Between Game Of Thrones, True Blood, Westworld, andWatchmen, HBO is no stranger to bloody fantasy sequences. But the network has only ever dipped its toe into true horror; even its recent horror series, The Outsider, felt more like a crime drama than anything else. HBO's new literary adaptation Lovecraft Country, however, is genuinely scary. The trailer for the series features creepy cults, massive monsters, and plenty of things that go bump in the night, while the Daily Telegraph's Ed Powers warned in his review of the show that it's something "the easily spooked should avoid."
Still, he gave it a glowing review, as did every critic who's written about the show thus far; it currently boasts a perfect 100% score on RottenTomatoes. If you still want to brave the horrors and watch, here's what you need to know to prepare yourself.
The first thing you need to know is that Lovecraft Country is produced by Jordan Peele, who burst onto the horror scene with his feature film debut, Get Out. After winning an Oscar for the movie's terrifyingly original screenplay, Peele followed it up with other forays into horror, rebooting The Twilight Zone for CBS All Access, directing his sophomore feature Us, and producing the upcoming remake of Candyman. As Slate warned in an analysis of the show's scare factor, "if Get Out’s involuntary brain transplant got you queasy, Lovecraft Country will definitely make you lose your lunch."
Peele's producing partner on Lovecraft Country is one of the biggest names in Hollywood sci-fi: J.J. Abrams. Though best known for creating Lost (which had its fair share of thrills) and directing entries in two of the world's biggest space adventures, Star Trek and Star Wars, Abrams is also a lover of monster mayhem, having produced the creature feature Cloverfield, directed the Spielbergian sci-fi throwback Super 8, and produced the Nazi zombie flick Overlord. Who would win in a face-off, the Cloverfield monster or the tentacled nightmares of Lovecraft Country? Let the debate begin.
Speaking of tentacled nightmares… Lovecraft Country's particular brand of horror comes directly from the man who lends the show his name: H.P. Lovecraft, one of the most influential horror authors of all-time. Throughout the late 19th century and early 20th century, his works (including At The Mountains Of Madness) introduced the world to the infamous "Elder God" known as Cthulhu and gave birth to a subgenre of horror thereafter referred to as "Lovecraftian." He was also a pretty terrible person — a fact which the story doesn't gloss over.
In her review of the novel on which Lovecraft Country is based, Tor's Alex Brown wrote that while Lovecraft's "Cthulhu mythos has defined fantasy horror for nearly a century and inspired countless writers… he was also an avowed racist who never hesitated to be as offensive as possible when talking about African Americans." Thankfully, author Matt Ruff directly confronts and subverts that reality, with Brown commending Ruff for not only "playing on Lovecraftian themes with his book, but with Lovecraft himself."
As if facing down Cthulhu wasn't enough horror for one show, Lovecraft Country mines its scariest aspects from something much more sinister: U.S. history. When Ruff published his book in 2016, Publishers Weekly wrote that while he exhibited "an impressive grasp of classic horror themes… the most unsettling aspects of his novel are the everyday experiences of bigotry that intensify the [characters'] encounters with the supernatural." That appears to be true in the show as well; Power wrote for The Guardian that "the racism is even scarier than the monsters."
Consider yourselves warned.