Know the unknown

New doc explores H.P. Lovecraft's lasting influence -- and Cthulhu slippers!

Straight-to-DVD bio-doc Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown (Cinevolve, $24.95) is stylistically pretty ho-hum, especially for a film about one of the most creative minds in supernatural horror fiction. Talking heads and slow pans over illustrations do most of the heavy lifting, since the author, who died in 1937, apparently didn't leave behind much in the way of photographs, recordings, diaries, or relatives. Still, the film offers an informative experience. For a guy obsessed with Old Ones and tentacled beasts, H.P. Lovecraft's life was a fairly prim and stuffy affair: raised by a smothering mother whose old-guard family had fallen on hard times, he rarely strayed from his beloved Providence, R.I. He was a social misfit, a known xenophobe, a lousy husband, and too proud to take a pay-the-bills job (ghostwriting was as low as he'd stoop).

His imagination, however, was anything but ordinary. An early interest in paleontology and astrology informed his later work, which usually ended up being published in Weird Tales magazine for paltry sums ("The Call of Cthulhu" is said to have netted $165). Though his baroque, adjective-happy writing is gently mocked by the doc's contributors (Neil Gaiman pokes fun at Lovecraft's overuse of words like "gibbous"; Guillermo Del Toro calls his style "incredibly anal-retentive"), his use of mood is highly praised (John Carpenter notes that the narrators of Lovecraft's tales "start terrified and end terrified.") In life, he may not have reached a wide audience — as the film points out, in the early 20th century science fiction was far more marginalized than it is today. But the eagerness of Gaiman, Del Toro, Carpenter, Stuart Gordon, and other celebs to chime in here — along with Lovecraft's shots of fan-friendly merch, including Cthulhu bedroom slippers — suggests the author of "The Outsider" has forever transcended the fringe.

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