Within both The Void and Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth, there is a recurring theme of the corruption and change of what is considered to be the natural form of humanity. The breaking of our perception of normality allows the authors of these texts to create a sense of fear and disgust in the audience.
As with all horror, the primary goal of works within the sub-genre referred to as body horror is to illicit fear and revulsion in the audience of the work. Defined as ‘the explicit display of the decay, dissolution and destruction of the body’ in Well’s (2007), these texts often break down the conventional understanding of what the body should and should not do, as well as how that then can impact those around the incident. The main fears that these texts are playing on are the “anxieties surrounding transformation, mutation and contagion”, as stated in Reyes (2014). The ideas of disease and corruption spreading through the human body and often among the larger human population is what illicit the revulsion that many people feel towards body horror texts.
The way in which texts can engage with the ideas that are encompassed by the themes of body horror can be vastly different. The Void and The Shadow Over Innsmouth are excellent examples. In The Void, there are several individual uses of body horror, all different in their own ways, yet united by a theme of corruption by dark arts. Several deceased characters mutate into slimy, tentacled monsters with very little in common with their previous human forms. These transformations are graphic, and designed to cause a physical reaction in the audience as they experience both fear and disgust at what they are seeing. We also see the corruption of what seemed to be a normal pregnant women’s baby into one of the beasts, bursting forth covered in blood. The way in which the characters mortality and natural corruptibility were shown was used to full affect in order to create a true fear response in the audience. The film uses this to explore the theme of the unknown in how the characters fear what is causing all the horrible changes to happen. Whatever power is driving these changes is obviously powerful, but other than that the characters (and the audience) barely have any idea what it is. We encounter its followers, the cultists, and those it has changed, but never gain any real insight into the source of all that is wrong, which in itself adds a sense of menace to the story.
The Shadow Over Innsmouth engaged with the concept of body horror differently than The Void. While the film, once the monsters were introduced, pushed the limits on what the human body could handle, mutating it almost beyond recognition right away, the inhabitants of Innsmouth were far more insidious in their corruption. Lovecraft describes the main characters first encounters with them in un-flattering terms, saying “He had a narrow head, bulging, watery–blue eyes that seemed never to wink, a flat nose, a receding forehead and chin, and singularly undeveloped ears.” Lovecraft (1939). While this description does seem unkind, as the story progresses the level to which the inhabitants are described to be mutant like in appearance, with fish heads and webbed hands. The protagonist’s fear both of these changes and the horrible powers that could possibly cause them fills the story. The Deep Ones, the ones that provide the inhabitants with their unnatural appearance, are just a power in the background of the story for the most part. Believed to live below Devils Reef, they are spoken of only in myth and rumor, yet are the ones that corrupted the town and are worshiped as gods. The most visible signs of their power is the mutations that blight the townsfolk, which by themselves illicit fear and revulsion, and therefore creating even more fear when thinking of those unknown beings that wield such unnatural power.
Both of these texts make excellent use of body horror to create a sense of fear in both characters and audience as to the unknowable horrors that are causing the changes we see.
By Samuel Rendall
Lovecraft, H. P. (1939). The shadow over Innsmouth.
Reyes, X. A. (2014). Body gothic: Corporeal transgression in contemporary literature and horror film. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.
Wells, P. (2007). The horror genre: From Beelzebub to Blair Witch. London: Wallflower Press.