Posts Tagged ‘HP Lovecraft’

The Colour Out of Space (yes, with a “u” in Colour), is my fifth favorite HP Lovecraft story (click here for my Top 8 Lovecraft stories). There have been a couple of adaptations of the film over the years, but they’re either foreign films that are hard to come by, or are really bad for one reason or another. So when word popped up in late 2018 that Nicholas Cage was going to star in a new adaptation of the film, directed Richard Stanley in his first major outing since the 1990s, fans of Lovecraft, horror and/or film in general were piqued. We only got more excited as news from the film trickled back to us. When the trailer came out, I immediately knew I had to see this film.

I got back from seeing it a little while ago, and I’m happy to report, it was well worth the wait. This film is freaking terrifying!

Color Out of Space follows the Gardner family, who are living on the family farm and have converted it into an alpaca farm.* One night, a meteor lands on their property, giving off a strange, colorful light. Soon after, lightning strikes the meteor several times during a storm, the meteor disappears, and then things get weirder from there. The animal and plant-life start changing shape and color, technology goes haywire, and the family starts acting unhinged. All of it can be traced to a mysterious light. An entity. A color. From out of space.

If you’ve seen the film Hereditary, Color is a lot like that. It’s a slow, excruciating build with the characters going through a downward spiral, punctuated by moments of strong terror that left me petrified in my seat. The use of CGI is sparing, used only when practical effects in the style of The Thing aren’t possible. And by the way, those practical effects are amazing! They create some truly horrifying visuals, and Richard Stanley knows when–or even if–to truly reveal the mutated monster. There are also a lot of excruciating scenes involving bodily harm that left everyone in the theater freaked out, including me (not easy to do), and they added to the film in the best way.

As for the actors, they all do an excellent job. This might be the first time I’ve actually enjoyed Nicholas Cage in a movie, as they managed to balance his noncommittal acting style with his crazy acting style in a way that works. It’s funny to see him go from “normal” to acting like a bitchy teenager, but it’s also horrifying because you see how it’s connected to whatever’s affecting the family. The rest of the actors are great, embracing their roles and really convincing you they’re going through this tragic event.

Did I mention that Colin Stetson, who did the music for Hereditary and will be doing the music for the upcoming anime adaptation of Uzumaki by Junji Ito, did the score for the film? Will, he did and it works really well. Sound plays as much a big role in this film as visuals, and Stetson’s score adds the perfect touch to the atmosphere.

First time I’ve actually liked Nick Cage in a movie. How about that?

My only criticisms are that there’s a scene involving the Necronomicon (yeah, there are quite a few Lovecraft Easter eggs in this film) that I feel wasn’t given the best payoff. That, and the character of Ezra, played by Tommy Chong of Cheech & Chong fame, felt kind of extraneous. If you cut him out of the film and have one of the Gardners say some of his lines, it wouldn’t change much.

All in all though, this is not only an excellent adaptation of Lovecraft’s work, it’s a great horror film that’s both faithful to the spirit and text of the original story and terrifying to watch. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Color Out of Space a 4.8 out of 5. Any fan of Lovecraft, or of horror in general, should come away satisfied (or freaked), so buy a ticket and get ready to see the first great horror film of 2020.

(I already plan to buy the Blu-Ray when it comes out. And I really hope the disc is more colors than just blue, if you get my meaning.)

*Yes, it’s an alpaca farm. And it’s that kind of farm for more than just laughs. Also, the family “dog” is a wolf-dog. Trust me, I researched it. What kind of family owns alpacas for farming and a well-behaved wolf-dog used for herding, I don’t know. It would make for a great reality show, but I digress.

Today’s guest is an author who’s book, A Cosmology of Monsters, has been blowing up the horror scene since its release in September. I finished it last month, and found it to be an amazing read (see my review here). And I’m not the only one who liked it, because Cosmology ended up becoming a nominee for the Goodreads Choice Awards Best Horror (and yes, I am jealous). So, I’m very excited to have the author today. Hailing all the way from across the Internet, I bring you Shaun Hamill!

Rami Ungar: Welcome to the blog, Shaun. Tell everyone here a bit about yourself and about your novel, A Cosmology of Monsters.

Shaun Hamill: I grew up in the Dallas-Fort Worth Area, and got my bachelor’s in English from the University of Texas at Arlington. In my early 30s I attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and got my MFA. I wrote most of A Cosmology of Monsters there.

A Cosmology of Monsters is a literary horror novel about a family running a haunted house attraction in the suburbs of Fort Worth, Texas. Narrated by the youngest child, Noah, the novel tracks the family’s fortunes across 50 years, and explores the monsters—both metaphorical and literal—that haunt them. It’s a generational saga, an homage to Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft, and most importantly, a story about the ways love can either save or damn us.

RU: How did the idea for Cosmology come into being?

SH: This novel was born out of the wreckage of a couple of projects. The first was a sprawling tragi-comic saga in the style of John Irving or Meg Wolitzer, about a family operating a youth hostel in Taos, New Mexico. The second was a short story about a married couple breaking up as they tour a haunted house attraction. Neither piece quite worked, but one day while I was walking my dog, the two ideas put themselves together and I realized that my epic family business novel should be about a haunted house, not a youth hostel. It would give me a chance to merge my taste for character-driven literary fiction with my love for the darker, more eerie tones of the horror genre. Noah’s voice came to me right away, as did Eunice’s suicide notes and the romance that opens the book. The rest of it came organically, as I followed the story where it led, exploring my characters and their ever-darkening world. I was perpetually surprised by what I found. I would never have been able to plan a book like this, and I hope some of that dark joy of discovery carries over for the reader.

RU: What was the research and writing process like for Cosmology? And what challenges did you face in writing the book?

SH: Research was a big part of the process of writing Cosmology. When I started the book I had only read a few Lovecraft stories, and I hadn’t ever worked behind the scenes of a haunted house. I read all of Lovecraft’s fiction, and also spent time reading scholarship about his life and writing. For the haunted house parts of the book I relied on my own knowledge as a patron of the attractions, and a tour of an out-of-season haunted house that I took in my late twenties. I also watched documentaries about haunted attractions, listened to podcasts, lurked on message boards, and so on.

The biggest challenge of writing this book was the revision process. My first draft weighed in at 220,000 words, and the published version is just over 100,000 (my agent insisted that the book would be tough to sell at its initial length). Figuring out which threads of story could be condensed or severed altogether took a long time, as did rewriting the entire ending to make it smaller and more meaningful to the characters. It forced me to carefully consider my characters and themes, and brought them into sharp focus by the end of the editorial process. I’m very pleased with the result, and humbled by how much better my agent and editors made my book.

RU: Haunted houses, both literal attractions and metaphorical haunted homes, are a big part of the book. Are you a fan of haunted houses yourself?

SH: I’m a big coward when it comes to haunted houses. I used to have a group of friends that I went with when I still lived in Texas, in my mid-to-late 20s, but I would never go to one by myself, and haven’t been to one since 2012 or 2013. I’ve always been fascinated by them from a distance, though. I’ve wondered about the people who work there, what it’s like to have the scenes of your life play out against such a fantastical backdrop.

RU: If you could design a haunted house attraction, what would it be like?

SH: The attraction in the book, The Wandering Dark, is exactly my idea of the sort of haunted house I would like to run. If money and practicality were no object, I would love to do a haunted hotel—something more immersive and stranger than the typical spook-a-blast attractions in the genre.

RU: Do you see yourself revisiting the world and characters of Cosmology someday in a future story?

SH: I go back and forth on this question. Some days I think it would be fun to continue the story of the Turner family, and I have done some brainstorming for a sequel. Other days I think that a sequel would lessen the impact of the book’s final pages and cheapen it. I guess I’ll wait and see if there’s a market for a sequel and then decide. Even if I never write a direct sequel, I will probably find ways to weave elements of that world into future stories.

RU: What is it about horror in general that attracts you to it?

SH: I have a melancholy outlook on life, so horror fits my disposition. I’m not attracted to the gore or violence, but rather the atmosphere of dread and dark wonder that I find in my favorite horror stories. I don’t like being terrorized. I like being creeped out. I love the idea that there is something beyond the known world, dark secrets to discover. It’s the sort of thing that Lovecraft does in his best work, as does Thomas Ligotti. I also love character-based horror, like Stephen King writes. I love stories about good people struggling against supernatural threats. It’s an effective way to illuminate the strength of the human spirit, what’s most noble and wonderful about people.

RU: Are you working on anything now? Do you have any future writing plans?

SH: I recently finished a rough (and I mean very rough) first draft of a new novel. I have an outline for another, different novel with my agent. We’re trying to decide which project to pursue first. My hope long-term is to keep doing what I’m doing now—writing books and publishing them and (hopefully) getting paid to do so. Fingers crossed COSMOLOGY won’t be the only thing I get to publish!

RU: What advice would you give to other writers, regardless of background or experience?

SH: Write a lot and read a lot. Read deeply in your own genre, but also outside of it. Join a writing group or take a writing class if you can afford it. If you’re able, get on the reading committee for a journal or prize—I learned more from reading the slush pile for Carve magazine and the Katherine Anne Porter Prize than I ever learned in a classroom or working alone at my own desk.

RU: And finally, if you were stuck on a desert island for a while and could only bring three books with you, what would you bring?

SH: Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe by Thomas Ligotti, The Collected Stories by Lorrie Moore, and Three Novels by Stephen King (an omnibus of Carrie, ‘Salem’s Lot, and The Shining).

RU: Good choices. Thank you for joining us, Shaun. I hope we can do it again someday.

If you’d like to find out more about Shaun Hamill, you can find him on his website and on Twitter. You can also find A Cosmology of Monsters on Amazon if you’d like to read the book (which I highly recommend). And if you are an author with a book coming out soon and are possibly interested in having an interview, hit me up on ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com, and we’ll see what magic we can conjure.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

You know, when the trailers for this film hit, the response was pretty lackluster. “Oh, it’s got Kristen Stewart in it and it’s a disaster film about an underwater sea base that’s about to be destroyed. They have to find a way to survive. Whoop-dee-freaking-do!” But then word among the horror community started saying…positive things. And later rewatches of the trailer made it look cool. So I decided to see it, though I couldn’t do so till this weekend because I was sick last weekend.

Underwater follows six workers on an underwater sea base seven miles below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, drilling for resources to bring above. However, a mysterious quake causes major damage to the base, meaning they have to navigate the failing base and find a way back to the surface or die. But there’s something else down there with them. And it’s not going to stop till they’re all dead.

I’ve heard a lot of comparisons to John Carpenter’s The Thing and Alien with this film, and I have to say, not only are the comparisons apt, they’re justified.

One of Underwater’s strengths is how it creates its atmosphere. Soon after the movie starts, we’re thrust into the destruction as we watch a residential section of the base succumb to water pressure and shifting earth. From there, we’re right in the middle of the action as the characters have to navigate dark and narrow passages filled with water and debris. And while the situation itself is urgent, the movie takes its time, allowing us to get to know these characters as well as building a feeling of tension and encroaching doom. Realistic sets and dirty water further the feeling of claustrophobia and the horrific death just beyond the walls. Somehow, that tension is kept up even when the characters are walking across the open seafloor in suits. Probably because those suits are a thin barrier between life and death as well. Add in some well-placed jumpscares that are never excessive, and it’s damn tense.

As for the creature or creatures in this film, they are the fun innovation that change this film from just another disaster film to a Lovecraftian horror fest. Their reveal is very slow, and even when fully revealed, the darkness of the sea leaves them with a bit of mystery. Fans of certain HP Lovecraft stories will recognize the creatures. Whether you do or don’t, however, there’s no denying how scary and deadly these creatures are, and they make the film worthwhile.

As for the characters, they’re serviceable for this film. For once, Kristen Stewart’s deadpan expression works pretty well with her character Norah Price, who defines herself as a cynic trying to get by. TJ Miller as weird, funny guy Paul does okay jokes. He and the character Rodrigo, played by Mamoudou Athie, both enjoy anime. Other than that, you can’t say much about these characters, but for the purposes of Underwater, that’s just fine.

That being said, the film does have its issues. There are a few moments where the tension reaches a lull, and during those moments I felt restless and a little sleepy (though that might be because I had to wake up earlier than planned this morning). And I would have liked to see what life on the base is like on a normal day. You know, when it’s not in danger of flooding and crumpling into dust. We only get a minute and a half of seeing the pre-destruction base at the beginning of the film, and that’s mostly filled by Stewart monologuing and saving a daddy long-legs from a sink.

Altogether though, Underwater is a tense, Lovecraftian thrill ride, a modern-day The Thing, almost.* On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 4. If you have a chance, go to the theater and prepare to dive into a world of terror. Most likely, you’ll find yourself pleasantly entertained, and more than a little scared.

*And not just in quality. The Thing actually did poorly with critics and at the box office after its release. It didn’t become a classic until it hit home video. I have a feeling Underwater will go through a similar process, though I would like as many people to see it in theaters as possible.

Happy New Year, Followers of Fear! I said I wasn’t going to do one of those “the year ended, let’s talk about what happened and what might come” posts on New Year’s, because nobody really reads those.* Instead, I thought I’d post a few silly videos on my social media, including my YouTube channel, and then share them with you wonderful people.

And to answer the question you just asked yourself, yes, I have a YouTube channel. I don’t do much on it, especially when compared to my other platforms, but I do post a video there every now and then. Usually it’s related to horror or writing or ghost-hunting (that last category tends to be the most popular). You can check out the channel here if you like.

Anyway, the first video is a New Year’s message from me and my friend Ramsey Hardin, who’s come up to Columbus to celebrate the New Year with me and stayed over last night. We recorded this just after midnight, so the reminder about drunk driving may not be as relevant anymore, but we’ll put it out there anyway.

Aren’t we a pair? Also, yes, that’s what my voice sounds like. I wish it sounded like Sir Patrick Stewart’s too, but life is rarely fair.

The second video is…well, that’s the thing. I’m not sure how this happened, when or why. It’s really weird. It kind of happened in an Otherworld. And it involved me finding one of the Great Old Ones, the All-in-One and One-in-All Himself. Be warned, for if you watch this video, your sanity may be eroded forever.

With that in mind, please watch it and let me know what you think.

Yeah, that happened. It was strange. And it may have resulted in me opening the gate between this world and whatever’s beyond to let The Great Old Ones in. If reality is destroyed because of my actions, I humbly apologize.

Anyway, that’s all for now. I hope we all have a great 2020 and a great new decade. In the meantime, expect another post from me Saturday at the latest.

Until next time, my Followers of Fear, Happy New Year and pleasant nightmares.

*Though if you do want to read a post like that, I did write one back in November. Here’s the link.

I heard first heard of Mr. Hamill and his novel after I came across his article on contending with the legacy of HP Lovecraft as a writer. The idea of his book interested me, so I put it on my reading list. Took a few books to get to it and a few weeks to get through it, but I read A Cosmology of Monsters from front to back. And with that out of the way, it is my pleasure and duty to review the book.

A Cosmology of Monsters follows the Turners, a family living in North Texas and running their own haunted house, The Wandering Dark. Told by the youngest member of the family Noah, the story begins with the meeting of his parents in 1968 and follows them as various tragedies befall the family throughout the decades, as well as the threat following the family through the years and generations.

Cosmology is literary horror at its finest.

Told in the style of Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (which I’m told was a major influence on Cosmology and which I recommend as a read on its own) Noah Turner narrates how his family began, and through the decades the many hardships his family endures. It’s an engrossing way to tell the story, because every decision has far-reaching consequences on the Turner family. You also get a deep understanding of each character through this storytelling method, what their motivations and their troubles are, and how those play into the events of this story.

Noah himself is a fantastic narrator. He’s talking from the perspective of a grown-up looking back over fifty years of history, but he does a good job of calling up his childhood feelings of loneliness and isolation, of feeling alienated and not understanding why the people around him do what they do.

I also like how weird it can be sometimes (makes sense, since it’s me). The supernatural aspect of the story is very slight at the beginning and only gains prominence as you move deeper into the novel, and as you do, you find yourself with more questions than answers. Conventional monsters do play a part, so to speak, but there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes and it gets weirder with every layer revealed. It took me a while after I finished the book to really understand what all these revelations meant, and even now as I write this, I’m only half-certain I understand what everything meant.

All that said, there were things that I had issues with. There’s a section in the book where, instead of black letters against a white page, it’s white letters printed on a black page, and for some people, especially for people with certain eye issues, that might make things difficult to read (and why I don’t use my blog’s original theme anymore). And if you’re looking for a more typical horror story, with monsters popping out every five seconds or the supernatural aspect a constant presence in the story, this won’t be your kind of novel.

That being said, A Cosmology of Monsters is a mesmerizing read and one of the best books I’ve read this year. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 4.8. Grab your flashlight, and prepare to walk through a house haunted by the tragedies of the family. You won’t want to leave till you get to the very end.

And then you’ll want to think about both the deeper meaning of the book as well as what it’d be like to create your own haunted house attraction. Or is that just me?

Season 9 of American Horror Story decided to get on the 1980s nostalgia train and create its own love letter to the decade which produced my favorite music, particularly to the slasher films that came out during that decade. And the very first episode made sure to saturate us with bright colors, crazy hair, a fun playlist, a murder story told around a campfire that turns out to be true. It was both a homage and a satire that I enjoyed. And I was interested to see what the rest of the season would be like.

Turns out, AHS: 1984 decided to spend the next couple episodes playing up the slasher tropes, and then turn EVERYTHING on its head for the rest.

And that’s one of this season’s strengths. For the most part, the show knew how to give us everything we expected in the first couple of episodes, especially when it came to 80’s culture, and then found ways to make our jaws drop. Characters whom we thought were good people turned out to be bad and vice versa, the cause of all the horrors is first one person, and then another, and now we don’t know what to think.

Oh, and I love all the references to famous slasher films, especially the references to the original Friday the 13th film in episode 8.

I also really liked the characters, especially the three lead females. Brooke, played by Emma Roberts, turned out to be a surprisingly strong protagonist who developed very well over the course of the season. Leslie Grossman’s Margaret was a blast to watch once you found her hidden depths. And oh God, did I love Billie Lourd as Montana. I swear, Lourd can change characters and personalities and be totally unrecognizable in each incarnation, and that’s especially true with Montana.

Of course, our serial killers were great as well. John Carroll Lynch’s Benjamin Richter, aka serial killer Mr. Jingles, went from a rather one-dimensional slasher killer to a very sympathetic character. Zach Villa as Richard Ramirez was petrifying! I would not want to meet him in a dark alley! And oh, it was nice to see Dylan McDermott on the show again!

That being said, there were some issues with this season. 1984‘s final episode opted for flashbacks to tell the ending events of the main conflict of the season, and while that worked well in season 2 for the most part, it kinda fell flat like it did in season 5. When we already have an idea of how it’s going to shake out and is over-reliant on flashbacks, it can take some of the tension out of the story. Not to mention that I felt the show didn’t give Brooke the ending she deserved. And don’t get me started on the plot hole the last episode opened up with Richard Ramirez! All I’m saying is, they better fix that in a future season, or this is going to be a never-ending gripe among fans of the series.

I want Zach Villa as Richard Ramirez back, and not just because he’s freaking terrifying!

Oh, one more thing: the make-up used to make Donna and Brooke look older did not work at all! We could all tell they were waking make-up!

But all in all, this was a solid enough season, and it delivered on the promise to make the season a standout on the 80’s nostalgia that is so rife in our pop culture these days. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving American Horror Story: 1984 a 4.2 out of 5. A bloody, tension-filled season with twists to make your mouth drop and characters to draw you in and keep you watching. Get your shoulder pads and leg warmers and get ready to dive right in.

You’ll enjoy it more than the Friday the 13th remake. And no, I’m NEVER letting that go! Not until we get a better movie anyway.

Anyway, looking forward to season 10, whatever that is. I’m still hoping for an academy or orphanage setting. Maybe some references to J-Horror or K-Horror or some Lovecraftian elements too. And a fixed plothole from 1984 might be nice. Hey, a guy can hope, right?

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

 

The Lighthouse is the latest film by Robert Eggers, the same director who brought us The Witch. I went in hoping for two things: to be scared and that it would be easier to understand what everyone was saying than in The Witch.

On both counts, I can say it was a success.

The Lighthouse follows Robert Pattinson as a young man who signs up to be an assistant lighthouse keeper at a remote island. There, he works under Willem Dafoe, an irascible lighthouse keeper who forbids his assistant from going up to the light at night for some reason. As time goes on though, both men, particularly Pattinson’s character, start seeing strange sights and creatures. Madness and isolation begin to set in the longer they stay together, leading to an irreversible outcome.

This is the first horror movie I’ve seen in theaters since Us where I’ve been truly terrified (I enjoyed Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, but I wasn’t that terrified). There’s a very claustrophobic feel to the film, which is helped by the fact that there are only two characters with speaking roles, and the film is filmed in black and white. Shadows seem bigger than they are, and the occasional blaring of a horn has almost a psychological effect on the viewer. The use of dialogue, which is only at times is slightly difficult to understand, is never excessive, instead deepening the feelings of madness and our inability to trust the characters and what they say.

It’s a very Lovecraftian sort of film: while it doesn’t involve space gods or giant monsters from the depths, the ocean, as well as what’s in it, do have a negative effect on the characters. They’re dealing with madness, isolation, claustrophobia, forces they can’t understand, secrets, questions without answers, and each other. And there’s this sense, especially near the end of the film, where what’s behind the curtain will only appear to be what you’re seeking. In reality, it’s going to ruin you.

Also, speaking of the characters, Dafoe and Pattinson are great! You can hardly recognize them as actors, they just totally envelop themselves in these characters. Granted, Pattinson’s accent changes quite a bit (is he Irish? Brooklyn? I can’t tell). But you actually start wondering if these actors are going as crazy as their characters may or may not be.

I can’t really think of anything negative about the film without being nitpicky. It’s a great film, technically well done and psychologically unsettling. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving The Lighthouse a 4.7. It’s a vast improvement from The Witch, weird and disturbing, and I think it’ll be an instant Halloween classic. Dive in and check it out for yourself.