Posts Tagged ‘Lovecraftian’

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.

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.

My copy of “The Creepypasta Collection,” as edited by MrCreepyPasta

A couple of years ago while I was in Germany, I became acquainted with a growing genre of horror known as creepypasta. Creepypasta, for those of you who are unfamiliar, are horror stories, images, videos, music and games that originate on the Internet and are meant to be spread around as memes. Sort of like viral Internet-born campfire ghost stories (see my original post from 2015 if you’d like a more in-depth explanation).

While I had to end my acquaintance with the genre rather abruptly (job searching and then landing a busy full-time job, as well as trying to write my own stories, doesn’t leave that much time for perusing the Internet for horror stories), I never forgot about this strange world of creators making and sharing these scary stories, sharing characters and creating entire mythologies out of some of them (Slender Man, anyone?). So when I found out there was actually a couple of anthologies of creepypasta available in book format, which meant I could read them on my lunch break, I decided to get a copy and dive in to see back in.

What did I find?

Well, like every anthology I’ve ever read, there were some stories that spoke to me more than others. A few I didn’t find that scary at all, but others definitely filled me with that feeling I get from good horror, and even set my imagination alight at times. There are writers in that anthology who would and have done well writing commercial fiction (in fact, some of the contributors listed in the back of the book have published or self-published stories). My favorites in the collection were “When Dusk Falls on Hadley Township” by TW Grim, which reminded me of a Stephen King short story; “Smile.Montana” by Aaron Shotwell, featuring the infamous creepypasta character Smile Dog; “Bedtime” by Michael Whitehouse, a classic of creepypasta fiction that really got my imagination going; and my top favorite, “She Beneath the Tree” by Michael Marks, a Lovecraftian tale that I loved from start to finish.

So yeah, if you’re curious, you should give the collection a read. 4.5 out of 5. As the cover promises, these are stories you can’t unread. And I’m not sure you’d want to.

But I found more than just stories in this collection. I also noticed some things about the genre, especially the pieces in the anthology, that showed me just how different they were from more “mainstream” horror stories. For one thing, the narration in the stories struck me as being more…realist in nature. Not like Realist fiction, which is set entirely around stories that happen in the real world, but like they really believed that the things they depicted in their stories could actually happen. In a lot of horror fiction, even by the greatest writers out there, you get the sense that, except for maybe stories involving serial killers, the authors don’t really believe that what they’re writing about could happen. But creepypasta writers seem to feel the opposite. I got the sense, even with some of the more supernatural or strange stories, that the authors really believed that what was happening in their stories could happen in the real world, and treated it as such. And this shown through especially with the first-person narrators.

When something like Smile Dog can be treated as if it’s real, you know you’re reading something different.

This is something I really admire in creepypasta, because it just gives these stories another layer and gives them the power to really make you wonder if some of what happens in these creepypastas could happen. Some of my own stories are based on my own beliefs of what could be out there, and I like to think that gives them this quality of strange realism to them. Seeing that quality brought out so well with these stories is a great guide for me personally as a writer, so I’m glad I exposed myself to them.

Another thing about this anthology is that it made me realize something: the creators of creepypasta are not too different from self-published and hybrid authors. The latter try to recreate the quality and success of books published by traditional presses without having to go through all the hoops that come with the traditional method and presses. They’re trying a new way to achieve an old goal. And a major component of this is through the Internet to reach readers and advertise. Basically, to spread the word.

Similarly, creepypasta creators are trying to recreate something as well. When I called creepypasta viral Internet-born campfire ghost stories, that was a really apt description. They’re recreating the feeling of telling scary stories around a campfire, and spread it farther than any campfire could. And their chosen medium, the Internet, is perfect for that. Spoken word can be used on the Internet, but so can the written word, images, video, music and so much more. They use the Internet to advertise terror as well as any self-published/hybrid author can to advertise their books. Is it any wonder that one can so transition easily into the other?

Overall, I’m glad I took this dive back into the world of creepypasta. It opened my eyes to things that I’d never realized before, gave me ideas for stories, and caused my respect for creepypasta creators to grow immensely. And while I may never write true creepypasta, I can see creepypasta-esque stories or ideas infiltrating my future work. Just like creepypasta, you never know until it happens. And by then, it’s likely too late.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’d love to talk a bit more on the subject, but a hole in the fabric of reality has appeared in the fabric of my carpet, so that either means something really pleasant, or something really bad. I’m going to go find out.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!