Colours Beyond Space, Shadows Out Of Time, Whisperers in Darkness: A Thread of Cosmic Horror

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As in derived from Lovecraft, but not specifically limited to his writing or "extended universe"(e.g. August Derleth et al).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmicism
Perhaps the most prominent theme in cosmicism is the insignificance of humanity. Lovecraft postulated, "The human race will disappear. Other races will appear and disappear in turn. The sky will become icy and void, pierced by the feeble light of half-dead stars. Which will also disappear. Everything will disappear. And what human beings do is just as free of sense as the free motion of elementary particles. Good, evil, morality, feelings? Pure 'Victorian fictions'. Only egotism exists."[2] Cosmicism shares many characteristics with nihilism, though one important difference is that cosmicism tends to emphasize the insignificance of humanity and its doings, rather than summarily rejecting the possible existence of some higher purpose (or purposes). For example, in Lovecraft's Cthulhu stories, it is not the absence of meaning that causes terror for the protagonists, as it is their discovery that they have absolutely no power to change anything in the vast, indifferent universe that surrounds them. In Lovecraft's stories, whatever meaning or purpose may be invested in the actions of the cosmic beings is completely inaccessible to the human characters.

Basically looking for recommendations of post-Lovecraft or contemporary takes on the genre. I've dipped into Thomas Ligotti and have liked what I read so far, am probably going to look into Charles Stross at some point, but would be interested in any other names in this field worth checking out(e.g. books, comics, films, games)

Actually it probably is worth asking if this kind of thing ever been done well on screen? I'm sure it must've been, but I've struggled to think of any outstanding examples. Corman's "X: The Man With The X-Ray Eyes" is pretty good but only touches on unfathomable horrors beyond human understanding. He also did "The Haunted Palace"(based on The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward) which I've not yet seen. Guillermo Del Toro's take on At The Mountains Of Madness famously never happened, which might've been a blessing although I like his stuff generally.

Pheeel, Tuesday, 29 August 2017 16:12 (two years ago) link

I'm certain that there are earlier threads on this topic. Oh well.

My favorite movies in this vein don't tend to be explicitly Lovecraftian but share a similar 'agency is an illusion and our minds/bodies are nothing more than playthings for forces beyond our understanding' sensibility, e.g. The Tenant and Zulawski's Possession. The fairly recent Starry Eyes functioned along those lines.

Glengarry Glen Marshall (Old Lunch), Tuesday, 29 August 2017 16:24 (two years ago) link

this is a v difficult thing to do on film, by it's nature, but obviously the best realization of this *kind* of cosmic horror is Carpenter's version of the Thing.

Οὖτις, Tuesday, 29 August 2017 16:27 (two years ago) link

Lifeforce is allright, although it gets a ton of shit (also recently discussed on one of the rolling horror threads iirc?)

Οὖτις, Tuesday, 29 August 2017 16:27 (two years ago) link

Del Toro's Hellboy*, too, right down to giant tentacles emerging from the cosmos.

*(I typed "Helloboy" at first and nearly left it.)

Old Lynch's Sex Paragraph (Phil D.), Tuesday, 29 August 2017 16:47 (two years ago) link

The Carpenter movie that plays with these themes most explicitly is "In the Mouth of Madness" ... not as good as "The Thing" but what is

Algernon Blackwood's "The Willows" (1908) was hugely influential on Lovecraft and is cosmic af

Brad C., Tuesday, 29 August 2017 16:54 (two years ago) link

Laird Barron's first couple of collections are excellent. New stuff, not so much. One of the more effective attempts to create a cosmic horror mythos indebted to but distinct from Lovecraft.

Wag1 Shree Rajneesh (ShariVari), Tuesday, 29 August 2017 16:58 (two years ago) link

don't have anything to recommend but fwiw i'd say charles stross is definitely not what you are looking for to satisfactorily scratch this particular itch.

Roberto Spiralli, Tuesday, 29 August 2017 16:59 (two years ago) link

Robert E. Howard probably bares mentioning

Οὖτις, Tuesday, 29 August 2017 17:02 (two years ago) link

bears? whatever. (I have never actually read Howard but he seems to have run with the Lovecraft stuff by all accounts)

Οὖτις, Tuesday, 29 August 2017 17:03 (two years ago) link

Unseaming by Mike Allen may be worth a look as well.

Wag1 Shree Rajneesh (ShariVari), Tuesday, 29 August 2017 17:04 (two years ago) link

There are times when Ligotti is the only writer I want to read. Can't say I've ever found another like him, but then I've never put much effort into looking. I think I like him where he is, in his own proprietary realm in my library. Of course I've read Lovecraft and the others of his "circle," but there's a datedness there that makes any kind of impact essentially nil. Ligotti gave me that bodily unease from the very first moments of reading him. The only other to do that would be Michael Cisco, but his stuff is so bizarre that I don't even know if it qualifies as cosmic horror -- maybe more just "weird fiction" generally.

As for movies, there was a short film adaptation of Ligotti's "The Frolic," and while it wasn't awful, it wasn't great; I don't think I ever watched it a second time, in fact. The movie Session 9 struck me as vaguely Ligottian, maybe because there's never an explanation given as to the source of all the mayhem and madness: ghosts? Mental illness? An inevitable doom in a universe that slants toward carnage? Who knows.

I think the main reason cosmic horror doesn't work on film is that, as the wiki description laid out, the characters are revealed to be meaningless in the grand scheme of things, and cinema purports to demonstrate the opposite of that. I mean, what's the camera gonna pan away to (literally and rhetorically)? Hard to depict a universe at once terrible and transparent. David Lynch probably captures the mood of "basic wrongness" the best, but his stuff is dependent on people and their relationships to one another. I'd love to see him take a crack at a Ligotti story, though.

Devilock, Tuesday, 29 August 2017 17:09 (two years ago) link

I tried Ligotti and he didn't do anything for me. Totally don't get the appeal.

Carpenter's Prince of Darkness is also creepy in this way - Satan as some kind of alien liquid in a jar.

grawlix (unperson), Tuesday, 29 August 2017 18:12 (two years ago) link

Prince of Darkness probably the last good Carpenter movie and yeah it does do this a bit - a little too Christian though, as opposed to Lovecraft's more usual ultra-pagan steez

Οὖτις, Tuesday, 29 August 2017 18:35 (two years ago) link

I'll second Laird Barron, at least for his short stories - really liked Occultation and what I've read of Imago Sequence, need to check out The Beautiful Thing... as well. Wasn't quite sold on The Croning, though, despite some creepy moments.

Stephen King's recent novel Revival was a stab at Lovecraftian horror, though more specifically indebted to Arthur Machen's story The Great God Pan. The ending got a very polarised reaction, personally I loved it.

Duane Barry, Tuesday, 29 August 2017 20:18 (two years ago) link

Clark Ashton Smith!!!!

ian, Tuesday, 29 August 2017 20:37 (two years ago) link

Yeah, Revival was very good.

grawlix (unperson), Tuesday, 29 August 2017 21:23 (two years ago) link

clark ashton smith is excellent and way undersung. lord dunsany, who influenced all the early greats, has some sui generis unique trippy fairy tales totally worth seeking out. this made a huge impact on lovecraft and smith (and tolkien and lewis) ~

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gods_of_Peg%C4%81na

reggie (qualmsley), Tuesday, 29 August 2017 23:14 (two years ago) link

Heavily agreed re Smith's being underrated and Dunsany's truly, as you say, sui generis role. Very much worth having a collection of his stories, it's a hell of a lodestone, the more so because it covers so much different ground.

Ned Raggett, Tuesday, 29 August 2017 23:17 (two years ago) link

lord dunsany, who influenced all the early greats, has some sui generis unique trippy fairy tales totally worth seeking out

i checked out "Gods, Men, and Ghosts" (mostly due to the illustrations by Sidney Sime) and its a really nice read. not sure how "cosmic horror" it is as it mostly seemed like slightly new spins on traditional fantasy and folk tales.

feel like a lot of this subgenre was paperback parodies of Orientalism. "The Secret Doctrine" at least attempts to synthesize a lot of age old mysticism. a friend got me the "Necronomicon" once and it felt like an art project with no substance, rooted in western materialism/philosophy while doing Occult Drag. the "cosmic horror" element never amounted to much for me aside from maybe a reaction against Determinism.

AdamVania (Adam Bruneau), Tuesday, 29 August 2017 23:56 (two years ago) link

? Necronomicon is not a real book.

Οὖτις, Wednesday, 30 August 2017 00:04 (two years ago) link

I mean, first it was a fictional book and then various hacks published actual books w that title to capitalize on it but of course they are garbage

Οὖτις, Wednesday, 30 August 2017 00:05 (two years ago) link

Insanely fiddly rpg/boardgame hybrid Manions of Madness does a very good job of capturing the Lovecraft vibe, for all its flaws (which the 2nd edition apparently rectifies somewhat).

chap, Wednesday, 30 August 2017 11:19 (two years ago) link

shout-out to The King in Yellow, well used in True Detective

André Ryu (Neil S), Wednesday, 30 August 2017 11:26 (two years ago) link

Does 2001 have a place here

passé aggresif (darraghmac), Wednesday, 30 August 2017 12:05 (two years ago) link

not sure how "cosmic horror" it is

lovecraft's elder god names / pantheon are the interpol to lord dunsany's mythic nomenclature's joy division imho

reggie (qualmsley), Wednesday, 30 August 2017 12:19 (two years ago) link

William Hope Hodgson's The House on the Borderland is batshit and fantastic

i know kore-eda (or something), Wednesday, 30 August 2017 12:27 (two years ago) link

Dunsany views man's insignificance in the grand scheme as a somewhat benign thing, imo; cf that awesome story that begins with the narrator being buried alive for some unnamed crime and then kept alive through decades as the world changes. Sounds grim as fuck written down like that but the story is actually kinda peaceful, reveling in the glory of nature that outlives us all. Lovecraft saw no beauty there.

I mean, what's the camera gonna pan away to (literally and rhetorically)?

Theoretically at least, I reckogn a lot of German expressionism was about highlighting man's insignificance, not in the face of cosmic horror but of authority/bureaucracy, but the visual shorthands they came up with for that could still be applied?

Daniel_Rf, Wednesday, 30 August 2017 13:40 (two years ago) link

I feel like sound design has often been the way to do this? Even just with something highly spiritual like Kiarostami, where off-screen voices abound, to Son of Saul that deliberately keeps the most horrific thing (the gas chamber) heard but unseen. A cosmic horror film would work with sound as much as image. And coincidentally, Twin Peaks The Return does this a lot :)

Frederik B, Wednesday, 30 August 2017 13:46 (two years ago) link

i dont really think David Lynch is a good fit, he is too spiritual, too optimistic. he may play with horror but there is clearly an underlying order to things.

AdamVania (Adam Bruneau), Wednesday, 30 August 2017 13:55 (two years ago) link

just never found "it turns people insane" to be all that interesting a concept in and of itself. people go insane over money, jealousy, etc. people go insane from their brains failing in the natural course of time.

AdamVania (Adam Bruneau), Wednesday, 30 August 2017 13:58 (two years ago) link

I mean, there's a couple of things. One is cosmic horror as a philosophy. No, Lynch probably doesn't fit. But if we're talking a possible cosmic horror visual aesthetic, I would say you should learn from Kiarostami and Lynch, rather than Carpenter. Even though Carpenter, philosophically, might be closer to cosmic.

Frederik B, Wednesday, 30 August 2017 14:06 (two years ago) link

XXP don't think that holds up at all tbh, at best there's a layer of order laid over things

passé aggresif (darraghmac), Wednesday, 30 August 2017 14:08 (two years ago) link

anyone else read adam roberts' the thing itself? touches on lovecraftian cosmic horror pretty cleverly by tying in kant, artificial intelligence and the thing - i liked it quite a bit

frankfurters take on new glamour in this gleaming aspic (bizarro gazzara), Wednesday, 30 August 2017 14:37 (two years ago) link

Does 2001 have a place here

i don't think so - while the motives of the aliens behind the monoliths aren't expressed directly they seem pretty keen to help bowman have a good death and then return to earth to move evolution forward for the second time, which suggests a level of care that cthulhu is just not into

frankfurters take on new glamour in this gleaming aspic (bizarro gazzara), Wednesday, 30 August 2017 14:39 (two years ago) link

which is not to suggest that 2001 isn't scary, cuz i find it genuinely unsettling

frankfurters take on new glamour in this gleaming aspic (bizarro gazzara), Wednesday, 30 August 2017 14:40 (two years ago) link

shout-out to The King in Yellow, well used in True Detective

this book is great but I ended up resenting how it got dropped into TD tbh

Οὖτις, Wednesday, 30 August 2017 16:06 (two years ago) link

One detail missing from the Brian Aldiss obituaries was that he coined the term "Shaggy God Stories"
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaggy_God_story

Elvis Telecom, Wednesday, 30 August 2017 23:20 (two years ago) link

Event Horizon i think fits in here, insofar as films go. whether or not you find it successful or even not-terrible (i think it's pretty solid) is another matter.

nomar, Wednesday, 30 August 2017 23:25 (two years ago) link

event horizon is such a frustrating missed opportunity - that cast and production design with a better script and director could have been great

frankfurters take on new glamour in this gleaming aspic (bizarro gazzara), Wednesday, 30 August 2017 23:29 (two years ago) link

David Lynch probably captures the mood of "basic wrongness" the best, but his stuff is dependent on people and their relationships to one another. I'd love to see him take a crack at a Ligotti story, though.

― Devilock, Tuesday, 29 August 2017 18:09

Lynch optioned an adaptation of "Last Feast Of The Harlequin" but I think he would have just been the producer if it had gone ahead.

Robert Adam Gilmour, Thursday, 31 August 2017 01:02 (two years ago) link

Have no idea how you'd create a satisfying Lynch tribute anthology but I'd like to try this book, but I don't have high hopes
http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/8190Uq0CTJL.jpg

Music on the other hand would be quite doable.

Robert Adam Gilmour, Thursday, 31 August 2017 17:58 (two years ago) link

Anyone else spot Lovecraft's Supernatural Horror In Literature in Nanjiani's book pile in The Big Sick? It's the most important piece ever written about horror stories.

Robert Adam Gilmour, Thursday, 31 August 2017 18:29 (two years ago) link

four months pass...

Just realizes H.P. Lovecraft's "Nemesis" has the same meter as Billy Joel's "Piano Man." pic.twitter.com/Oty5JxoHWW

— Captain Video (@OurWorldcomic) January 14, 2018

https://m.soundcloud.com/julianvelard/hp-joelcraft

Robert Adam Gilmour, Friday, 19 January 2018 14:27 (one year ago) link

one year passes...

Revive as I've recently started listening to the great Weird Studies podcast, which takes a completely serious analytical approach to aspects of "the weird" in popular culture(topics including Twin Peaks, Philip K Dick, Robert Aickman, Under The Skin, Shirley Jackson etc). It can get a bit heavy into the philosophical side but it's always interesting.

https://www.weirdstudies.com/

The episode on Crowley and magick is a bit of a headspinner, in which both hosts basically conclude "Yeah, it shouldn't work but it completely does."

Brainless Addlepated Timid Muddleheaded Awful No-Account (Pheeel), Sunday, 14 April 2019 10:01 (seven months ago) link


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