Each October, I have a tradition in which I read several short stories of Lovecraft and, under misguided notions of creativity, maybe even try to write a short horror story of my own. (We’ll see if the short story I’m writing currently gets finished by tomorrow. Maybe I’ll post it up. Maybe not.) Sadly, the few Lovecraft stories I got around to reading in my busy life were rather dull.
The Transition of Juan Romero is, well, while rather well-written (everything by Lovecraft is well-written; he is one of my inspirations for style of writing), clichéd in that Lovecraftian way that only a Lovecraftian tale can be. Perhaps most surprisingly, it’s also one of his earliest stories. I could really only recommend it for Lovecraft completists or those with a special sympathy for Aztec mythology, but otherwise you’re not missing anything.
Beyond the Wall of Sleep, on the other hand, is quite provocative and appeals to those elements of the fringe fantastic that any Lovecraftian fan is a Lovecraftian fan for. It really shows off the elements of that down-the-rabbit-hole dark mythos which would be more fully developed in later decades. Lovecraft’s style is on full display, and is just so luridly descriptive in a way that begs to be read out loud:
The sound of weird lyric melody was what aroused me. Chords, vibrations, and harmonic ecstasies echoed passionately on every hand; while on my ravished sight burst the stupendous spectacle of ultimate beauty. Walls, columns, and architraves of living fire blazed effulgently around the spot where I seemed to float in air; extending upward to an infinitely high vaulted dome of indescribable splendour.
This sort of gothic appeal to depth and height make it a pity that Lovecraft never saw fit to provide an interpretation of The Divine Comedy in his own style, since truly his own style of writing was a match for the scenery. Can you imagine a Lovecraftian Paradiso, let alone a Lovecraftian Inferno?
But Lovecraft is not the only media I took in for Halloween. I happened to watch Hannibal, a sequel to the suspense horror Silence of the Lambs, a true masterpiece of cinema. Sadly, it is overshadowed by the movie it is supposed to be picking up from. It is certainly decent by itself, though I must warn that it has a few gross-out scenes near the end that are sure to induce a few shudders. While, like Silence of the Lambs, it subverts some horror tropes, it also gives in to a few which I felt weakened the overall atmosphere. Its subscription to a few key tropes here and there made it suffer from the “You fool! You’re in a horror movie!” feeling one would certainly like to impress on the characters.
I must recommend at this point a few favorites of my own that always give me shivers and make me feel like I need to watch my own back.
Herbert West–Reanimator is certainly my favorite piece by Lovecraft. It is a bit lengthier than his other stories, but it has great pay-off, and you can really feel the terror gripping the protagonist.
The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges is, I grant, a more intellectual piece, and presents a horror to those of a more philosophical constitution. It is short, succinct, and cerebral. Borges, an Argentine writer of the 20th century, is definitely an artsy-fartsy type, but he’s also good about it so that, rather than being cryptic, he is critical.
I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison is a classic which I feel is most likely to have been read, but I must recommend it in case there are any who haven’t given it a read yet.
Lastly, as far as film goes, the original Paranormal Activity remains captivating. While the sequels were certainly silly (though I did enjoy the third film, and I haven’t yet seen the fourth though I hear it is very silly from a trusted source), it is definitely the truest kind of horror that a film can impress on one. It is not interested in jump scares, but inspires a dread that can surround only a truly inscrutable and malicious entity. I don’t want to give anything away, though I will note that when I first watched it I couldn’t sleep that night…
What is it about horror that is so captivating? I’m not sure, but I got a good story I’m writing, so I’ll have to give more analysis on it if I get it finished by tomorrow here.