Howard Phillips Lovecraft (August 20, 1890 – March 15, 1937) is now recognized as one of the most innovative and influential writers in the horror/fantasy/science-fiction genre. He also is well known for his highly eccentric personality and somewhat sad life. Both his parents died in a mental institution, and Lovecraft himself was a deeply troubled individual who was unable to enjoy intimate relationships, could not hold a job, and suffered from constant raging emotions of fear and anger toward racial and ethnic groups different than his own.
Despite these liabilities, Lovecraft was undeniably brilliant, not only because of his intelligence (largely home-schooled, he was reading at the age of 3), but because of his ability for original creative thought, the real mark of genius. Lovecraft’s literary inventions include “the Cthulhu Mythos,” a fictional history of the cosmos in which pre-human gods and creatures survive and threaten to overrun the modern human world, and The Necronomicon, an imaginary magical grimoire so compelling that substantial numbers of people believe it actually exists.
Despite Lovecraft’s impact on American genre fiction, and the vast quantities of written documentation he left (he was a prodigious correspondent) there has not been a lot of biographical material produced about him. Lovecraft: a Biography (1975), was written by L. Sprague de Camp who actually corresponded with Lovecraft; it is now out of print. In 1996, S.T. Joshi published his 700-page opus, H.P. Lovecraft: A Life. In 2008, Wyrd Studios produced the 90-minute documentary, Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown (the subtitle derives from the Lovecraft quote that opens the film). Written and directed by Frank H. Woodward, and produced by Woodward, William Janczewski, and James B. Myers, Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown won Best Documentary at the 2008 Comic-Con International Independent Film Festival — and deservedly so. The documentary was released on DVD and Blu-ray by Cinevolve Studios on October 27, 2009.
Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown chronologically relates Lovecraft’s life from early childhood when his father was institutionalized, to his own death from intestinal cancer in 1937, when he was only 46 years old. The film also discusses the evolving aspects of Lovecraft’s writing, his core themes, the appeal and impact of his stories, and finally, Lovecraft’s lasting influence and popularity. That’s a lot to pack into 90 minutes, and the film suffers from the disadvantage of every documentary: it can’t possibly achieve the depth and detail of even a short book. Nevertheless, it covers its topics with admirable economy and focus.