Tag Archives: gothic horror

Cthulhu Who?

Last Friday I went to Cthulhupalooza, thinking, why not? Let’s try something new. Although I know of Cthulhu I can’t say I’m on intimate terms with it…him. But what, you’re asking, what the heck is a Cthulhu? Pronunciations differ but “kathooloo” is the most common. “He” is an Elder God or perhaps a Great Old One and is the creation of H.P. Lovecraft who was writing at the advent of the fantasy/horror genres.

Lovecraft doesn’t seem to have been a particularly healthy person and his parents were both committed for different forms of madness, brought on by a syphilitic disease in at least his father. Lovecraft wrote in the same style as his predecessors of the gothic age, Mary Shelley, and especially Edgar Allan Poe who was a strong influence on his writing. Cthulhu was created in the 1920s and though one of many “unspeakable horrors” has gained much fame and cult following after the fact. Cthulhu is often portrayed as greenish, with tentacles dangling from its mouth, great batlike wings at its back and talons gracing its hands. He is a god so alien that humans barely matter and Lovecraft’s writing is rife with the insignificance of the mere human mortal in the great scheme of things.

I don’t know if I’ve ever managed to read a complete Lovecraft story. Even for his time he wrote in an archaic style and I’ve found it very hard to drag myself through the prose. But…being a writer of science fiction and fantasy I know of the mythos and I know of the beast. Many of the stories describe the indescribable horrors in long melodramatic, as only gothic can be, prose. Often the writer has read an ancient book, maybe in Sumerian and the horrid tales work an insidious change and captivation on the mind.

So, when I was invited to Cthulhupalooza II on Facebook I decided what the heck. There were to be short films, a couple of bands, a few tables of geek paraphernalia and a burlesque act, Little Miss Risk being sacrificed to Cthulhu. I went with two friends and we dressed up in semi Victorian clothing. Only a few people were dressed likewise with the majority in jeans and heavy metal hoodies. The venue was the Rickshaw, an old theater in Vancouver’s E. Hastings St. Not the best area of town and I had a vague recollection that the Rickshaw hosts heavy metal bands. It was the scariest part for me because I’m not a heavy metal person.

The venue had a stage and theater seats. We missed the short films so I don’t know if they were snippets of Lovecraft inspired stories or not. Scythia, the self-titled folk metal band was funny, at least with the head banging, hair tossing antics and the lead singer changing his accent from German to English between songs. If there were discernible words I couldn’t tell but that might have been issues with the acoustics or the way of heavy metal bands because when Darkest of the Hillside Thickets came on stage they were just as incomprehensible. In between these two bands they showed films of…bands including Hillside Thickets. So we saw them in film and live and probably could have avoided both. I never thought I’d see head banging, heavy metal fans just sitting in seats, or doing that thing that I call the zombie adoration of standing  on the dance floor (not dancing or head banging) in front of the band. I also never thought that heavy metal would be…well, boring. But it was. I’m no connoisseur but I didn’t find the tunes that catching. Not like Cthulhu would be. Who knew that Lovecraft attracted heavy metal? Maybe it’s all that doom.

An example of the kitschy cult of Cthulhu

The “bar” consisted of a motley mix of canned beers, rum, vodka, Jack Daniels and one or two other elixirs. They only had white wine to which I said, “Cthulhu wouldn’t drink white wine! No red?” When I asked if the rum was dark I was told it was white, to which I replied, “Cthulhu wouldn’t drink white rum!” Oh well. We did see the burlesque act and I regret that we missed the first dance. Little Miss Risk came out dressed in 1930s style reading a great tome, the ones that lure the reader into a Stygian nightmare they cannot escape. She did something so one eye looked closed and one was open but nearly white. Creeeepy. As she crawled onto the Cthulhu altar, wearing the ubiquitous pasties, furry tentacles appeared and writhed; then she stood and spit green blood.

The burlesque was well done and the best part and I’m sorry I missed the earlier one which might have made the $15 price almost worthwhile. Still, we did have fun and found it an amusing, if limited in events, mini-con. As it was, we escaped the creeping horror…or boredom… and went back to my place to drink wine as Cthulhu would.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Culture, entertainment, fantasy, horror, music, myth, Writing

Writing: What is Horror?

As I write up these different definitions there will indeed be crossover as there are genres and subgenres and sub-subgenres for each type of writing. The world of publishing is taken up with labeling, much like the world in general. We like things to fit into neat categories. For marketing we want to appeal to a certain demographic so although I might write a story and not put any tag on it, someone else will: either the reader, the publisher, or the reviewer. And they may all tag it differently.

Horror in essence is meant to do one or more of these things: terrify, scare, gross out, disturb. At its simplest horror revolts and scares. At its most complex horror is disturbing and thought provoking. I did an earlier review on the novel A Fall of Angels by Stephen Gregory, which presented an insidious horror of a disturbing life that included murder and incest. Horror has an interesting niche. If you think of movies, there are those ridiculous (in my opinion) teen slasher movies with really dumb plots and lots of Freddy Krueger gore and murder. And stories can range too. Recently, doing a panel at Orycon on gore versus terror, we talked about when gore is appropriate (the satisfaction of seeing or reading about a zombie’s/bad guy’s head exploding) and when terror is effective. Gore is throwing a bunch of intestines in your face. Terror is me telling you that there is something alien eating its way into your brain right now, can’t you feel it? All of this is horror. Horror includes tension and suspense. It keeps you on the edge of your seat or wriggling with moral or psychological discomfort. Sometimes it lulls you into a false sense of security until it unleashes the terror.

Most mainstream publishers no longer publish horror, just as they don’t publish westerns anymore either. It fell out of favor, meaning the sales dropped because the publishers were probably marketing it as gore and guts. In fact, horror, like any of the major labels or genres, encompasses many subgenres. Some of these include dark fantasy, psychological horror, splatterpunk, gothic horror, supernatural horror, and others. (BTW, this is my take on the genre; you are bound to find other or varying definitions.)

  • Dark Fantasy–these stories involve anything fantastical. It could be a person who extracts blood from their victims to make plants grow, a man-eating troll, an insidious worm that crawls into your pores and makes you see corpses, or a host of other hobgoblin nightmares. Lord of the Rings, interestingly enough can fall into a lot of categories and the whole story could be considered dark fantasy. The anthologies I’m in, either Evolve or Horror Library Vol. 4 could both be considered dark fantasy though some of the stories in the latter may be straight horror with little fantasy. Whereas Evolve is all about vampires and almost all of them are dark fantasy.
  • Psychological Horror–these stories deal with the twistings of the mind. The novel I mentioned, A Fall of Angels, is definitely a psychological horror. It is both the horror of a man sliding farther from the norm and his feelings as well as the horror of seeing this decline. It may be that the person imagines something but it’s not real, or maybe it is, or perhaps they’re crazy but instead there is a conspiracy against them. These can be very insidious and subtle to outright living hells in one’s mind, or the prison of their bodies that can drive them insane.
  • Splatterpunk–I haven’t read the Resident Evil books but a lot of that shooting and gory mayhem, bodies and heads exploding, blood gushing on a rampage of carnage falls into the splatterpunk category. It may include punky or trendy people but it will definitely include lots of gore and splatter although the story can also be a dark fantasy, splatterpunk psychological horror. What defines a story’s genre or sub-genre over another is that the emphasis or main theme is more in one category, or how the publishers think they can market the story.
  • Gothic Horror–such stories could involve hauntings, old mansions, vampires, strange brooding towns and people. Think Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and any H.P. Lovecraft story whether about the Great Old Ones or the darkness of the human soul. Gothic can be set in the past but is just as likely to be in the present or even the future. The mood and atmosphere is always very important, where the setting itself can be as oppressive as the creature. Victorian sensibilities can abound. And thankfully Lord of the Rings is not gothic horror.
  • Supernatural Horror–involves just that. Whether its ghosts, Great Old Ones, witches, vampires, mages or some other sinister sword or hat that takes over a person’s mind, it is all supernatural. And the biggest area in supernatural would be religious themes; demons, devils, angels, saints, priests; heaven and hell feature very big in the supernatural. It’s the most popular sub-genre for movies. If the devil’s involved it’s most likely supernatural horror.

There are of course, other categories and the definitions will blend and change as they evolve. Like the horror genre,which was blacklisted by the major publishers, like a sinister demon that they thought they had killed, horror has resurrected itself in numerous small but professional presses, coming back stronger, more diverse and respected for its tenacity. The World Horror Convention, and the Horror Writers Association continues strong through the dark imaginings of writers in horror.

6 Comments

Filed under art, Culture, entertainment, fairy tales, fantasy, horror, Publishing, science fiction, Writing