Many movies have been based upon short stories: Total Recall (P. Verhoeven, 1990), a great sci-fi/action movie, was based on the short tale “We can remember it for you wholesale” by Philip K. Dick; and so was Minority Report (S. Spielberg, 2002), just to give some example. It is not the lenght of a story, but the deep work of imagination and suggestion that it can stimulate, to make a film adaptation possible. In the case of P.K. Dick, this is even mandatory – you cannot avoid the cinematic nature of his writing, of his cinematic descriptions, and the influence of his style can be seen in many films. Another tale, “Second Variety”, was adapted in the movie Screamers (C. Duguay, 1995), but to me it could be the real, original inspiration for The Terminator (J. Cameron, 1984).
In my opinion, H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Temple”, written in 1920, is one of this short cinematic stories. In a few pages, we read of the commander of a german submarine, who, during a war mission, kills his own crew and discovers a submerged temple, probably from Atlantis. The depiction of the circumstances – the relationships between crew members, the look of the environment, the discovery, the madness spreading on the submarine laying down on the botton of the sea, the misterious ancient submerged ruins, the strange light coming from inside the temple – is so clear, so well descripted with few words, that a whole film takes form and feels real in your imagination. This is such an exciting story that it would make a wonderful film!
…at least with a good, sensitive director: let’s face it – Lovecraft’s visions are hard to be reproduced. Some movies directly taken from his tales are not so bad, but the more the try to stick close to the original story, the more they fail. I loved, for example, Re-Animator (S. Gordon, 1985), but it takes many liberties from the original tale; on the other hand, a movie like Dagon (same director, 2001), more close to “The Shadow over Innsmouth”, feels somehow weak and poor to me. I believe that in the case of Lovecraft’s dreams and nightmares, the best approach is to take the sensations, atmosphere and feelings of his stories and put them in something, let’s say, “indipendent”; and the director who, from my point of view, took this approach in the best way ever, has been John Carpenter. In The Mouth of Madness (1995) is a masterpiece, a wonderful mixture of lovecraftian themes and elements; but also The Fog (1980) recreated the atmosphere of many of his dark tales, with something wicked seeking for revenge, inherited guilt, and incumbent doom from the sea. Even The Thing (1982), inspired to another short story, “Who Goes There?” by J.W. Campbell, has lovecraftian aesthetics. Yeah, Carpenter would be the best choice for the adaptation of “The Temple”, don’t you think?