Murder ballads have always been a thing. We’ve always been obsessed by the monsters that walk among us, not long in tooth and claw like the beasts in a fairy tale, but all the more terrifying. Because they are real, and they exist, and any of us could be their victims. Is it any surprise that these beasts would inspire stories? Movies? And yes, songs? Here are some of the best murder ballads about serial killers.
John Wayne Gacy by Sufjan Stevens
It’s weird to say you have a “favorite” serial killer, but Gacy is mine. It’s the clown thing, which is so insanely creepy as to defy being real.
Possum Kingdom by The Toadies
You may not know this is a song about a serial killer, but it is. Listen to the lyrics.
Black River Killer by Blitzen Trapper
A murder ballad in the old school style, Black River Killer tells quite the tale.
What’s He Building by Tom Waits
This song is not actually about a serial killer…or is it? The paranoia of the narrator is creepy enough, but maybe not as creepy as the goings on of the person he is watching.
Children are impressionable. I say this not as a father but as a human being. The older I get, the more I realize just how impressionable they are. The nature vs nurture debate is eternal, but one thing of which I am sure is this–the horror that I watched and read as a child shaped me, more than I could have ever imagined.
I find myself, to this day, thinking of certain of these experiences. There was R.L. Stein, that most prolific of horror authors for children and pre-teens. Goosebumps made him famous, but it was Fear Street that I walked down. The stories followed a fairly predictable pattern, and it was never difficult to figure out who the killer was. But to these young eyes, every book was wonderful, and I couldn’t wait to pick up the next one at Wal-Mart. I probably read every single one of them before I was finished.
There was “The Raft,” the second story on the second Creepshow. Some college kids head out to a nondescript lake to go for a late summer swim. They get to the raft in the middle just ahead of what looks like an oil-slick floating across the water. But they learn soon it’s so much more than that, and they may not escape with their lives.
There was “Where the Summer Ends,” a short story by Karl Edward Wagner that I read in a book called Nightmares in Dixie. I’d picked it up in my elementary school library. Pretty sure the librarians had never read that one, cause if they had, it wouldn’t have stayed on the shelves. The story was about the things that live in kudzu, the ubiquitous plant that seems to cover half of the south. It borrowed into my mind like crawling vines, and it never let go. For decades, I thought about that story, never knowing who had written it, until I came upon it for a panel I was preparing for at a horror conference. It felt like coming home.
I wonder sometimes whether revisiting these childhood memories would be a mistake. I’m sure the Fear Street books no longer hang together. The acting and special effects in “The Raft” are probably terrible. The It miniseries that shocked me as a child would probably bore me now. (Though “Where the Summer Ends” is as good as ever).
But that’s not what matters. What matters is the impression they left, and the gift that they gave, a gift that has lasted a lifetime.
The lesson? Share your love of horror with your children. You never know what may start from small beginnings.
As I explained earlier in the month, I just had a baby. And that’s got me thinking more about horror books written specifically for children. And being a horror author, I’ve received quite a few as gifts in recent days. Here are three I recommend, particularly to anyone looking to raise a little Lovecraftian.
One of the first things you teach your children is their ABCs, but what if your kids can’t tell the difference between C and Z? Then C is for Cthulhu is for you. Written by Jason Ciaramella with beautiful illustrations by Greg Murphy, this book will be a hit in any household.
“Dagon” was the first story by Lovecraft I ever read. If I’d had this book when I was a kid, it could have been the first story of any kind I ever read. Illustrated and told in a style reminiscent of Dr. Seuss, Dagon is a great way to introduce your kids to the cosmic horror of H.P. Lovecraft.
Without question, the very best of these Lovecraftian kids books is Ivankovic’s treatment of “The Call of Cthulhu.” Also done in a Seussian style, Ivankovic manages to capture the original feeling of dread that pervades Lovecraft’s work–all in a sing-song rhyme and with child-friendly illustrations. A can’t miss.
Few genres call for the audience to suspend its disbelief more often than horror. Some of this is understandable–we’re dealing with the supernatural, after all. But some of them are just lazy, and they happen so often that they’ve become standard fare in horror parody’s. The car that won’t start, the heroine who runs up the stairs instead of out the front door, the amorous couple who insists on getting frisky in the abandoned field/house/road/cemetery/amusement park/slaughterhouse…you get the picture.
Here are three of my personal horror pet peeves. Let me know yours in the comments.
The people who refuse to react properly to a paranormal event.
This one happens all the time. Something really crazy weird happens, the scene or chapter ends, and then the next chapter opens with the characters just going on about their business. Maybe they mention it in passing, maybe they talk about that really weird thing that happened, but they never react the way normal people would. Take any haunted house movie. How many of you would stay after even one of the creepy things in Insidiousor Sinisteror The Conjuring? Some ghost lures me into the basement and claps next to my head, I’m out, and I don’t care if I have to declare bankruptcy and live in my parents’ house for the rest of my life. A close corollary to this is the people who don’t call the police when they obviously should.
2. The people in a zombie movie that don’t kill every zombie they see.
You’re living in a zombie infested wasteland. There’s not going to be a cure, but you’ve got a pretty good setup in the local prison. But for some reason, you don’t kill the zombies gathered at the fence. You don’t kill the random zombies you see wondering down the roads when you go out on a run. You just leave them. Cause…why? This thing ain’t ending. So why not kill every single zombie you see? It might take a while, but eventually you and your group are going to at least thin out the herd a little bit. And hey, every zombie you kill is one less zombie that might kill you. So get to killing zombies. If we can wipe out the wolf and the buffalo, we can wipe out the undead.
3. The people who never listen to their significant others.
Don’t know why, but this one I especially hate. I read a book once where a husband and wife moved into a haunted house. Each chapter was told from one of their perspectives. Crazy things were happening to both of them. They didn’t tell each other at first (which also annoys me), but worse than that, when one would open up about some strange thing that was happening, the other would act like they must be going crazy. This happened again and again and again until finally I got so sick of it I stopped reading. You can make this trope work–if it’s only one of them hearing noises or seeing ghosts and that one happened to have had some mental breakdown in the past. But otherwise, spare me.
What would you do to have one last moment with the ones you love and have lost? What would you give up? Would you risk your life? Would you risk your soul? That’s the question at the heart of A Dark Song.
A Dark Song investigates a paranormal subject that has always interested me but I’ve never seen a movie tackle—just how dang hard it is to pull off a magical ritual. Forget what you’ve seen in the films, the ancient mystics made it more or less impossible to actually complete one of these things. The Grand Grimoire, written by Satan himself some say, contains a ritual that takes some six to eighteen months and involves privations that would make a masochist blush. If you ever wondered why more people aren’t walking around casting spells—other than the, you know, fact magic isn’t real—the difficulty involved is a place to start.
Why am I mentioning all this? Because that’s the bulk of A Dark Song. A women rents a house in the wilds of Wales so that she can lock herself inside with her mystical guide and embark on a quest to complete a magical rite–this one contained in the real grimoire The Book of Abramelin. It will take months, and during that time they will be stuck together. You can imagine how well that’s going to go. The ritual may or may not be working, but will they kill each other before we find out?
I very much enjoyed this movie, more so than I think most people would. (Hat tip to the names of our two main characters, Solomon and Sophia, both of which have esoteric significance.). It’s the definition of slow horror. Towards the end, it goes a little wacky in a Silent Hill kind of way, but that doesn’t take away too much from the rest of the film. I’ll give this movie Four Stars, well aware that many of you will find that rating inflated. But if you’ve ever wondered what this sort of ritual involves, this movie is for you.
There are few movies that have had more of a obvious impact on the horror genre than TheBlair Witch Project. After its release, found footage became so prevalent as to be cliche, and there was a disco-level backlash against it in the years that followed. But it’s still around, and while big budget horror has gone back to a more traditional format, independent horror continues to rely heavily on the technique. So we come to 1st Summoning.
1st Summoning follows the Blair Witch setup all most too closely. Four amateur filmmakers strike off to a small town in the mountains of Arkansas to investigate a local legend. The story goes that an abandoned warehouse is the site of occult practices going back decades. But as they investigate, they discover that there may be more to the legend than they first believed, and that all of their immortal souls are in danger.
The Blair Witch comparisons are impossible to ignore in this movie. Whether it’s traipsing through the woods, discovering occult items that shouldn’t be there, or just filming when no one else would film, 1st Summoning hasn’t strayed far from the formula. But the movie also suffers from the comparison. The acting is not as good, and at times it’s downright bad. The sound is terrible. Often it’s impossible to make out what anyone is saying. Not that you always want to. The dialogue often feels false and forced. Whereas Blair Witch relied on spontaneous, natural dialogue to advance what was a bare-bones plot, 1st Summoning has a much more complicated story to tell. And in doing so, it overreaches.
Which is not to say that the movie has no redeeming qualities. It has some legitimately creepy moments. When one of our filmmakers investigates a church at night, the tension is real. Right up to the point where it takes it one step too far.
1st Summoning is not a bad movie if you’re looking for something to watch on a October evening. Just don’t expect too much you haven’t seen before, and seen done better.
I have a confession to make—Dawn of the Dead (2004) is one of my favorite horror movies. Seriously, I must have seen it a hundred times. I own the extended DVD version. Every zombie movie has that sequence where the rising begins, but no movie has done it better than Dawn of the Dead. I believe the first 20 or so minutes are the finest example of zombie horror ever put to celluloid. And yes, I like it better than the original.
That’s blasphemy to come folks, and I get it. One of my other favorite horror movies is the original A Nightmare on Elm Street. I saw the remake. It did a few things well—the microsleep bits were neat. But the rest of it was terrible. The makeup, while more realistic, lost so much in the translation. The acting was wooden, the is-he-really-bad element, silly.
But here’s the thing (and this is where I’m going with all this), a bad remake doesn’t cheapen the original. In fact, if anything, it makes one appreciate all the things the original did right. And a good remake can become a classic film in its own right.
And that’s why I find it impossible to get upset with the remake bonanza that we see going on in Hollywood these days. Do I wish studios would put more money behind daring, innovative, and original productions (hello At the Mountains of Madness)? Sure. I’d also like to be on the New York Times bestseller list, but that ain’t happening anytime soon either. So when I hear that they are remaking a classic like Suspiria, I get excited, even if the final product doesn’t necessarily live up to the original.
I guess I’m saying give remakes a chance. And to get you started, here are a few of my favorites.
Horror rarely plays it straight. Few genres lend themselves to allegory, to hidden meanings, to twists than horror. But sometimes, hidden meanings are unintentional, and if we are so inclined, we can see our favorite stories in a new way entirely. Consider the following.
The Haunting of Hill House (Netflix) is really about mold toxicity.
Netflix’s excellent The Haunting of Hill House is easily one of the best things to happen to horror in the last decade. Brilliantly acted, exquisitely shot, beautifully written, there’s little that matches it in horror on the screen today. But what if Hill House isn’t haunted at all? At least, by nothing unnatural? It’s right in front of our face.
Just look at the walls of the Red Room. They are covered in toxic black mold. And don’t take my word for it–removing the mold is a key plot point of episode 7.
Now here’s the thing about mold; sure it can kill you, but it can drive you crazy, too. What are some of the symptoms? Confusion, difficulty concentrating, disorientation, memory loss, mood swings, irritability, aggression, and yes, hallucinations. In other words, every single thing we see during the series. And the longer you stay in it, the worse it gets. It’s not as sexy as a house that devours souls, but still pretty terrifying if you think about it.
Nancy in A Nightmare on Elm Street has suffered a psychotic break.
I’m on record for my love of A Nightmare on Elm Street, but what if the whole thing is in Nancy’s head?
A Nightmare on Elm Street leaves something to be desired when explaining what’s going on. Why is this happening now? What gives Freddy the power to enter people’s dreams? And why just Nancy’s friends? Weren’t there other people involved in Freddy’s murder?
None of this hurts the movie, and if anything, too many people feel the need these days to explain every little thing that’s going on in their movies, books, or whatnot. But it does open up some possibilities.
Given what we know, there’s really only one thing that makes sense–this is all part of Nancy’s psychotic breakdown. She’s in a padded room somewhere, experiencing a megalomaniacal fantasy, one where a boogeyman from the neighborhood–legends of which we know are whispered by little girls playing jump rope–has come back to target her and her friends. But only she can overcome him. Only she can defeat him. She is the hero of her own story.
A Head Full of Ghosts is about an actual possession.
The last couple posts have been about debunking the horror of the story, but with A Head Full of Ghosts, we have a chance to do the opposite.
What if Marjorie really was possessed, and what if that possession passed on to Merry when she died? What if everything Merry has told us in the book, at least everything that happened after the spirit was driven from Marjorie, is a lie? After all, it gets awfully cold in that coffee shop there at the end. Could that be the demon, stealing the energy from the room, and inadvertently revealing itself?
Of all the classic horror monsters, I’ve got to think that vampires are the most popular. They’re sexy, they live for ever, they sparkle in the sunlight, what more could you want, right? So maybe it’s not surprising that they have inspired a number of popular songs. Here are some of the best.
“If We Were Vampires” by Jason Isbell
Jason Isbell is the greatest working song smith today not named Bob Dylan, and it’s little surprise that he’d take the notion of vampires and turn it into a ballad that can strike you at the core of your being. Lots of people write great songs about falling in love, but great songs about what it’s like to be in a relationship with the love of your life are few and far between.
“Fresh Blood” by Eels
Less romantic but more traditionally vampiric, “Fresh Blood” is one of those songs that will have you howling at the moon. Wait…
Bela Lugosi’s Dead by Bauhaus
If you don’t know Bauhaus, you are missing out. Now’s your chance to get to know them.
If you love horror and you came of age in the 90s, there’s little doubt that you felt the influence of TNT’s Monstervision. It was a different time back then. If you wanted to watch a movie, you had to go to Blockbuster, and heaven forbid if you were late returning the VHS tape or if you didn’t rewind it. The selection was small. You couldn’t watch anything you wanted at any time. And if you had a question about a movie, good luck getting it answered. I know, the dark ages.
Monstervision was a revelation. Here was a show often highlighting classic B-horror movies we’d never even heard of, much less seen. And to top it off, we had Joe Bob Briggs who would appear during breaks in the middle of the movie to explain what was going on and maybe share some trivia. I can honestly say that my love of “bad” horror began with Monstervision and never let up.
With the end of the 90s came the end of Monstervision, but people didn’t forget. And when Shudder announced a Joe Bob Briggs horror marathon called the Last Drive-in, I am sure even they were surprised at the response. What was supposed to be a special became a series, with Season 3 due to premier next year. But for those of you who somehow missed out on this cultural phenomenon, what better time to catch up?
The films run the gamut from the almost unwatchable but bizarrely classic Bloodsucking Freaks to the new-classic A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. And all of them come with Joe Bob’s unique blend of comedy, criticism, and trivia.
Whether you’ve never heard of Joe Bob or you’ve seen everything he’s done, this show alone is reason enough to subscribe to Shudder. Brett says check it out.
As the big day approaches there are some of you–yeah, I’m looking at you–who still haven’t done anything to celebrate. And while it’s still possible for you to catch a movie or two, time is running short for any literary outings. But fear not! Well, do fear, but only in the Halloween way. I digress. Some of the best horror fiction comes in the short story form. Here are five short stories that are guaranteed to satisfy your need for some thrills and chills this season.
Mourning House by Ronald Malfi: Yeah, yeah, I know, I know. I talk about this one all the time. But I can’t help it. I love it. A haunted house story to reinvigorate haunted house stories, Malfi is a master and this is a wonderful introduction to his work. Hard to find these days, but do whatever it takes to track it down.
The Wendigo by Algernon Blackwood: A true classic, I was shamefully unaware of this story until very recently, and I put it on the top of my Halloween reading list a few years ago. Magic, unnerving, spooky, “The Wendigo” holds up amazingly well despite being over a hundred years old. Available for free at the link above, I would advise buying the audiobook narrated by Felbrigg Napoleon Herriot. And yes, it’s every bit as good as that name would suggest. Listen to it, and then you too can say that you have seen the Wendigo.
The Statement of Randolph Carter by H.P. Lovecraft: I could have put a dozen or more of Lovecraft’s stories in this space, but I wanted to share with you the one that first hooked me on his writing, and my sentimental favorite of his ever since. There is a purity to this story–of horror, of plot, of the final haunting words–that make it one of Lovecraft’s most evocative stories. Check it out, and then let me know your favorite.
The Yellow Sign by Robert W. Chambers: The story that, as part of a quartet of works mentioning that enigmatic work, The King in Yellow, introduced us all to a world of madness and insanity that continues to inspire artists of every stripe. Read it, but beware the yellow sign!
And a bonus: Nine Yards of Other Cloth by Manly Wade Wellman: The best story by a legend of horror that few know, this story is as melodic as a song and as haunting as the voice of a long lost lover. It introduced me to John the Balladeer and Wellman. Now it’s your turn.
A great first line can make a book, and the inability to come up with one has stopped more than a few writers from every getting on with the rest of the story. Here, I present to you some of my favorites (and some of them are more like first paragraphs). Leave yours in the comments.
So intent was Frank upon solving the puzzle of Lemarchand’s box that he didn’t hear the great bell begin to ring. — The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker
The tower, which was not supposed to be there, plunges into the earth in a place just before the black pine forest begins to give way to swamp and then the reeds and wind-gnarled trees of the marsh flats. — Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer
Solving the following riddle will reveal the awful secret behind the universe, assuming you do not go utterly mad in the attempt. If you already happen to know the awful secret behind the universe, feel free to skip ahead. — John Dies at the End by David Wong.
On those cloudy days, Robert Neville was never sure when sunset came, and sometimes they were in the streets before he could get back. — I am Legend by Richard Matheson
Don’t call me Abraham: call me Abe. — The Fisherman by John Langan
Nobody was really surprised when it happened, not really, not at the subconscious level where savage things grow. — Carrie by Stephen King
Searchers after horror haunt strange, far places. For them are the catacombs of Ptolemais, and the carven mausolea of the nightmare countries. They climb to the moonlit towers of ruined Rhine castles, and falter down black cobwebbed steps beneath the scattered stones of forgotten cities in Asia. The haunted wood and the desolate mountain are their shrines, and they linger around the sinister monoliths on uninhabited islands. But the true epicure in the terrible, to whom a new thrill of unutterable ghastliness is the chief end and justification of existence, esteems most of all the ancient, lonely farmhouses of backwoods New England; for there the dark elements of strength, solitude, grotesqueness, and ignorance combine to form the perfection of the hideous. — The Picture in the House by H.P. Lovecraft
A considerable number of hunting parties were out that year without finding so much as a fresh trail; for the moose were uncommonly shy, and the various Nimrods returned to the bosoms of their respective families with the best excuses the facts of their imaginations could suggest. — The Wendigoby Algernon Blackwood
You could argue–as I have more than enough times, as part of my Film History lecture–that, no matter its actual narrative content, every movie is a ghost story. — Experimental Film by Gemma Files
No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone. — The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Lovecraft has inspired artists for generations, but he’s yet to inspire any truly great films. Well, that’s not entirely true. Sure, there are no big budget blockbusters dedicated to Cthulhu, but if you know where to look, there are some real gems. Here, I’ve brought together four you may or may not have heard of.
OK, you almost certainly have heard about this one. Stuart Gordon’s Reanimator remains the best known, most beloved of the movies inspired by the old gentleman of Providence. More funny than it is scary and with iconic performances by Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton, if you haven’t seen it, what are you waiting on?
The Call of Cthulhu
It’s crazy to think that the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society started off because some guys who loved Lovecraft got together on a whim and started acting out his stories. One of their first great productions was a 1920s style silent version of Lovecraft’s most famous work, and it is great. Even if Hollywood did try, the probably wouldn’t make a better version of Call than this.
The Whisperer in Darkness
The HPLHS didn’t rest on their laurels, though. They continue to churn out high quality products inspired by Lovecraft at a dizzying pace. From radio programs to rock operas to underwear, they have it all. But The Whisperer in Darkness is one of their best. This time, the company went with a full-length feature film. Black and white and set in the thirties, the movie is faithful to the original story and well worth the watch.
Dreams in the Witch House
A few years ago, Showtime gathered some of the greatest horror directors of all time and gave them an hour to do whatever they wanted. The result were some of the greatest short(ish) horror films ever made. John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns and the incomparable Takashi Miike’s Imprint–so disturbing Showtime wouldn’t even run it–were my favorites. But one of the best films was done by Stuart Gordon–Dreams in the Witch House. Witch House is not the best of Lovecraft’s work, but the film version changed my perspective on the underappreciated story. Now, it’s nothing compared to the epic rock opera put out by HPLHS, but it’s a good place to start.
The following was first published in Dark Discoveries magazine.
Let’s set the scene. Archaeologists, stumbling through an unknown jungle, come upon a lost city of great antiquity. It’s complexity and size seems beyond the capability of the local peoples, and carved into its sides are ancient glyphs. Their meaning cannot be precisely discerned, but they seem to hint at gods who descended from the stars and built the city. Not only that, but they left a promise to return one day, when the time is right.
Now the question: H.P. Lovecraft story? Or an episode of the History Channel’s hit show, Ancient Aliens? Not an easy question, is it?
If you’re not sure of the answer, don’t feel too bad. The similarities between the Cthulhu mythos and the Ancient Astronaut Theory are so strong as to defy mere coincidence.
That’s the position taken at least by Jason Colavito in his scholarly work, The Cult of Alien Gods: H.P. Lovecraft and Extraterrestrial Pop Culture. Colavito offers an engrossing, if thoroughly skeptical, history of what has come to be known as the Ancient Alien or Ancient Astronaut Theory. For those unfamiliar with the cable program and the works of theorists like Erich Anton Paul von Däniken and Zecharia Sitchin, the Ancient Alien Theory posits that deep in the shrouded mist of our planet’s distant past, Earth was visited by extraterrestrials. The details can vary depending on who’s telling the story, but these ETs played a significant role in mankind’s development. Some adherents claim that human beings are a creation of an advanced race whose mastery of genetic engineering allowed them to create homo sapiens out of some lower form of life. Essentially, it’s Intelligent Design with aliens instead of God, or the plot of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
That’s the most extreme view. The slightly less all-encompassing—but still pretty extreme in of itself—tack is that these creatures found primitive man at some very early stage of civilization. Following the maxim that any sufficiently advanced technology appears to be magic, these primitive peoples took alien visitors for gods, basing all of the world’s mythologies on their visitations. As a corollary, the aliens acted in the role of Prometheus, giving unto early man knowledge that should have taken centuries or even thousands of years to develop. In this way, aliens were directly responsible for the construction of many of the world’s wonders. And when they left, they promised that one day they would return.
That’s the Ancient Alien Theory in a nutshell, and Colavito’s recitation of it adds little to what we already know. But Colavito goes well beyond simply describing the views of others. Instead, he digs beneath those views to find their underpinnings, developing a fascinating theory of his own, particularly for any fan of weird fiction. The Ancient Alien Theory isn’t grounded in archaeological anomalies or seemingly impossible cities or monuments. For Colavito, the entire Ancient Alien craze has none other than H.P. Lovecraft to thank for its creation.
I’ll let you read Colavito’s book and examine the evidence, but I’ll tell you that it is quite convincing. Nevertheless, his is a bold claim, and an ironic one, too. Lovecraft was, if nothing else, a dedicated materialist and rationalist. The kind of pseudoscience that the Ancient Alien Theory relies on would have struck him as nothing less than silly. Mystical dream quests, ancient beings from the stars, and tomes of magical incantations were useful plot devices for fiction, but to believe they could be real? Not Lovecraft.
But while Lovecraft might have scoffed at the claims of Giorgio Tsoukalos, were he alive today, we can be sure that they would find their way into his fiction. Whatever the truth of Colavito’s thesis and whatever one believes about the truth or absurdity of the Ancient Alien Theory, there can be little doubt that Lovecraft and weird fiction in general have long capitalized on the notion that there is something beyond our world and that at some point we have been visited by creatures from beyond the stars. One of the most famous passages from Lovecraft’s seminal “The Call of Cthulhu” so perfectly encapsulates the Ancient Astronaut Theory that it is little wonder Colavito and others trace that theory back to Lovecraft.
Old Castro remembered bits of hideous legend that paled the speculations of theosophists and made man and the world seem recent and transient indeed. There had been aeons when other Things ruled on the earth, and They had had great cities. Remains of Them, he said the deathless Chinamen had told him, were still to be found as Cyclopean stones on islands in the Pacific. They all died vast epochs of time before men came, but there were arts which could revive Them when the stars had come round again to the right positions in the cycle of eternity. They had, indeed, come themselves from the stars, and brought Their images with Them.
Lovecraft goes on to speak of great Cthulhu himself, explaining that he had also come from the stars, to rule the earth. But at some point in the distant past, things went wrong. Lovecraft never explains how or why the Great Old Ones lost dominion over the earth, but lose it they did. Locked in the dark places of this world, on the highest mountains and in the deepest canyons, or simply far beneath the waves, they await the moment of their return.
This is the central idea at the heart of all of Lovecraft’s best and most sophisticated stories. Not only ancient visits, but something left behind. Something that could invade the dreams of men, that defied the settled expectations of life, the truth of which would drive men mad were it known. He revisits this motif again and again, from “The Nameless City” to “The Shadow out of Time.” Something has been here before. And always the promise of return.
The casual observer might think that it is on this point of “return” where Lovecraft and the Ancient Alien Theorists would go their separate ways. After all, the former believe extraterrestrials to be benevolent beings, while the Great Old Ones of Lovecraft care nothing for mankind and will likely wipe us from the face of the earth as an afterthought. This view is widely accepted dogma by Lovecraft aficionados, but interestingly, that’s not exactly how Lovecraft paints it. In “The Call of Cthulhu,” he writes of the Great Old Ones return,
That cult would never die till the stars came right again, and the secret priests would take great Cthulhu from His tomb to revive His subjects and resume His rule of earth. The time would be easy to know, for then mankind would have become as the Great Old Ones; free and wild and beyond good and evil, with laws and morals thrown aside and all men shouting and killing and reveling in joy. Then the liberated Old Ones would teach them new ways to shout and kill and revel and enjoy themselves, and all the earth would flame with a holocaust of ecstasy and freedom. Meanwhile the cult, by appropriate rites, must keep alive the memory of those ancient ways and shadow forth the prophecy of their return.
That’s actually not all that different from what Ancient Alien Theorists claim will happen when the extraterrestrials return. It’s darker and more violent—Lovecraft was a horror writer after all—but let’s break down the basic components. The ETs won’t return until mankind becomes like them, perhaps achieving a technological level where they would be viewed as simply more advanced rather than gods. They will then teach mankind new things that heretofore could not have been imagined, ushering in a new age.
Call it fact or accept it as fiction, but it’s hard not to see the connections. And one wonders why mankind is so drawn to this notion of an outside power, meddling in our affairs, bringing us towards the light, or threatening our destruction.
Maybe Lovecraft was more right than he ever could have known.
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times–we are living in the golden age of horror. And as we leave the teens behind and enter the 20s (yeah, it’s weird that decades start on the 1), what better time than now to take a look back on five of the very best movies of the 2010s.
In no particular order…
It Follows (2014)
Horror movies have often had something to say about our society’s sexual mores, but its rare to have a full on allegory for sexually transmitted disease. But that’s what we get in It Follows. Though it’s far more compelling than I just made it sound, promise.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
It’s likely you’ve never heard of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. It’s time to remedy that. The only movie on this list you’ll have to read to watch, Girl tells the story of an Iranian vampire trying to make it in the modern world. Every scene is brilliant and beautiful all at once.
The Babadook (2014)
What can I say? 2014 was a good year. Now that I have a child of my own, the true horror of The Babadookhits me with its full force. The movie is frightening, regardless of your place in life, with the kind of rising, creeping horror that I’ve always loved. But the true horror is in raising your kids, in seeing your own youth fade away, in hoping that you are doing right by them, and feeling every day that you are failing. Bleak man, I know.
The Cabin in the Woods (2011)
When you go meta, you never know if it’s going to work out. Loving references and homages can slip into parody in an unskilled hand, but there’s nothing to worry about here. Cabin in the Woodsis a near perfect movie, with innumerable references to classic horror. It never drifts into parody, and it is always loving in its treatment of the genre. Is it a little bleak? Yes, yes it it. Do we end up rooting for the world to end? Yes, yes we do. But 2011 was a dark time. Fortunately, everything is better now.
Get Out (2017)
I say no particular order, but Get Outmay be my favorite movie of the last ten years. The best horror films often have a message, and Get Out is no different, skewering race relations in America in a way that will make you squirm, no matter what your political persuasion. But this is not a movie that preaches at you while you roll your eyes and wait for something horrific to happen. Get Out is creepy from the word go, and it never lets up. Not just one of the best horror movies of the decade. One of the best horror movies ever made.
The eternal fight between vampires and werewolves, played out across bad movies, tween books, and graphic novels. We had a day dedicated to the best songs about vampires. Now let’s hear it for the werewolves.
A Girl, a Boy, and a Graveyard by Jeremy Messersmith
I’m probably cheating a little bit here, as “A Girl, a Boy, and a Graveyard” isn’t really about werewolves, but the video is. And it’s a great song anyway, so check it out.
Wolf Like Me by TV on the Radio/Lera Lynn
More on point is “Wolf Like Me.” Not only is the song about werewolves, the video is a veritable short film on the subject. And also a bonus video of the cover by Lera Lynn. Less creepy but way more sexy, it’s like listening to a completely different song.
Little Red Riding Hood by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs
Not as obviously about werewolves, but a talking wolf that eats little girls in red coats? Sounds like one to me.