Welcome to Script to Pieces, a recurring feature at Wicked Horror where we look at the best, most interesting and at times most unbelievable horror movies that never happened. Sometimes these will be productions that never came together at all, other times, they will be original incarnations that were completely different from what we wound up with. Each should be fascinating in its own way, because the stories of movies that never see the light of day can sometimes be even more interesting than the stories of those that do.
H.P. Lovecraft adaptations, as probably everyone knows, can be really tough. Lovecraft’s work is incredibly of his time, his racism and xenophobia are well documented. More than that, though, is the fact that the bulk of Lovecraft’s stories are incredibly un-cinematic. They’re maddening, paranoid narratives, in which cosmic evil is always looming but very rarely seen. On the page, that is to be sure an incredible strength. The best Lovecraft adaptations take the premise of the story, the fantastically original core concept, and then reshape and twist it to do their own thing. The undisputed master of this was the maestro Stuart Gordon, who has tragically left us. When listing the best adaptations of Lovecraft’s work, the list could easily consist almost entirely of Gordon’s films, so we obviously have to pay our respects.
But Gordon was not the first master of horror to attempt to bring Lovecraft to the big screen. As early as 1964, Italian horror legend Mario Bava attempted to make a feature film of Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror.” Titled Scarlet Friday, the adaptation would not only have made for the no doubt imaginative, fantastical pairing of Bava and Lovecraft, but would have reunited Bava with the iconic Boris Karloff, who was set to star and had previously appeared in Bava’s Black Sabbath.
In addition to Karloff, this stacked adaptation would also have included Christopher Lee, who had previously acted for Bava in Hercules in the Haunted World and The Whip and the Body.
There are several reasons why this movie could have been a big deal, with only the tip of the iceberg being the obvious talent involved. First, we have to consider Lovecraft’s success. He’s been listed as one of the genre’s perennial icons for so long that it is easy to forget that he barely saw any success at all while he was actually alive. His work began to circulate little by little, and it was really those authors moving into the late sixties and seventies who had read Lovecraft stories and taken inspiration from him that allowed his popularity to skyrocket decades after his death, at least in horror circles.
Scarlet Friday, had it been made, would have been the first major Lovecraft adaptation ever and could have helped kickstart the author’s popularity in the genre by a few years, given the star power of the would-be cast and the director involved. As it stands, the first major Lovecraft adaptation to actually see release was Die, Monster, Die! in 1965, which did feature Karloff in a significant role. An adaptation of “The Colour Out of Space,” that film was directed by Daniel Haller, who would go on to helm the 1970 adaptation of The Dunwich Horror, which kept the original story’s title.
It’s hard to determine what happened to prevent Scarlet Friday from coming to fruition. It just seems to be one of many, many movies that just never became a reality for one reason or another. It’s easy to speculate that the author’s name was not nearly as marketable at the time as, say, the Roger Corman Poe pictures. Lovecraft was, again, years away from genuine popularity at this point. And it’s even possible that had it actually been made, nothing would have really come from it in the first place.
More than anything, the main reason for why Scarlet Friday never happened appears to simply be that Bava had a famously terrible experience directing 1966’s Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs, according to Tim Lucas’ Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark. Bava had no interest in making that movie whatsoever, but was contracted to do it, and did not even participate in the post-production. Apparently, he was too burnt out on that experience to make Scarlet Friday at what would have been nearly the same time. And that was apparently that.
Still it is nonetheless fun to speculate how wild, imaginative and unapologetically weird a Mario Bava Lovecraft movie could have been. Bava’s stylistic approach would have paired so well with Lovecraft’s feverish imagination that it’s hard not to be disappointed that this one never became a reality, even if a Dunwich Horror adaptation did follow only a few short years later.
A big thank you to Twitter user Anthony Jacobi-Dolce (@420Slaterson) for bringing this one to my attention!