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Entering the Unknown With H.P. Lovecraft

2 Oct, 2009 By: Billy Gil

Frank H. Woodward’s Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown explores the world of author H.P. Lovecraft, who was little-known during his lifetime but later became infamous for his horrific creations — tales of people driven to madness by the existence of tentacled creatures from other planes of existence. As the film shows, Lovecraft transformed horror, taking it from the gothic and into the more supernatural and cosmic.

The film, which hits DVD and Blu-ray Disc Oct. 13 for $24.95 each, from Cinevolve, explores his life as a recluse and the mythos he created, such as the ultimate evil, Cthulu, and the forbidden book of evil, the Necronomicon. It features interviews with experts and fans such as filmmakers Guillermo del Toro and John Carpenter and writer Neil Gaiman (of “The Sandman” comic book series).

HM: Were you an H.P. Lovecraft buff before embarking on this project?

Woodward: I was definitely familiar with Lovecraft before. I had read the main stories — “The Call of Cthulu,” “The Outsider” and the earlier stories — so I knew who he was, who Cthulu was, but I didn’t know much about him outside of the broad strokes. I knew that he was an eccentric, but that obviously doesn’t convey how complex a guy he was. It started as a possible featurette for a DVD. I have produced Anchor Bay featurettes, and we had just finished doing Masters of Horror: Season One, during which I met Stuart Gordon and John Carpenter. They were putting out the anniversary edition of Re-Animator (the 1985 film based on a Lovecraft story), and there was discussion of, “Hey, let’s do something on Lovecraft.” For whatever reason, it didn’t end up on the DVD … but for me it was great because I got to learn about someone I was already curious about and in the process of it became even greater a fan.

HM: How was it made and brought out through Cinevolve?

Woodward: We decided we were going make it on a totally independent level. We didn’t shop it around until it had played at different festivals — we had already won at Comic-Con (best documentary, 2008) at that point.

At the time, unless Michael Moore was in the title someplace, a lot of the labels had totally binged on documentaries for a while, so documentaries weren’t as salable. They just didn’t do what people thought they would do. So we just came into it there, coupled with the wonderful start of the recession. But with Cinevolve, it was just like, these are the guys. It was like meeting your wife or significant other.

HM: How did you get people like John Carpenter and Guillermo del Toro involved?

Woodward: The pleasant surprise for everything was even for people we didn’t know, like Neil Gaiman, because they were such staunch fans of Lovecraft, they said, “Yes! We’d love to do it.” Guillermo I had actually approached at Comic-con one year about it. He was very keen to do it. This was just before Pan’s Labyrinth had come out and just before he got all the nominations and became the superstar that he is and deserves to be.

HM: Did you seek anyone out in particular?

Woodward: Not on a big-name side of things. [Lovecraft biographer] S.T. Joshi had to be involved. S.T. is the expert on Lovecraft. He has devoted quite a bit of his life to the biography. … You want as many authorities as you can. We needed that. Otherwise, in truth, it’s a lot of fans talking about him, and you don’t get into who the guy was.

HM: During the process of making this film, what did you discover to be the most fascinating thing about Lovecraft’s life?

Woodward: For me I don’t think there was anything necessarily surprising. The basic facts I knew about him; it was more about adding details and color to what I knew. What I delighted in learning, that will be on some of the extras on the DVD, is just how personable he was, especially with some of the other writers he was in correspondence with. He just wrote thousands of letters. … In some instances he was just a very friendly, giving man. When he would entertain, he would make sure he had coffee for everyone. Just how much affection he had for his friends was touching. For someone who people know as a xenophobe and racist, that’s not something you would expect.

HM: Speaking of which, did you struggle with how to include certain aspects, such as Lovecraft’s racism or specific criticisms of his writings?

Woodward: As far as the racism goes, he obviously had written things that were a little more objectionable than we included in the documentary. He was a staunch Aryan, and had written long letters about how the Aryan was the key to human success. We had initially had a section in there, and we wanted to talk about it, but I knew we didn’t want the film to only be about that. Obviously there is a balance you have to strike, and from what I’ve heard, we hit it. You can’t avoid it. … Most people we interviewed were on the same wavelength that yeah, it’s racist by today’s standards, but we can’t judge him through today’s eyes.

As far as his writing goes, as Gaiman says, there’s plenty o make fun of. I think that’s true of anyone who’s a diehard of anyone. I mean, “Star Trek” fans will pick apart the production values of old “Star Trek,” and if you didn’t know any better, you’d think they hated it. But it’s actually the opposite — it’s that you love it so much that you can go into detail. I think it comes from that place of deep love.

HM: What else is on the DVD/Blu-ray?

Woodward: There are 72 extra minutes made into a featurette, art from artists who lent us art for the documentary and a fan film easter egg from our music composer. For Lovecraft fans, for sure it’s definitely going to be a fun disc.

Click to reserve Lovecraft for purchase.

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