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Del Toro Meets Lovecraft At the Mountains of Madness

Written by: Ron Bricker

Image H.P. Lovecraft . . . he’s hot . . . .he’s sexy . . . and he’s DEAD!!
Well, two outta three ain’t bad.
It seems odd that one of the single most influential writers of modern times doesn’t get more recognition. Everyone knows the name of his most prominent adherent (Stephen King, who first discovered the power of writing from an old paperback collection of Lovecraft’s works), but mention the bridge between Mr. King and Mr. Edgar Poe (H.P.’s own main influence) to the Average Joe and he’ll give you a blank stare. Then he’ll tell you what a great president Reagan was. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)


Lovecraft appears to epitomize the old adage rock critics say about the Velvet Underground’s first album: nobody bought it, but everyone who did formed a band. Likewise, not many have read Lovecraft, but many who did either became a writer or filmmaker themselves. Don’t believe me? Other than Mr. King, H.P.’s “Craftlovers” include Clive Barker, Joyce Carol Oates and perennial critic’s darlings Neil Gaiman and Jorge Luis Borges. Filmmakers include John Carpenter (whose remake of The Thing, not to mention the original short story and film owe a huge debt to HP) and famed artist/designer H.R. Giger, designer of The Alien. Most recently we’ve had Cloverfield, whose central nightmare might as well be a clone of HP’s favorite “Cthulhu”.
And now we have Guillermo Del Toro, making a more overt homage than just being influenced by him on Pan’s Labyrinth. To be sure, there have been other somewhat half-assed “adaptations” of his stories into film (The Haunted Palace aka “The Strange Case of Charles Dexter Ward”; Die Monster Die aka “The Colour Out of Space” and Herbert West: Reanimator, same title) but Lovecraft’s name has never been “above the title”. Until now.
At the Mountains of Madness is the first no-holds-barred, unadulterated, straight-no-chaser adaptation of H.P.’s work that I’m aware of. All the usual Lovecraftian suspects are here: Cthulhu, the Necronomicon, ships named “The Arkham” and “Misatonic”. Check, check and double check!!
The story is simple and straightforward, if not somewhat cliche at this point: a team of researchers head for Antarctica to explore and study some ancient artifacts (notice something, Thing and Relic fans?) They stumble across an ancient evil in the guise of aliens that came to earth when it was still just a continent named Panagea. Simply out of boredom, these alien overlords created all life on earth (Lovecraft was a commited atheist) before their “working class” (called shoggoths) rose up and killed them, starting a new degenrate order centered around bringing alien god Cthulhu back to life. Our intrepid heroes, geologists’ Dyer and Danforth along with resident “action figure” Larsen (an invention of Del Toro’s; Lovecraft’s “heroes” are anything but “men of action”) elect to stop this from happening.
And that’s basically it. Those looking for the deeper character development should look elsewhere. This is probably more the fault of the material than the script, as H.P’s nickname “The Rhode Island Recluse” doesn’t exactly bespeak of a congenial “people person”. The dialogue, fortunately, is definitely much improved from the original source (see previous comment). Still, some physical howlers are definitely in evidence: action figure Larsen not only shoots into the ice to escape a beastie, but after a swim through hypothermia-laden waters, shoots his way out, laws of physics be damned.
That aside, its a fairly decent and faithful adaptation. It will be interesting to see how Del Toro adapts it into his usual, fantastic style. And maybe, over seventy years after his death from intestinal cancer, H.P. Lovecraft will finally get his due and become a household name. Not bad for a guy who never made more than a couple grand for his collective writings in pulp magazines, was incapable of holding down a regular job, and never managed to develop any long-term relationships.
Give us all hope, dunnit?