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Film Review: Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown (2008)

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A chronicle of the life, work and mind that created the Cthulhu mythos.


Documentaries are a funny thing. I believe it is often important to be interested in the subject matter before watching the documentary to make sure you will be engaged in the information that is being told. An outstanding doco though draws you in even if you have no prior knowledge of the topic being investigated and ends up making the viewer care about said topic.  Personally I have never been a fan of the documentary genre and the last doco I saw was Blackfish which was spectacular but I only gave it a shot because of the hype and storm of controversy around it. Documentaries remind me of my high school days when we would sit in front of the television being talked at by crusty old documentarians about dates and locations which did anything but capture the attention of a 16 year old boy. H.P. Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown unfortunately doesn’t draw in a new audience but plays for fans of the renowned author which is troubling when Lovecraft had such a fascinating life.

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I must confess I know little about H.P Lovecraft. I’ve seen his name printed on horror covers and heard the name around in the airwaves but I’ve never known who or what this man was. Re-Animator is one of my all time favourite horror films and I know that the film was based on one of Lovecraft’s stories. I don’t read horror fiction so the connection between the author and the film was just a passing fact that seemed a bit redundant to my love for Re-Animator. My admiration for the comedy and wit in the film raised a question when watching the documentary: if Lovecraft had written the original story with the same sense of humour? Yet there wasn’t really a solid answer to that question in the documentary and this was my only way into Lovecraft’s world.

A Fear of the Unknown starts promising enough detailing Lovecraft’s childhood including his crazy- syphilis riddled father and hysterical mother. It is an interesting study into how Lovecraft began his art of writing when he himself had extreme xenophobia and removed himself from society at a young age. Consequently by shutting himself out he was able to write his stories and begin his foray into the dire horror that he is famous for. All this background knowledge would interest any viewer be they a fan of his or not. It’s just after they cover this they begin to delve into his work and this is where things get mirky.


I haven’t read any of Lovecraft’s work so writing this review I want to make it clear I come to it as a complete stranger. The documentary when touching on his work starts to become inaccessible to someone who is not familiar with his writing. It has so many references that are confusing and make little sense that it – dare I say it – bore me while watching. I’m guessing that an avid fan would lap up the commentary by the interviewees about Lovecraft’s work but for me it all seemed just like a bunch of gibberish. This is a problem for a documentary that should be playing to the uninitiated, Lovecraft is such a fascinating subject it all just seems a shame that it comes off a little like a nerd jerk circle.

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Guillermo Del Toro and John Carpenter are just two of the figures interviewed in the doco and Del Toro especially gives some hilarious and insightful knowledge about the troubled writer. The other interviewees (mostly authors) aren’t especially exciting but revel in the mythology that Lovecraft created showing a strong knowledge of what they are talking about (even if it didn’t make much sense to me). Apart from the interviews the images that are used are repeated numerous times during the running time which is a bit disappointing and reaffirms my thoughts that the doco would have been better as an audio book or podcast.

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The story of Lovecraft as a boy to man is intriguing and the documentary fleshes this out nicely. However the majority of the film discusses his detailed and complex works which makes it clear that the film was made for fans yet I did ponder why they talked about his upbringing when I’m sure fans would already know his biography. It comes off a little confusing as to who exactly the documentary was made for.  HP Lovecraft: A Fear Unknown gives a peek into who this prolific writer was but doesn’t allow an accessible way into his world of horror and misses the potential to inspire new fans.


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