Posts Tagged ‘Lovecraftian horror’

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.

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.

A sketch of Cthulhu by HP Lovecraft, and an embodiment of cosmic horror.

Earlier today, I read a very interesting article about how cosmic horror is evolving from the state it was in when HP Lovecraft pioneered the genre, courtesy of Bloody Disgusting (you can read the article here). To sum the article up, the author states that cosmic horror originally had little room for emotions other than fear. The idea was to explore a vast cosmos filled with powerful entities and secrets that humanity can’t begin to grasp. Humanity, and our ideas and emotions, are inconsequential to these beings, and they are too much for us to fathom. However, lately the genre has been used to explore emotional themes such as closure of grief or to overcome childhood schisms and trauma.

I thought it was an interesting article, so I shared it among my fellow horror writers (as well as reserved some of the films mentioned in the article from my local library). And the responses I’ve gotten so far have been rather telling. One author I’m friends with mentioned that horror, including cosmic horror, has always been used to explore themes of emotions and the human experience. Sure, that sometimes involves things so outside the human experience our mind can’t comprehend them, but in the end, they deal with every day human fears of how much we matter, whether we’re alone in the universe.

Look at IT, for example (and yes, I am excited for Chapter Two. My sister and I are even trying to arrange to see it opening weekend). While it is about a shape-shifting being fond of the form of a clown and the people who stand up to him, it’s also about dealing with the change from childhood to adulthood, how reality hardens you and destroys your sense of wonderment. Very relevant to the human experience, underneath the clown make-up.

Another person in that discussion also mentioned how, in the age of the Internet, Twitter, and all the human-made horrors, some people doubted the need for cosmic horror. I mean, isn’t everyday news bad enough? Who needs alien gods with tentacles when you have mass shootings and human rights violations?

Well, not necessarily. Think about how, despite all the “connections,” we live more hermit-like and isolated existences these days. We live very much alone. And seeing all these awful things in the world, one can feel powerless. The world is just too much to handle, it seems, let alone take on.

And that’s cosmic horror in a nutshell. Humanity feeling small, our lives not ours to control, but at the mercy of forces that don’t care one way or the other about our well-being. It was a common enough feeling for many after WWI when HP Lovecraft was building the genre, having experienced the trenches, the gas, and the flamethrowers. And it’s still a common feeling today.

And so long as that feeling of hopelessness and isolation in the face of a seemingly senseless, uncaring world is part of people’s lives, there will be an audience for cosmic horror. The genre will evolve and change, but the swirling darkness that birthed Cthulhu and other monstrosities will always be at its core.

But what do you think? Is cosmic horror evolving? What direction do you think the genre will head? Are you, like me, actually an entity from beyond this planet or realm whose true form induces all who see it to madness? Let’s discuss.

Until next time, my Followers of Fear, goodnight and pleasant nightmares.

Well, I just finished another short story, if that title doesn’t clue you in. And honestly, I’m glad I did: I didn’t think I’d get this one done before the final edits on Rose come in (those are hopefully going to be sent to me later this week).

“Pinochle on Your Snout” is a short story that came from me wanting to work two very different things into a single story. The first is The Hearse Song (video of that song here), which includes this famous verse: “The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out, the worms play pinochle on your snout.” That song also provides one of the best titles I’ve ever given a story. The other thing I wanted to combine was the De Vermis Mysteriis, or Mysteries of the Worm, a grimoire created by author Robert Bloch and later incorporated into the greater lore of HP Lovecraft. The book is supposedly able to summon all sorts of nasty things, and has appeared in a whole bunch of other media since then, including stories by Stephen King revolving around Salem”s Lot.

It took a bit of brainstorming, but I was able to come up with a story based on those elements. How is it? Well, it’s a first draft, so it’s shit. But I think there’s potential there. It reminds me a lot of “The Boogeyman” by Stephen King, in that it’s mainly told as a confession between a man and someone whose job is to listen to other people’s stories (though not a shrink like in the King story). And I think it has a way of drawing people in. Perhaps it could be something someday.

Of course, I’ll need to do A LOT of editing on this one before I even consider sending it to publishers. How much, I’m not sure. Fiction is the only type of alchemy where you can turn shit and other worthless materials into gold. You just can’t tell how much tinkering you need to do before the alchemical transformation is done.

In the meantime, and while I’m still waiting for the final edits of Rose, I’ll edit a novella I think has plenty of potential and may only need a few edits. It’s one of the most disturbing stories I’ve ever written, so it has that going for it. I may even know a press that’ll consider publishing it.

And speaking of Rose, there’s only three days left if you’d like to be an advanced reader for this upcoming fantasy-horror novel from Castrum Press and yours truly. The novel follows a young woman who turns into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). If you’d be interested, send an email to ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com. All I ask is you read the book and consider posting a review after its release. Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you.

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

I’ve mentioned things like “Lovecraftian horror’ or “cosmic horror” before on this blog, but I’ve never really gone into what those terms mean. And given that someone on the Internet is probably wondering what those terms mean and I need a break from trying to figure out how to end a short story, I thought I’d take a moment to look over what it means when horror fans call something “cosmic horror.”

I actually summed up cosmic horror pretty well last month with a little joke that I shared on my social media. Here’s how it goes:

Knock knock!

Who’s there?

Yog-sothoth.

Yog-sothtoth who?

Your mind couldn’t handle the answer.

Now you’re probably confused by that joke. But in actuality, it summarizes what cosmic horror is pretty well. Namely, there are answers and truths to questions that the human mind can’t handle. And not just answers, but even beings, beings that don’t fit into any sort of recognizable mythology or concept of good and evil. In this sort of horror, humanity is the equivalent of ants in the grand scheme of things, and if they come across any of the things that they shouldn’t–beings of unimaginable size and power, truths that go against everything we’ve ever believed, abilities and technologies that seem blasphemous to human viewpoints–the very contact could kill us or drive us insane. And even if our minds survived in some recognizable state, we would be forever changed. And probably not for the better.

If you haven’t grasped why that’s so scary, let me use an analogy: imagine you’re a farmer living in England in 1066, and a man from the year 2166* comes by and tells you that the world isn’t flat, but round; that the Earth flies around the sun and not the other way around; and that space is a cold and mostly empty void rather than a sphere surrounded by God’s Heaven and angels. Well, you’d obviously think the man from 2166 was crazy. But then he takes you back to his time, and he lives on a ship orbiting the Earth. You see the round Earth below while you float weightless in space and see the dark void beyond Earth. And things like science, gravity, etc. mean absolutely nothing to you. And everything’s new and strange to you, lights too bright and shadows too dark, and the sounds you hear make no sense.

Can you start to see how this could tear at someone’s mind? That someone could be afraid of this?

A universe of incomprehensible beings and terrible secrets is the basis of cosmic horror.

And that’s why cosmic horror has been so popular since HP Lovecraft basically created it back in the early 20th century (which is why it’s also known as Lovecraftian horror). It basically takes the old Judeo-Christian concept of good vs. evil, God versus the Devil, etc, which is essentially a closed and somewhat understandable system, and throws it wide open to a universe where there are multiple forces, none of which are easy to grasp or empathize with, let alone categorize into good vs. evil.

But how do you write it? Well, it’s more than including big, powerful beings that drive people mad (though that is often a feature). They’re more a vehicle for the broader theme: a sense of helplessness, that the universe is big and dark and full of awful things, that humanity is inconsequential and our dealings with the big players never lead to anything good. That, and a sense of untapped mystery can’t hurt. Think the first two Alien films or a dark version of 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s aliens, and you might get the idea.

If you want a better grasp of cosmic horror, I’d suggest looking at some of Lovecraft’s stories.** I recommend The Temple, The Call of Cthulhu, and The Dunwich Horror. I also recommend checking out other writers who use cosmic horror, including Stephen King, Guillermo del Toro, and so many more. Heck, I’ve got a few stories that have some cosmic horror in them. If they ever get published, I’ll let you know.

Cosmic horror can be hard to wrap your mind around sometimes, but once you do, it can open you to all sorts of terrible worlds. And if you can stand what you find, perhaps you will delve deeper. Just be careful when you do. You might not be the same when you come up, after all.

Do you like cosmic horror? What cosmic horror works would you recommend to the unitiated?

*Assuming humanity lives that long, what with global warming and a rising population. You know it’s true!

**If you can stomach his racism. Yeah, I love his work and contribution to horror, but I hate what he believed. If he were around today, I’d either punch him, ignore him for being an asshole, or recommend he take some anti-anxiety medication, get some therapy and maybe some exposure to other communities.