1. 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?
Body horror, a genre trope where the human body is altered past the point where it would be recognised is apparent in the short story The Shadow Over Innsmouth and in the film The Void. While this trope is fictional, it plays with the very real human fear about the unknown and the incomprehensible.
In The Shadow Over Innsmouth, body horror is illustrated throughout the narrative. In the story, the narrator finds himself travelling to Innsmouth, the small town is described as deserted, the people are suspicious and, the heart and soul of the town rely on their oddly close relationship with the sea. According to Lovecraft (1934), a “man’s first instincts and emotions formed his response to the environment in which he found himself” (p. 2). So, the reader will get a sense that the local’s relationship with the sea is surrounded by a mist of strangeness and will be naturally curious about it as is the narrator. After talking to a local, the narrator finds that there are fish-like beings who live offshore in the reefs. Those beings, the Deep Ones, produced offsprings with the locals, creating a hybrid between the natural and the supernatural – something that the human mind would believe is morally incorrect. That is how body horror was used to explore the unknown in Lovecraft’s short story. Reyes (2014) mentioned that body horror includes the body being altered past the point where it is understood by humans. In The Shadow Over Innsmouth, those who are hybrids take on fish-like features once they reach a certain age. In a way, the hybrids were portrayed in a manner which was very similar to how the monster was portrayed in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Mentioned in an essay by Lovecraft, the monster is a character which is “… rejected by mankind, becomes embittered, and at length beings the successive murder of all whom Frankenstein loves best, friends and family” (1934). Throughout the story, the narrator had given his reader the strong impression that being a hybrid having those fish-like features was looked down upon – it was too strange and not a common sight. So, to a reasonable person, it is an atrocious thing to be a hybrid. Yet, while the narrator continuously emphasised his disgust with the hybrids, eventually, at the end of the story, the narrator found that he was a hybrid and embraced his true form right away; illustrating some morphed sense of superiority once he realised he was more than human.
In the film The Void, body horror was explicitly visualised in order for the audience to witness the abnormality, the slime and tentacles, and everything else common to Lovecraftian horror. From the beginning of the film, the gruesome unknown entity along with a mob of loyal cultists proved to be a threat to mankind, which was evident through the constant deaths, and the foreboding sense of dread through the film. For the large part of the film, the purpose of all the merciless killings and the ultimate aim of the demonic entity and cultists were unknown to the humans, not to mention the very fact that they existed was unexplainable. To the human characters and to the audience watching the film as well, that information was knowledge “… which lies beyond the phenomenal world of ordinary perception…” (Stableford, 2007, p. 80). Reyes’s (2014) definition of body horror doesn’t become blatantly apparent and truer until one scene in particular, where a nurse, Allison, woke up on an operating table to the news that a creature from the unknown now grows inside of her. In relation to Reyes’ (2014) definition, in that scene, Allison’s body was opened and altered past the point where even the person who knew her best, Powell, could not recognise her and destroyed her mutated remains with an axe. As a result, that scene illustrated that Allison was essentially a “… passive spectators of their own dispossession and objectification: they watch their body parts take up a life of their own” (Reyes, 2014, p. 56).
To conclude, The Void and Lovecraft’s short story The Shadow Over Innsmouth, though the two use completely different mediums, they managed to represent body horror in a manner which allowed them to explore the themes of the unknown.
Lovecraft, H. P. (1934). Supernatural Horror in Literature.
Reyes. (2014). Body Horror. In Body Gothic Corporeal Transgression in Contemporary Literature and Horror Film.
Stableford, Brian (2007). The Cosmic Horror.