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Sorry I’m late (something something figures for paper, something something conference coming up, something something OH MY GOD HOW IS MY COMMITTEE MEETING IN LESS THAN A MONTH I NEED TO DEFEND AND GET OUT OF HERE, etc.)!  But I assure you, I have not been idle.  When not frantically teaching myself Adobe Illustrator and trying to replicate 10-year-old experiments (yeah…not so much), I’ve been reading and attempting to watch as much horror as I can handle.  Today, I’d like to tell you about Event Horizon, a movie I started to watch, freaked out about badly, tried to continue to watch, gave up, retreated, and looked up plot points on Wikipedia/IMDB and key scenes on Youtube.

Before I get any further: SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS in this post, spoilers abound, I will not cut because everything would be cut, because this entire damn thing is just one big SPOILER.  If you do not want Event Horizon SPOILED SPOILED SPOILED, you should look at this adorable lizards in adorable little outfits, and then you should read something else.

lizard 2SO MAJESTIC!

lizard 1(Both of these are from Holy Mountain.  Seriously, how can you not love this movie?)

Anyway, so.  Event Horizon.  Never have I watched a movie with such terrible CG that has upset me so badly*.  (Belated note to animation team: Yes, I know that you wanted to show the abandonment of life and the cessation of normal daily activities by showing frozen items floating idly in zero G.  You intended to create a powerful sense of desolation and horror.  It was a noble endeavor, but my sole reaction was a powerful sense of “That is the fakest can/watch/piece of clothing I have ever seen”.)

From a superficial perspective, it might seem surprising that I consider Event Horizon to be a perfect encapsulation of modern Lovecraftian horror.  Event Horizon is a nominally sci-fi horror movie about Hell.  And I do mean that literally–not just extreme discomfort or unpleasantness, not even a sort of Gary Larson-esque landscape replete with flames and moderately bored devils

Larson hell

Hell is the worse thing you can imagine.  Hell is physical pain beyond imagining, but more importantly, every regret you’ve ever lived and tried to move past thrown in your face relentlessly, for eternity.  Hell is all things evil.

Evil, Hell–these are words that a Lovecraft fan should react to with unease.  There’s no arguing that it’s effective horror, but it’s the complete opposite of the indifferent cosmos that Lovecraft creates.  A force that creates a special, personalized inferno that you and only you will respond to–that’s the definition of care and attention, albeit in a twisted, remarkably disturbing way.

Over and over again, characters in Event Horizon talk about Hell.  Their personal Hell.  The existence of Hell.  A dimension of pure chaos and evil.  It’s the antithesis of Lovecraft.

Right?

I would argue Event Horizon is not a thin veneer of sci-fi masking a gooey center of horror.  I would argue that it is is pure sci-fi–but sci-fi precisely as Lovecraft would have imagined it, not as we’re primed to recongize it.

The main characters in the film are Cowboy Curtis (if you’re slightly older than me)/Morpheus (if you’re my age) as the intrepid captain and that guy from Jurassic Park as a scientist.  They’re in search of the Event Horizon, a ship the scientist designed to test an experimental gravity drive that would enable ships to move faster than the speed of life.  But a distress signal was dispatched, and it’s now up to the crew to figure out what happened.

A lot, as it turns out.

Immediately upon arrival, there’s clear evidence of a massacre.  And by that I mean body parts floating around, mostly.  Blood everywhere.

And here’s where the first hint of Lovecraft shines through.  There’s a lot of hand-waving about how this gravity drive works (it creates a black hole, which I imagine was a moderate surprise to everyone but physicists and other people familiar with the term Event Horizon), but one thing immediately becomes clear: a portal was opened into another dimension.  And the scientist has NO IDEA what or where that dimension was.

Blithe forays into different dimensions in the name of science, activation of novel and tremendously powerful scientific devices or artifacts without full understanding of what they’ll do…From Beyond is the most striking manifestation of this theme, but it’s not the only one, not by a very long shot.

But what happened?  The gravity drive was activated, a portal was opened.  Something came through.  Something was experienced, and all humans that came into contact with experienced dreadful, personal hallucinations and were summarily destroyed in what Wikipedia describes somewhat quaintly as a “blood orgy”.  Was it truly a portal to Hell?

Maybe.  It’s possible we’re supposed to suspend disbelief even more than usual and just assume that the good ship stumbled into a parallel universe that is Evil with a capital E, one that PRECISELY matches all our conceptions about hell.

Is that likely?  I don’t think so.  And I think Event Horizon is a great film because it captures the human reaction to the unknowable (yes, I must say it) far, far better than Lovecraft did.  What do humans do if they’re faced with something that their minds cannot expand to comprehend and cannot dismiss or ignore?  It’s hard to believe that the experience would be anything other than sheer horror.  But…if they’re in a Lovecraft story, they’re packed up neatly into a padded cell, where they spend their days alternating between sitting quietly and babbling on about non-Euclidean geometry.

What would happen in real life?  The first crewman to experience the gravity drive attempts to kill himself, telling the others that the dimension had shown him “the dark inside of him”. I think it’s much more likely that the incomprehensible capital-W Whatever he experienced punctured his understanding of the world, leaving a void that struck his conscious/subconscious brain as so wrong that he filled with the worst thing it could conceive.  He created his own hell, and it was more than enough.

It must be mentioned that, as much as I like this movie, the crew’s general conceptions of Hell/Absolute Evil look AN AWFUL LOT like literally the entirety of Hellraiser, which is delightfully Lovecraftian in its own right.

big puzzle box

That is a damn big puzzle box

barbed wire

Pinhead: “We have such sights to show you.”

Woman from Event Horizon: “I have such wonderful, wonderful things to show you.”

But, you know, Hellraiser came out in 1987, and the shenanigans aboard the Event Horizon take place in 2047.  Perhaps the images of Hellraiser, at this point, were fully embedded in the collective identity of humanity at that point.

The Cultist

 

*Other than The Phantom Menace.  *Ba-dump tish*

The Cultist is afraid of horror movies.  I wish it were not so, but it is.  Short horror films on Youtube have proven sliiightly more palatable, mainly because I can:

  1. Turn the sound way down
  2. Turn the sound off
  3. Minimize the browser window
  4. Skip ahead
  5. Pause the video and peer at the little frames at the bottom of the progress bar to suss out any jump scares (not always successfully)
  6. Turn off the sound, minimize the window, watch the movie, and then go back and watch it again with the sound on
  7. Cover my eyes and have someone narrate the action for me without fear of annoying other moviegoers

Note that I am not proud of this.

Anyway!  Here’s a delightful little horror/sci-fi movie that I think you’ll find is satisfyingly Lovecraftian.  (I’m getting somewhat jaded with the use of that phrase, especially around Halloween.  Someone please play Downwell for me to verify whether or not it is truly Lovecraftian, because the description didn’t sound like it beyond “Occasionally there are tentacles”.)

/rant

Not to hate on tentacles or anything.

The Cultist

Okay, I did think of a few other horror movies I’ve watched start to finish, and they were all vampire-based:

  1. Let the Right One In: I enjoyed this one, but I did cover my eyes at a few points
  2. Nosferatu: I was surprised–it’s so old and cliched now, but I did get legitimately frightened at a few moments.  The actor playing the vampire just moves SO slowly and deliberately.
  3. Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula: I…do people actually find this movie scary?  To me, it was like they took EVERY possible vampire theme–creepy old guy/sexy young guy/ugly monster/steampunk/werewolf?–and tried to mash them all into a single, unified horror movie.  And it just did not work at ALL.  (And did anyone else laugh at the ending?  Not the actual killing of Dracula, but the part where Mina gives her little impromptu speech to all the vampire hunters, and after YEARS of fighting Dracula, they’re all just like, “Yeah, I guess we were wrong…”)  (Although Tom Waits as Renfield was an amazing choice.)
  4. Dracula (the original): I think I watched this when I was 9 or 10, and I was not very impressed.

But anyway!  I think Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was probably the first frightening book I read, but I also have extremely fond memories of Mostly Ghostly.

mostly ghostly 2

I had a hell of a time finding this book, because it’s also the same name of a series by R. L. Stine.

(Incidentally, R.L. Stine would probably be thought as an obvious choice for a blog post…but eh, I don’t have very strong memories of reading his books.  I mean, I definitely read a lot of them–that I know for sure–but I guess by that point my sense of horror was already somewhat dulled by years of exposure to pictures like this

harold

and this

oh-susanna*).

Written by Steven Zorn and illustrated by John Bradley, this book is IMPRESSIVE.  The version I had was hardcover and absolutely massive–just long and large, so it never fit comfortably even on my tallest bookshelf.  This was done, presumably, to make room for the art.  The illustrations themselves are less frankly horrifying than SStTitD, but they’re no less skillful.  They’re more cartoonish, but every one of them is vaguely unnerving in a way that I found absolutely compelling as a child.

mostly ghostly3

The stories themselves are based off of old famous ghost stories.  There’s one about a hanged murderer who doesn’t realize he’s dead, a funny one about a new aristocrat who doesn’t believe his enormous estate can be complete without a ghost, but I think the one that stuck with me the most is about a terrible clammy THING that shows up on a ship.  But this is where my adult knowledge and childhood memory fails me somewhat, because while I can remember a lot of the individual stories, I can’t remember who wrote what.  And while 8-year-old me certainly didn’t care about the source of these stories, it’s interesting in retrospect to realize that I was reading adaptations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edith Nesbit, and Ambrose Bierce.

The Cultist

 

*This illustration is a perfect example of exactly what I love about SStTitD.  The story it’s associated with is just a simple urban legend about a college girl annoyed by her roommate’s humming–she finally grabs her shoulder to get her to stop, only to discover that her head has been cut off.  Yeah, it’s definitely creepy, but what is going ON in this picture?  How does it relate?

oh-susanna

But it doesn’t matter.  It just conveys the impossible and the fear of the unknown in such a vivid way that it serves only to enhance the sheer terror of the story.

First and foremost!  The podcast is up, and I have not listened to it, because I hate how I sound in recordings!  But if you wish to listen to it (and please, lie to me and tell me I don’t sound like a moron, or at least don’t tell me you listened to it), it can be found here, the October 8th entry.

But anyway!  October is my favorite month for a number of reasons, chief among them being the fact that it’s the one period of the year when my love of horror jibes with the annual public zeitgeist.  (Can you use zeitgeist in that context?  I’m really not sure.)  Even Buzzfeed rang in October 2015 with a list of the best 31 horror movies streaming on Netflix.

Buuuuut…and here’s my dirty little secret, alluded to in the past but never fully embraced…

Start to finish, I’ve watched, like, 7 horror movies.  Ever.

  1. The Shining: I maintain that this is a wonderful movie, but not a scary one.  At no point was I scared.
  2. Rosemary’s Baby: This would have been so much better if they cut the last 15 minutes, so you’d never know whether or not it was all in her head.
  3. A Tale of Two Sisters: I don’t know if this really counts, because I spent well over 60% of the film with my face buried in a pillow.  HOLY SHIT is that one scary.
  4. The Sixth Sense: I saw this in Psychology my junior year of high school, after the AP exam.  The stunning twist had been ruined for me five or six years prior.
  5. Hellraiser: I watched the whole thing!  More or less!
  6. Piranha 3D: Saw this one in theaters, spent fully half the movie in tears.
  7. Alien: You know that scene where that one guy is in the ducts, and there’s a probe on him, and a probe on the alien, and you see the probes getting closer and closer together, and the rest of the crew keeps telling the guy that it’s heading right for him, and he’s like, “Naaaaaaaaah”, and then the alien jumps on him?  It’s the most forecasted jump scare in the history of cinema, and it made me pass out.  Literally.  I lost consciousness.

Conversely, the number of horror movies I have failed to complete could fill a fucking book.  Here are a few samples:

  1. The Ring: Made it to that cutaway scene of the girl’s corpse in the closet.  You know, that cutaway scene that happens 10 minutes into the movie?
  2. The Thing (the 1981 version): Made it until the dog gets back to the base and starts acting funny.  Not even transformed.  Just funny.  I knew what was coming, and couldn’t take it.
  3. Hellraiser II: I made it until the guy in the asylum starts scraping his maggot-covered arms with a straight razor.
  4. Re-Animator: Tried it twice, the second time I made it exactly halfway!

To date, in my opinion, this is one of my most grievous personal failings.  I would LOVE to watch horror movies.  I love reading their summaries on Wikipedia.  I read reviews avidly.  Goodnight Mommy is coming to theaters soon, and I am rabid to watch it.  It’s getting incredible reviews.  Will I watch it?  Will I even come close to watching it?  History says no.  I have a vivid imagination, and I have a tremendously exaggerated startle reflex.  Therefore, every movie–horror or not–I watch is tainted by my fear of jump scares, which seem to lurk around every corner.  (Which reminds me!  If you can think of a horror movie that has ZERO reliance on jump scares, add it to the comments.  I’ll be on that like white on rice.)

But I’ve loved horror for as long as I can remember, despite these innate limitations.  How did I get my start?  How ought a horror lover to be raised?

For the next few days, instead of talking about classical or modern weird fiction, I’ll head back to my roots.  And so, to start, I’ll be tremendously unoriginal and say:

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, written by Alvin Schwartz, illustrated by Stephen Gammell.  Alvin Schwartz is a folklorist proper–every book in the trilogy is concluded with an extensive series of sources and notes on the particular horror tradition, regional variations, etc.  Stephen Gammell may very well be the King of the Damned Incarnate.

tumblr_lpfej6YBWn1qjwa1a

I mean that in only the kindest and most loving way.

scarystories2-scary-stories-to-tell-in-the-dark-has-found-an-adaption-director-to-traumatize-the-youth-of-today

The stories were okay, a few of the ghosts were spooky, but the illustrations captivated me in a way that nothing had ever done before.  And now, 28 years old, well into the age of the internet, I see that I’m very far from alone.  Every person who loved SStTitD loved it because of the illustrations.  The illustrations make the books.  The stories minus the pictures are only mildly scary, even for a children.  And I feel like everyone who loved SStTitD had an illustration that came to define the books in their mind–it was the epitome of horror, so terrible you couldn’t look at it for very long, or maybe you had to avoid the story altogether.  Maybe it was the girl with the boil on her cheek, staring in horror at the explosion of baby spiders and eggs.  Maybe it was the disgruntled, all-too-human scarecrow named Harold.  For me, it was this:

scary stories to tell in the dark

Jesus.  I know, right?

The story, eh.  I can tell you it by heart.

Haunted house, no one stays overnight, then a pastor stays, he hears ghostly footsteps, compels the wraith by invoking the bible, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost*, the wraith appears and tells him she was murdered by her boyfriend, skeleton underneath the house, put her pinkie bone in the collection plate at church, a man touches it and goes crazy, he admits the murder, he’s hanged, the wraith appears one last time to tell the pastor where her money is hidden, he finds it and donates it to the church, her ghostly fingerprints are forever singed into his jacket.  The end.

There’s really not much to it, alone.  But my god…that picture.  It burned itself into my skull.  I memorized more or less where in the book it was, and skipped around it for years because I couldn’t bear to look at it straight on.

I don’t think I was a particularly masochistic child.  I think that some kids–maybe all, I don’t know–like to be scared.  It’s a way of putting the self to the test.  A mountain climb for the myopic, pudgy, and asthmatic (okay, maybe that was just me).  The void is there.  Can we face the void and come back unscathed?  When it keeps us up at night, trembling, terrified of feeling its fingerprints burning into our covers, will we have the strength to come back and face it again the next day?

For me, at least, that feeling was addictive.  It’s morphed into something more subtle with age, but even now, scrolling back up the draft to stare at THAT FACE fills me with a shock of something primal.

Stephen Gammell, I salute you, wherever you might be, and whatever you might be.

The Cultist

*Despite being born and raised an atheist, I memorized this well, in case I ever needed to confront the undead.

I have to admit, this is one of Lovecraft’s original works that I read and wasn’t super taken with…but I think this take on it is absolutely stellar.

And who’s above enjoying a little terrifying claymation, really?

The Cultist

Foreshadowing a bit of a cinematic kick next week, for this Saturday I’m sharing my favorite film adaptation of Lovecraft of all time.

shot_nyarlathotep_movie_director_christian_matzke_2001This was my computer wallpaper for the LONGEST time.

If anyone else has any favorite short film adaptations, send ’em my way!

The Cultist