Week 2 – Lovecraftian Horror

q. Reyes (2014), describes Body Horror as being a “fictional representation of the body exceeding itself or falling apart, either opening up or being altered past the point where it would be recognised by normative understandings of human corporeality.” How do The Void and Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth make use of this definition to explore themes of the unknown?

The general definition of ‘Body Horror’ is “intentionally showcases graphic or psychologically disturbing violations of the human body. These violations may manifest through aberrant sex, mutations, mutilation, zombification, gratuitous violence, disease, or unnatural movements of the body”[1]. Xavier Aldana Reyes specifies in his book ‘ Body Gothic: Corporeal Transgression in Contemporary Literature and Horror Film’ that Body Horror is a “fictional representation of the body exceeding itself or falling apart, either opening up or being altered past the point where it would be recognised by normative understandings of human corporeality.” Body Gothic: Corporeal Transgression in Contemporary Literature and Horror Film The general definition of ‘Body Horror’ is “intentionally showcases graphic or psychologically disturbing violations of the human body. These violations may manifest through aberrant sex, mutations, mutilation, zombification, gratuitous violence, disease, or unnatural movements of the body”[1]. Xavier Aldana Reyes specifies in his book ‘that Body Horror is a “fictional representation of the body exceeding itself or falling apart, either opening up or being altered past the point where it would be recognised by normative understandings of human corporeality.”

The Void, directed by Steven Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie, uses the body horror subgenre to assist in the exploration of the themes of the unknown and disturbing cosmicism. Examples from within the film are Bethany becoming an indescribable, unrecognisable creature driven insane by forbidden knowledge, all the characters who are killed/dead resurrecting and slowly turning into zombie-like creatures, and Doctor Powell turning Allison into a vessel for rebirthing his dead daughter, thus turning Allison into a disturbing, tentacle-filled machine. The themes of cosmicism and body horror are evident throughout the film, and as Chris Hewitt of Empire magazine wrote, “with repeated nods to the likes of Lucio Fulci, George A. Romero, Clive Barker and, particularly, John Carpenter, whose Prince Of Darkness is the most obvious template here… [Gillespie and Kostanski] prove themselves adept at conjuring a bleak, paranoid, foreboding atmosphere from the off.”[2]. I, however, found that the themes of cosmic horror and body horror in The Void failed to instil a sense of dread in me as the story-writing and character relationships and conflicts fell flat. I am a bit of a stickler for a good story needing a handful of complex characters with varying degrees of internal and external conflict and I feel that these shortcomings had a negative impact on the key themes in the text, restricting them from being able to have a profound impact on me.

The Shadow Over Innsmouth, written by H.P. Lovecraft in April 1936, near the end of his life, uses body horror in a far more disturbing, horrifying way. Assisted by the fact that this text is a story compared to the previous film example, the horrors on the page are brought to life by our own imaginations – the descriptions powered by our own understanding and interpretations of these ideas and concepts are what manifest into the truly terrifying and disturbing. Zadok’s tale of “the Deep Ones”, the hybrid fish-frog-men who have come up from the ocean, and the disturbing knowledge that human sacrifices were made to these hybrids, influences the reader to imagine these creatures as gruesomely inhumane and outsiders, different to the normal, plain human beings of Innsmouth. The idea that as their half-breed, human-hybrid children look human in their younger years but slowly, as they grow up, they begin to morph and transform into their hybrid forms is chilling. Not only was the realisation that the narrator is a half-breed a shock to the reader (and narrator), but his decent into madness and willingness to go off into the ocean, into a world of the unknown, was all too disturbing. Though the story was rejected by Weird Tales in 1933, it went on to be published years later and several Lovecraftians received is positively, August Derleth called The Shadow over Innsmouth “a dark, brooding story, typical of Lovecraft at his best.” Robert Weinberg praised it as “a well-written story”[3]

Body Horror, when done correctly, can be a terrifyingly moving subgenre within Horror and has been a classic of horror since the 80s. You won’t see me scrambling to watch one though.

References:


[1] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01956051.2012.654521

[2] https://www.empireonline.com/movies/reviews/void-review/

[3] https://lovecraft.fandom.com/wiki/The_Shadow_Over_Innsmouth

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