Friday, September 2, 2016

Lost In Adaptation

I had meant to post this two-parter post last month, and yeah, H.P. Lovecraft's birthday has since come and gone, but better late than never. There's been so many television shows that have mined his work for inspiration that I wanted to draw a distinction between these Lovecraftian episodes, as opposed to the more straightforward adaptations of his work. I mean, sure, I loathe the word 'lovecraftian' for the precise reason that most people it so rarely seems able to do him any justice, but hey, I still enjoy a good easter egg. As always, category is: Horror anthology series.

An Evil Within
Warehouse 13
Season 4, Episode 2

Is it Lovecraftian as it sounds? Meh. The Silver Key is indeed part of Lovecraftian lore, and the show gives the item a made-up backstory about how the key was a real artifact that inspired the dark tone of Lovecraft's work. But those connections are superficial at best. The Key causes its bearer to appear as a monster to those around them, which isn't how the Key actually works in the Mythos. But that isn't my main problem with this episode. This was all-around a very weak attempt at paying homage to Lovecraft; it feels a lot like the writers just wanted to slap his name on this without any real understanding of his style of cosmic horror, or even the world he'd built. You could literally take out the Lovecraftian references, slap on any other kind of artifact, and it would not affect the story in any way. Warehouse 13 has some neat episodes, but this falls squarely under the "monster-of-the-week" variety.

Miss Lovecraft Sent Me
Night Gallery
Season 2, Episode 2

Is it Lovecraftian as it sounds? Not in the least. Its references to Lovecraft starts and ends with that title; the titular Miss Lovecraft is never actually seen, but is only mentioned in passing by the characters. This is still an interesting, albeit short segment about a babysitter who realizes in time that she's in for more than she can handle, and the twist is pretty fun. Still, I always find it weird when writers use Lovecraft's own name as a throwaway reference, because you can't get away with it: It's really recognizable, even for those who aren't big Lovecraft fans, that it jars the audience out of the story. This is just like Death Machine, where I couldn't take eco-terrorist characters named "Raimi" and "Yutani" seriously. So, again, it's strange for the episode title to set up one's expectations and go nowhere with them. Even stranger, because Night Gallery has done a good job of adapting a straightforward Lovecraft story before, like Cool Air.

Lovecraft's Woods
R.L. Stine's The Haunting Hour
Season 3, Episode 2

Is it Lovecraftian as it sounds? I happen to really like this episode, but honestly, it has more in common with The Triangle than anything Lovecraft ever wrote: A bunch of kids find themselves hunted down by a monstrous creature after they walk into a cursed forest, but are stuck in a time loop which they can't escape. Look, I wasn't expecting Jeffrey Combs with a prosthetic chin to make an on-the-nose appearance here or anything. But this is an exact clone of Miss Lovecraft Sent Me--a cool premise wrapped up in Lovecraft-looking wrapping. At least I kinda get that the Night Gallery short was penned by Jack Laird, who was such a Lovecraft fan that I could see him throwing in his name in there for kicks, but what's this episode's excuse? Not that I don't think Lovecraftian references don't belong in children's programming or anything--I discovered his work by looking up what "arkham" meant thanks to BTAS, so yeah, why the hell not, I guess.

Professor Peabody's Last Lecture
Night Gallery
Season 2, Episode 14

Is it Lovecraftian as it sounds? That and more. This is the polar opposite of Miss Loveraft Sent Me; there are references left and right. It's like the Mythos punching you in the face: it's total unabashed fanservice, down to all the recognizable Lovecraftian deities written on the chalkboard, and I revel in it. Sure, the Professor Peabody here is only in name, not the Frank Peabody we know in At the Mountains of Madness, but the story itself is a more authentic send-up to the twisted fates that befall so many of Lovecraft's own characters. He kind of reminds me of Evil Dead's Scotty too, in that he gives zero fucks about reading aloud from a forbidden tome like the Necronomicon--something we all know is a no-no--with predictably disastrous results. It's one of Night Gallery's shorter segments, but it works, because it's got the comedic timing down pat.

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