Why HBO's Lovecraft Country Is A Big Winner For Horror Fans (And Everyone Else)

lovecraft country premiere courtney b vance jurnee smollet jonathan majors

(Image credit: hbo press)

The more HBO widens the genre scope for its original programming, the better off TV fans will be, with the last ten years serving as concrete proof. For anyone needing another piece of gloriously ghoulish evidence, I present to the room the dramatic horror Lovecraft Country, which follows in the spiritual footsteps of Watchmen, The Outsider and even Tales from the Crypt. (We can also throw Westworld and Game of Thrones in there, in terms of Lovecraft Country putting all of its budget on the screen.) The show is a horror fan's utopia, from the scares to the dread to the bloodlust, but you don't have to be a horror fan to appreciate it.

Set during the 1950s, when extreme segregation was still very much in practice, Lovecraft Country is Underground co-creator Misha Green's take on the acclaimed 2016 novel written by Matt Ruff. Without going into spoilers (either now or at any point below), the show basically follows a group of people in search of a lost family member that unwittingly enter a dark part of the country where horror legend H.P. Lovecraft's monsters are just as present as the author's well-documented racist and elitist beliefs. Now let's go a little deeper into the many reasons why Lovecraft Country is a horror triumph that any HBO viewer should appreciate.

lovecraft country cthulhu monster

Lovecraft Country Embraces All Forms Of Horror

H.P. Lovecraft's name is mentioned right there in the title of the show, so you already know otherworldly monsters will be afoot, and that things get pretty fucking weird pretty damned quick. But Lovecraft Country isn't wholly inspired by its namesake, taking a far more broad approach to the genre with its literary pulp flag flying high. Showrunner Misha Green and her creative team take the story to other supernatural places beyond ancient monsters, with lots of psychological terror, dread, practical gore, dark mysticism, and shocking visuals placed throughout the season. I'll end this by saying there were at least two brain-spinning moments in the episode "Holy Ghost" that caused me to holler "Nope!" at my TV.

lovecraft country premiere courtney b vance jurnee smollet jonathan majors in diner

(Image credit: hbo press)

But It's Not ALL Horror

As much as Lovecraft Country encompasses the entire horror spectrum, the story is a very relevant and eye-opening window into "sundown towns" and other heinous historical artifacts. Indeed, much of the series' dread specifically comes from how the writers and directors approach racially charged encounters, since those moments are all the more horrific for being based on fact instead of fantastical stories. Lovecraft Country is also very much a story about Jonathan Majors' Atticus Freeman deepening relationships with his street smart uncle George (Courtney B. Vance), his absentee father Montrose (Michael K. Williams), and his friend Leti Lewis (Lurnee Smollet), as well as Leti and her sister Ruby's (Wunmi Mosaku) attempts to make a better life for themselves and others. Love, hope and an impossible search for the American Dream resonate in the spaces surrounding the visual frights.

lovecraft country courtney b vance jurnee smollet jonathan majors hugging

Lovecraft Country's Cast Is Amazing

Everyone in the show can get name-checked for bringing true dramatic weight to this horror project. Both True Blood vet Jurnee Smollet and Da 5 Bloods' Jonathan Majors get to evolve Leti and Atticus from episode to episode in ways not often depicted in the genre. (Smollet delivers perhaps the most powerful performance I've ever seen in a scene involving ghostly entities.) The People v. O.J. Simpson's Courtney B. Vance and When They See Us' Aunjanue Ellis are expectedly polished as Atticus' uncle and aunt George and Hippolyta Freeman, and their characters' stories also take unexpected turns. The same goes for Montrose Freeman, as played by The Wire's Michael K. Williams, who shared the same role as Majors in the miniseries When We Rise. Rounding things out are equally excellent performances from Lux Æterna's Abbey Lee, Vikings' Jordan Patrick Smith, and Luther's Wunmi Mosaku, with Scandal's Tony Goldwyn also making a bafflingly odd appearance.

lovecraft country mansion

The Locations And Sets Are Eye-Popping, Too

HBO seemingly spared no expense for Misha Green's Lovecraft Country and its visual splendor, even if "American in the 1950s" doesn't sound like eye candy. From the period-decorated towns to the lushness of the Braithwhite's mansion to the mysterious underground locations, there's always something interesting to behold. (Not to mention the monsters and other horror-centric sequences.) Even seemingly normal sets like the central house in Episode 3 are turned into something more magnificent through the narrative and cinematography. And you can see it all, too, since Lovecraft Country thankfully doesn't suffer from a dearth of brightness that sometimes plague shows like Game of Thrones and The Outsider.

lovecraft country translator monster

And The Effects Are Awesomely Freaky

Okay, so non-horror fans probably won't appreciate this as much, but Lovecraft Country hits it out of the park in terms of mixing its practical and digital effects. The Lovecraftian monsters are enjoyably weird and nasty-looking, while other CGI entities are equally nightmarish in different ways, and it all looks great. On the gore side of things, the show reaches moments that truly feel like they'd be taken from 1958's The Fly if David Cronenberg went back in time and directed that one first. Even though it won't mean anything to anyone just yet, let's just say that Ruby's story goes there.

jordan peele hosting twilight zone

Lovecraft Country Comes From Misha Green And Jordan Peele

Noted horror fanatic Misha Green has worked on a variety of popular fanbase-friendly shows such as Heroes and Sons of Anarchy, and expertly blended terror with American history with the cancelled-too-soon Underground. So much of what she's learned is on display in Lovecraft Country, from embracing certain tropes to upending others, and telling important stories without being overtly maudlin or melodramatic. It probably doesn't hurt that comedy and horror superstar Jordan Peele serves as an executive producer, considering the brilliant Get Out and Us laid the groundwork for a new rise in horror projects from Black filmmakers and other people of color.

lovecraft country band

(Image credit: hbo press)

Music Is Utilized In Very Interesting Ways

Misha Green created an unexpectedly evocative sonic soundscape for Lovecraft Country, which brings an assortment of audio formats and genres to viewers' ears. Certain scenes are set to a haunting orchestral score, while others will be set to anachronistic bass-bumping tracks from Cardi B and other rap/hip-hop stars. Then there are scenes set to soulful live music performances, inspirational speeches, and even a Nike commercial. And it just wouldn't be a gothic monster-piece if there weren't a couple of Marilyn Manson songs thrown into the mix, amirite?

While I'm not naive enough to think that absolutely everyone everywhere will fall in love with HBO's Lovecraft Country, I certainly hope to change the minds of anyone who hears about Lovecraft Country and wants to avoid it for being a horror series, or for telling racially timely stories. Watch this shit. But first, check out the full trailer for Lovecraft Country below.

So whether you absolutely adore horror or you tend to be more skittish about genre TV, Lovecraft Country deserves a chance to win you over. Check out the series premiere on HBO when it airs Sunday, August 16, at 9:00 p.m. ET. To see what other shows are coming in the near future, head to our Fall TV 2020 premiere schedule.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native and an Assistant Managing Editor with a focus on TV and features. His humble origin story with CinemaBlend began all the way back in the pre-streaming era, circa 2009, as a freelancing DVD reviewer and TV recapper.  Nick leapfrogged over to the small screen to cover more and more television news and interviews, eventually taking over the section for the current era and covering topics like Yellowstone, The Walking Dead and horror. Born in Louisiana and currently living in Texas — Who Dat Nation over America’s Team all day, all night — Nick spent several years in the hospitality industry, and also worked as a 911 operator. If you ever happened to hear his music or read his comics/short stories, you have his sympathy.