Posts Tagged ‘The Call of Cthulhu’

The other day, I was talking with someone about what sort of tattoo I’d get if I were the type to get one.* This is a topic I’ve thought of a lot in my twenty-five years, and I think I’ve figured out what I would get. As I explained to my friend, it would be a representation of the horror genre, how the various causes of horror in fiction–like demonic entities, the prospect of death, and of course human beings, among others–have a detrimental effect on us. “It’s corruption of the innocent,” I explained. “The very essence of horror.”

And then I realized something: corruption of the innocence is an essential part, if not the essence, of horror. And it can be found in every horror story, if you think about it. I knew it was part of Gothic horror, as I mentioned it in my post about what makes Gothic horror. But beyond that subgenre? Hadn’t even considered it.

I could have hit myself for not realizing that sooner. It was staring me right in the face, goddammit!

As I said above, I mentioned how corruption of the innocent is an element of Gothic fiction, and we see this in Gothic stories like The Shining. Danny sees the world go from a mostly-nice place where bad luck sometimes causes disaster for good people to a dark place where entities like The Overlook exist and kill people or drive them mad. Said entity also tries to corrupt Danny’s shine, to make that beautiful psychic power part of its own dark self.

Innocence corrupted.

However, this concept is found in other horror stories. HP Lovecraft incorporated it into his work quite often. In The Call of Cthulhu, his most famous work, the narrator starts out as being very sure that the world is a concrete place of science and rationality. However, after going through his late uncle’s effects, he realizes that there’s something awful in this world, a worldwide cult devoted to the bloody worship of an awful god that will one day rise to retake the Earth. And not only did this cult kill the narrator’s uncle, its agents will likely kill the narrator, driven close to madness with fear, before long.

Innocence corrupted.

This story is a great example of corruption of the innocent at work without being part of the Gothic genre.

And sometimes the innocence being ruined here isn’t your traditional childlike innocence. Sometimes it’s as simple as just having your worldview changed. Two early Stephen King stories, “The Mangler” and “Battleground,” revolve around hardened men discovering the world can involve the supernatural or just plain weird (in this case, a possessed dry-cleaning machine and toy soldiers that come to life to kill you). As I said, nothing dramatic. Just a shift in viewpoint.

Innocence corrupted.

Even when it’s so ubiquitous though, I don’t think corruption of the innocent is the essence of horror, as I characterized above. Or at least, the only essence of horror. After all, we can’t forget about fear, which is what horror plays on and seeks to create. Without that fear, you just don’t have a good horror story. Perhaps then, like fear or a powerful antagonist, corruption of the innocent is something necessary to writing horror. Without it, the genre would be missing something that cannot be done without.

So while not exactly the full essence of horror, corruption of the innocent is important to the genre. You could even say it’s wrapped up in the essence of horror. And I’m glad I finally realized after such a long time that it was.

Hopefully it makes writing decent horror stories easier.

What do you think of corruption of the innocent as part of horror? Do you think I’m onto something?

Do you think I should get a tattoo? Would you like to see this design of mine realized? Do you know how any artists who could help me create it?

*For the record, I’m tempted, but my religious beliefs aren’t fond of me getting one. And I’m not sure I want something so permanent on my body, anyway. Especially if I have to pay a ton of money for what I’m looking for. Still fun to think about, though.

Also, I want it on my back. Best place to get it, in my personal opinion.

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It’s a question every creator wrestles with from time to time. Writers are no exception. We wonder if anything we write is worth reading by anyone other than our family and close friends (who, most likely, will tell you they loved it because that’s what family and close friends do). We wonder if we’re just wasting our time sitting at the computer or in front of our typewriters or in our notebooks, trying to tell stories that range from the mundane to the fantastical and mundane.

In short, we ask ourselves, “Do my ideas suck?”

This may surprise you (I am Mr. Smiles and Jokes and Weird References to Demons and Monsters, after all), but I ask myself this question a lot. I often wonder if I’ll write anything that more than a few people will read in my lifetime, let alone afterwards. It’s a question I’ve been asking myself a lot more lately as I’m in the midst of rewriting a lot of Rose. Although I tell myself that I came up with these changes myself, and that both I and my publisher think they’ll do a lot to help the story and make it a better read, in the back of my head I’ve got this little voice whispering dissent and telling me that what I’m writing won’t amount to much.

And you know what? Sometimes I’m tempted to believe that voice. I mean, thousands upon thousands of novels are published every year, but very few of them gain the attention we wish them to have. Quite a few even get critically panned. It often seems like the field is too big and too difficult to really make a difference in. So why should we try?

But then there are a couple of things I keep in my mind that can, if not shut up that voice, then at least turn the volume down on it. Both of them, not surprisingly, involve Stephen King. The first has to do with his debut novel, Carrie. Did you know when King first started writing Carrie, he actually threw the first few pages into the trash because he was convinced it was trash and would come to nothing. He only kept at it because his wife fished the pages out of the trash, read over them, and said they were good and that he should keep at it. The novel was later published and as we all know, became a huge hit, inspiring two excellent movies (though I prefer the 2013 version), a meh TV movie, and a musical that I wish would get a proper revival and a North American tour. All from a story that King was ready to throw in the trash.

The second story is another King work, Thinner, which he wrote under his Richard Bachman pen name. If you were to give the story an elevator pitch (see my article on elevator pitches for more on that subject) it would probably be something along the lines of “A man is cursed to become thinner and thinner.” And just from hearing that, you might laugh. That sounds like a comedy involving some prissy housewife who thinks if she doesn’t stay a certain weight, her husband will cheat on her and then she starts magically losing weight. It doesn’t sound like a scary novel.

Thinner by Richard Bachman (aka Stephen King); silly sounding concept, great payoff.

But from what I hear (I haven’t read any of the Richard Bachman books yet, though I know I should), it’s a pretty creepy story, one that inspired a movie (quality of the movie is debatable). All from a very simple idea of what happens when weight loss goes really, really bad. It sounds stupid, but it turns into an effective horror story.

And I could come up with tons of examples of this (did you know HP Lovecraft thought The Call of Cthulhu was only so-so? And now it’s one of his most famous works). But they all boil down to one thing: our ideas don’t always suck. In fact, they may only suck in our minds. To others, they may be great, mind-blowing, or even influential. And sure, not all of our stories will turn out to be great, but the vast majority of them, with enough work and a little bit of luck, can become awesome.

And I’m reminded of that every time someone expresses interest in reading Rose. People hear what it’s about, and they want to know more, or for me to tell them as soon as the book is out. If these people really do end up reading Rose, liking it and even letting people know they like it, then who knows? I might be able to shut up that little voice once in my head, at least for a little while.

So if you’re worried that you’re only writing crap, don’t pay your little voice any attention. Just keep writing and polishing and seeing where your story goes. Who knows? You may end up putting out something really amazing, and you’ll be glad you stuck with it for so long.

So I’m seven films into this series (click here to see the whole series), where I rewatch horror films I previously disliked to see if there was something there I missed the first time. And this time around, I’m going with a classic. By which I mean, it’s probably older than any of my grandparents. Nosferatu, one of the earliest horror films and the first Dracula adaptation, as well as an example of German expressionist film. It’s become something of a cult classic since it’s release over ninety years ago, and its villain, Count Orlok, has become almost a meme, but longer lasting.

And can I just say, my own opinion aside, it’s a freaking miracle we even have this movie? Not kidding, we nearly lost this film to copyright infringement. Prana Films, the studio that made this film, was started and owned by two businessmen who never made a film before, and apparently had no idea you had to ask permission before doing an adaptation of a non-public domain work. Bram Stoker’s widow sued the company when she found out, and the company was forced to destroy all their copies…except or two copies, which have been copied and cobbled together to preserve the film to this day. Which is why if you watch the film today, sometimes the film is pure black-and-white, and at other times it’s sepia-toned.*

Okay, enough of that. Time to talk about the actual film.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT: It’s Dracula, just with everyone’s names changed: Dracula is now Orlok, Harker is Hutter, Mina is Ellen, etc. Do you need more information than that?

WHY I DIDN’T LIKE IT: I was fifteen or sixteen when I saw this film for the first time. And while I enjoyed older films well before then, I just didn’t get into it. I knew the plot, so I was never surprised or scared. It was just…boring. Really poisoned silent films for me.

WHY I REWATCHED IT: I just thought it would be good for this series. And in any case, while I still don’t read it that much, I appreciate classic literature much more than I did then. Maybe that extended to films too.

THOUGHTS: Um…it’s not good, but I find it hard to hate.

Look, you need to have a certain frame of mind to enjoy silent films, and I’ve only enjoyed one of the silent films I’ve seen (which was made in 2005, so…), so it’s safe to say I don’t have that frame of mind.

But I did enjoy it at times…as a comedy. Yeah, I know it’s a horror film, but I just couldn’t help but laugh at the film. There was so much to make fun of! For one thing, the make-up makes every guy look like a serial killer about to take a victim, especially when they laugh or smile, and every girl like a drag queen. I just couldn’t help but giggle. (Also, the character Knock is probably the inspiration for Count Olaf in A Series of Unfortunate Events. Thank the make-up department for that!).

And because it was a silent film, I could just sit in my living room and make goofy voices. I remember during one moment, when Hutter comes home to tell Ellen he’s going abroad, I responded to the dialogue card by saying, “Hi husband, good to see you too. I had a wonderful day, thank you for asking. Now what are you talking about?” And when Hutter runs into another room to start packing, I said, “So this is what Marge and Lois are talking about when their husbands announce they’re about to do something stupid.” It was hysterical.

Unfortunately, the best of on-the-spot comedy couldn’t help the film from dragging. For a 95-minute film, it felt so much longer, and like nothing was happening at all. Characters just took their time, said things, and reacted to things. There was nothing to get your blood pumping at all.

I could go on with the problems I had with this film, but that’d be a veeeery long blog post. I’ll just save time by saying, I had many more issues that kept me from enjoying it.

Still, Count Orlok is cool looking, and the sets are really pretty. I’ll give the film that.

JUDGMENT: I’m sorry, but it’s just not my kind of film. I know it has its fans, but I’m not one of them. 1.5 out of 5. I’m sad to say that, due to its place in film history, but that’s just how I feel.

Well, I think I might enjoy this next film a bit more. And if I don’t, there’s a good chance I’ll be reviled in the comments for it. in fact, people might shout “REDRUM” at me. That’s right, I’m rewatching Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining next.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

*Also, the version of the film I watched was restored in Wiesbaden, the city in Germany I lived in for four months back in 2015! That’s really cool, if you ask me. My former home helped to create a beautiful print of a classic movie. I wonder if my supervisors knew about that?

My boy, HP Lovecraft

So today as I was heating up dinner, a thought passed through my head that sometimes passes through there (along with, “Oh, that would make a great story,” “I’m hungry,” and “These miserable mortals must be destroyed! Rise up and cleanse the Earth of them!”). The thought was, “I wish there were more HP Lovecraft adaptations. He’s got a lot of material to work from.” This thought was followed, rather unexpectedly, by “Why wasn’t there an HP Lovecraft cinematic universe? You’d think it’d be perfect for film studios. The stories literally take place a multiverse, possibly the very first multiverse!”

Now, if you’re wondering who HP Lovecraft is, you’re not alone. He’s criminally under-known (a word I just made, so copyright). What’s important to know is that he was a writer from the early half of the 20th century who wrote horror stories based around powerful cosmic entities and truths from beyond the stars whose exposure to humans can cause insanity, destruction and death. This is called cosmic horror, and Lovecraft practically invented it. And while you might’ve never heard of HP Lovecraft or cosmic horror (though I talk about him often enough on this blog), you’ve probably seen the wide results of his influence. Ever wonder where the ideas for the Demogorgon or the Shadow Monster and the Upside-Down from Stranger Things come from? Those all are at least partly inspired by Lovecraft’s creations. The weirder, more interdimensional aspects of the works of Stephen King, such as the last two-hundred pages of It or the Dark Tower series? Lovecraft helped inspire them, especially his Dream Cycle stories in relation to the Dark Tower books. And that thing with a mouth full of teeth coming out of my hotel room toilet? That’s actually a demon crocodile, where the hell did that come from?

Point is, Lovecraft has influenced a lot of horror fiction, and even some things not normally considered horror, such as Marvel comics villains. Now excuse me, I’ve got to take care of that demon crocodile.

Still here? Good. Well, you’d think that with such a bibliography and legacy, you’d think Lovecraft would have several adaptations, right? Maybe even a cinematic universe, considering he has one of the earliest multiverses in fiction? Wrong, actually. There are actually only a handful of direct HP Lovecraft adaptations, the most well-known being Re-Animator, and the story that’s based on is kind of in its own separate mini-universe (kind of like Deadpool in the X-Men movies). But wait. If his ideas and the works they influence are so ubiquitous that we’re getting major Netflix shows and box-office record-breaking movies based on them, why aren’t his works being made into more movies? And why isn’t there a cinematic universe, when there’s a gold mine right there for it?

Thank Lovecraft for this guy.

Well, there are a few reasons for that. One of the reasons is that movie adaptations, and especially cinematic universes, are made from properties that filmmakers feel will make them money (now there kind of’s an evil god to rival Cthulhu, am I right?). In the past, movies based off of HP Lovecraft stories have only done moderately well at the box office, mostly as cheesy B-movies, and that’s on a good day. Even Re-Animator only earned around two-million, and its budget was just about half that. So if a major film studio were to make a major adaptation of a Lovecraft story, they’d have to believe that a Lovecraft story could bring in a major profit. And if past adaptations are any indication, it’s not a risk studios are willing to make (let alone a cinematic universe*).

Another issue is that, to be frank, Lovecraft stories don’t always translate very well to cinema. They’re often centered around one person’s experience, and the events surrounding that person aren’t always told in a structure that lends well to movie storytelling. Hell, some of them don’t even work with literature storytelling (*cough* Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath *cough*).  If you were to adapt some of these stories, you’d have to do a lot of work just to make some of them look good as a screenplay. And even when doing comic book adaptations sometimes involves tweaking entire story arcs just because of copyrights and other aspects, not everyone is willing to do that.

And finally, HP Lovecraft is under-known. Well-known properties, even if there’s no reason to think they’ll be money-makers, are more likely to be adapted than something that few people have heard of. William Shakespeare movies usually don’t make tons of money unless major stars are attached to it, but some of his plays are so well-known and loved that they have multiple adaptations and there’s a good chance more will come in the future (I’d like a Titus Andronicus adaptation, please). But if a work is lesser known, or its appeal is too esoteric, it’s likelihood to get adapted is pretty low.

And all these factors are in the way of more Lovecraft adaptations.

Great adaptation of Lovecraft’s best-known story, The Call of Cthulhu.

Still, that doesn’t mean there haven’t been Lovecraft adaptations in recent years. And not all of them have been cheesy B-films. The HP Lovecraft Historical Society (yes, that’s a thing) has previously made great adaptations of The Call of Cthulhu (which I own and reviewed HERE) and The Whisperer in Darkness that were made to look like they were filmed in Lovecraft’s time. Guillermo del Toro nearly made a big-budget adaptation of At the Mountain of Madness, one of Lovecraft’s better-known works, and there’s a chance he may try to make it again someday. And with Lovecraft’s appeal staying steady and possibly even growing, there’s a chance other studios, including independent ones, will make their own adaptations. One article I read even said that a lot of international indie studios are not only making Lovecraft films, but showing them at film studios.

And even if Lovecraft films aren’t being directly adapted, as I’ve said, his ideas are appearing all over the place. I’ve already mentioned the works of Stephen King and Stranger Things, and those are only the tip of a large iceberg. The Hellboy films all feature Lovecraftian monsters, as do a number of major video games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Bloodborne. And I recently saw a film heavily influenced by Lovecraft called The Void, and while I had some issues with it, it definitely had its points, including great atmosphere and practical effects. Stuff like this will only keep Lovecraft in the public consciousness and maybe someday lead to further adaptations of his work.

So maybe HP Lovecraft won’t have a cinematic universe anytime soon. But he’s clearly got staying power, and that means there’s always a chance we could see more films by him as time goes by. Some of them may even come from major studios and perhaps even be great successes. As nearly everyone says, you never know what the future holds. Maybe even an adaptation of Shunned House? Please?

What do you think of HP Lovecraft adaptations? What would you like to see adapted? Let’s discuss.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. The demon crocodile (whom I’ve named Alathla) and I are off to cause terror in a major metropolis area. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

*Though from what I hear, cinematic universes are on the way out the door, thanks to the massive mistakes studios like WB and Universal have made with the DCEU and Dark Universes. So…never mind?

Back in January I got into another Lovecraft binge (see my thoughts on that here), and during that binge I read one of Lovecraft’s most famous stories, “The Call of Cthulhu.” Around the same time, I found out there was a movie version of that short story that was made in the style of a 1920’s silent film, matching the period of when the story was written, and knew I had to see it. Which turned out to be easier said than done: it’s not on any streaming service I can find, copies at my library had all been lost or damaged to the point they needed to be taken out of circulation, and I did not want to illegally stream it on my laptop. Finally, with some Amazon gift card money, I managed to buy my own copy, and after Amazon lost the package and had to send me a new copy (was that Cthulhu’s work, I wonder?), I finally got to watch the film with dinner this evening!

“Call of Cthulhu” tells the story of a man as he recollects becoming the executor of his late great-uncle’s estate, and how he discovered his uncle’s research on a cult devoted to the worship of a being known as Cthulhu. As the man goes deeper into the mystery of the cult and even conducts some research himself, he finds himself falling deeper into a rabbit hole of madness and despair that has no way out, and some things waiting within.

Firstly, this movie looks and feels like a 1920’s silent film. It was filmed using Mythoscope, a process that combines older and newer techniques to produce a film that looks like a silent picture but with much better special effects, and it looks great. You can tell that a lot of work went into making this film just right. And what’s truly amazing is that this film was made almost in a DIY sort of way: sets were made with cardboard, tape, and even a few blankets, with cast and crew sometimes working in miserable condition and using props bought off eBay to make this work. If you watch the film and then watch the behind-the-scenes video, like I did, you gain such a deeper appreciation for how well executed this film is.

Another thing I really enjoyed about this film are the actors. They are great at their work! As it’s a silent film, much of the storytelling is done through expression and movement, like in a ballet. You never once doubt for a moment that the actor are feeling the emotions they are trying to convey to us, and that just makes the film all the more amazing. It also helps that these actors are not Hollywood stars. In a major motion picture, the narrator of the story might be cast as Tom Hanks or someone else who’s good at playing an everyday guy put into extraordinary circumstances. The actors in this movie, however, often look like folks you see on a daily basis, and that instantly makes them more relatable to me.

If there’s one thing I didn’t care for, it might be Cthulhu himself. Or maybe I do care for him. I’m kind of split on my opinion of him when he finally appears. On the one hand, he doesn’t appear on film that much, even at the climax of the story, and when he does, it’s often very quick or he’s seen as a shadow. The stop-motion used to animate him is also very well done, and he looks like how he might be styled in a 1920’s film. That’s very good. But, he is the film’s big bad, and I like to feel even jut a little intimidated by the big bads I see in film. And whenever Cthulhu is on screen, I’m just not intimidated. I guess if I had lived in the 1920’s (an age where Lon Chaney’s version of the Phantom of the Opera was so terrifying to audiences, people actually fainted in their seats or ran out the theater screaming), I might have found the stop-motion terrifying, but I’m from the age of CGI, so it takes more to terrify me. So I’m honestly unsure of whether the stuff with Cthulhu himself adds or takes away from the film.

But all in all, this is a great film, an artistic masterpiece courtesy of the HP Lovecraft Historical Society (do they have a museum to the guy yet?). And when you consider that the original short story has been called “unfilmable,” and the conditions during production tried to prove that assertion, you learn to love it even more. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving “The Call of Cthulhu” a 4.8 out of 5 (as well as the title of “one of my new favorite films”). Find yourself a copy, and enjoy the experience.

Now I just need a good adaptation of Shunned House. That story is SCARY! And it feels like the sort of story that would translate very well to film.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Join me next week when I watch another Lovecraftian-influenced film. No, not Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (though I probably will see that next weekend with my sister). It takes more than a tentacled monster to make it a Lovecraftian story. No, I mean the film adaptation of Junji Ito’s terrifying manga, Uzumaki.

So I started up a binge on H.P. Lovecraft again right after the new year. I’m not sure why; maybe I was just in the mood for him, or maybe something I read made me think of good old Mr. Lovecraft and I wanted to pick him up again.Or maybe the YouTube video where I discovered Uzumaki mentioned him, and that did it. Whatever the case, I’ve noticed that the gaps between my binges are shortening with every binge. I first put him down in September 2015 after first buying my edition of his collected works, picked him up again in June 2016, put him down once more the next month and picked him up again in January 2017. I wonder when I’ll be in meeting Mr. Lovecraft again? Early summer, maybe?

Now if you don’t know who H.P. Lovecraft is (and there seems to be a lot of you who don’t), let me tell you about him. Lovecraft was a writer from New England who wrote in the early 20th century, and is considered the father of cosmic horror, a sub-genre of horror that deals with man’s inconsequential place in our universe, and that some revelations about that are so powerful, they cause you to go mad (it’s the kind of stuff that keeps you up at night if you think too much about it).

I started reading Lovecraft two years ago because I heard he was very influential on some of my favorite writers and filmmakers, and each time I delve into his work I like to write my thoughts on him (see Parts 1 and 2 here). So what did I think this time around?

Well, I have to say, the further I get into Lovecraft’s work, the easier it is to read. I’ve mentioned before that he writes like he’s living in the 1820s rather than in the 1920’s, but I think as time goes on, he learned to write in a more contemporary style while still sounding like he was a contemporary of Poe. I’m not sure that the collection I have of his work is chronological, but if it is, then I’m definitely seeing him develop into a better writer. I also think I’m getting a better grasp at what makes Lovecraft so memorable. Before, I probably would have used generalizations, such as “he’s creepy” or “vaguely disturbing.” Now, however, I’m able to point out what exactly about the story sticks in my mind and why it is successful or not successful, such as the mysterious nature of the monsters in one story or the twist at the end of the story in another.

I also think that the stories written in this period (assuming that the stories are ordered chronologically, of course) are much better than his previous works. I got to read one of his famous stories “The Call of Cthulhu,” and I found it very interesting. Not just because it contains one of Lovecraft’s most famous characters, but it has the essence of his cosmology and philosophy in that story. The idea of man as the insects of the universe, and greater beings just waiting to come back and take over is succinctly and powerfully presented through the narrator’s encounters with the titular demon-god’s cult.

Got to read the story with this guy.

 

I also really liked the short story “Pickman’s Model,” about an artist who draws very disturbing paintings in an old colonial home. It was well told, and I really enjoyed the twist at the end, which even I didn’t see coming.Same with “Cool Air,” a short story about a doctor living in an apartment building. I read the list at the end of that story, and I was like, “Damn! That’s actually very clever.”

If there was any story I did not like, then it was the last story I read by him this particular binge, and also the longest. “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath,” a novella that felt like an acid trip ending  in a Lewis Carroll ripoff.* It was too long, silly trying to be serious, and like I said, the ending rips off Lewis Carroll in the most obvious way. I kind of wish I had skipped over this one.

All in all though, I’m really starting to gain a healthy respect for H.P. Lovecraft. He added a lot to the horror genre, even if he didn’t live to see his influence, and I can see why he’s still read today. I don’t know when I will pick up his work again, but I have a feeling I am in for a treat when I do.

In the meantime, I found out there’s a movie version of “Call of Cthulhu,” so I will try to get my hands on a copy of that. Hopefully I’ll get it soon, and when I do, you’ll hear my thoughts about it.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I hope to have a new author interview out Friday, so keep your eyes peeled for that. Until then, pleasant nightmares.

*Weirdly, it wasn’t acid he was on. LSD wasn’t invented until year after Lovecraft died, so there’s no way he could have gotten his hands on it. Or Lewis Carroll, for that matter. Which begs the question: if those two were high when they came up with their respective stories, what were they high on?