorbing atmosphere, and that is the essence Tanabe has distilled.
Another thing that may keep Lovecraft from becoming the next candidate for a cinematic universe is that, as Rossatron said, “so much of the imagination is kept to the page…maybe it’s that only your imagination when reading it can create something as chilling as Lovecraft intended.” The reveal of the monster can be a creative work’s undoing, like the finale of the IT miniseries, or the end of Cloverfield. Tanabe’s design for the horrors he brings to life in the pages of his work aren’t perhaps the most frightening thing a human could imagine, but it certainly isn’t a letdown. His work reminds me of The Enigma of Amigara Fault by Junji Ito, which saw a high popularity when a translation was published on Reddit a few years ago. It’s a very realistic style, but the characters themselves don’t have a wide range of expression- in fact, they’re quite wooden for most of the story. This could be a criticism in any other genre, but the unnatural reaction makes the atmosphere even more creepy and unnerving.
In his author’s note, Tanabe wrote:
Lovecraft was a writer who crafted such unknowable darkness – a priest of his own Mythos. I know fear even at the richness of his creativity. By illustrating his stories, I intend to become an apostle of the gods he made…I hear the divine voice, commanding me to continue
This volume holds three of his adaptations, and I sincerely hope he is able to continue publishing more. In fact, if anyone out there is trying to come up with a workable, low-budget Lovecraft adaptation, may I suggest The Temple, with Tanabe helping to adapt the script? Everyone might love Cthulu, but if you want to get Lovecraft at his most frightening, start with the short stories.