Sunday, August 24, 2008

LOVECRAFT IN FILM Pt. 2 : Beyond The Horror Cosmic




     The notion that the universe is not only far beyond man's understanding, but hostile towards him as well, was a common theme in H.P. Lovecraft's stories. Woe to the poor soul who crosses paths with one of these malevolent, extraterrestrial forces.  Few films come closer to epitomizing this idea than Ridley Scott's 1979 masterpiece, ALIEN.   A seminal contribution to Cinema, taking the Horror and Science Fiction genres to new levels of believability and raw intensity. 

 I saw the film when I was 8 years old, and it's had an everlasting effect.  I'm confident that I'm not alone in this declaration, as the impact of the film has been felt for decades, and it's titular creature is one of the very pinnacles of Film Design.  A good deal of H.R. Giger's inspiration can be found in Lovecraft's work.  Giger used the title NECRONOMICON for a collection of his work published in the seventies.  This omnious name refers, of course, to the ubiquitous tome that appears in many of HPL's stories.   This collection of Giger's work caught Ridley Scott's eye and became the visual foundation for the Alien design work in the film.  Giger's BioMechanical Imagery channels Lovecraft, I think, and certainly the scene in the Derelict Spacecraft feels like a tableau from a Lovecraft story.  The image of tiny astronauts dwarfed by a vast cathedral of ancient, biomechanical decay...ominous and humbling and deeply chilling.  

  The Alien itself is one of the all time great movie monsters. Countless imitations attest to the originality and vision in the design and execution of Giger's Star-Beast (also the original title of Dan O'Bannon's and Ronald Shusett's screenplay ).  Structurally, ALIEN borrows more or less from two films, IT!: The TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE and PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES.  Ridley Scott also cites THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE as a major influence.  In it's sophisticated exectution, though,  the film becomes something much more powerful.  No one was prepared for the sort of deep, primal terror it stirred. 

 
  
   To this day, the 'ChestBurster' scene is one of the most profoundly unsettlng and shocking moments in movie history.  That scene visualizes, quite literally, one of the deepest fears rooted in the H.P.Lovecraft tales, a total ALIEN domination of the self.  The harsh use of the body as incubator gets under the skin of even the toughest moviegoer.  There is also, clearly,  an extremely sexual dimension to the horror of ALIEN, and it is part of the reason the film is so disturbing.  The connection to Lovecraft there is less overt , I think, and it is the air of sexual repression that is more dominant in his stories.



   This idea of 'Alien Domination', and the fear and paranoia it provokes, is also evident in a number of Sci-Fi/Horror films from the Fifties.  Over and over again, we are at the mercy of Malevolent Cosmic Terrors.  While it could be argued that these films may not owe as much to H.P. Lovecraft's work as they do to the state of the Cold War and McCarthyism in the Fifties, I think they bear mention and consideration...



INVADERS FROM MARS,  IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE,  and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS all deal directly with the idea of aliens taking over humanity from within and without.  John W. Campbell's story WHO GOES THERE?, the inspiration for THE THING, also covers this territory.  Whether through mind control or body replication, all of the ET's in these films have an anti-human agenda.  

   Both the 1956 and 1978 versions of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS owe a debt to Robert A Heinlen's novel THE PUPPET MASTERS, which also inspired it's own film adaptation.  I think that of them all, Phillip Kaukman's interpretation is my favorite, and I think it channels H.P.Lovecraft in several ways.  There is a genuinely creepy mood throughout the film.  The stark sense of realism is offset by peculiar sound design and brief, unsettling glimpses of background characters, who may or may not be the OTHER.  It reminds me of THE SHADOW OVER INNSMOUTH, with it's shambling, gilled townsfolk going on about their business...

   Perhaps the most Lovecraftian element in INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS , though, is the tragic, iconic figure of Donald Sutherland, the intrepid Journalist/Scientist/Scholar  who finally loses to a Cosmic Evil.  Throughout H.P.L.'s works, there is some form of this character. Usually a learned skeptic or realist, these Protagonists will often go mad by the end of the story, or be consumed in some way by these powerful otherworldly Antagonists.  This root idea is very common in Lovecraft's work: Those who are Cosmic are not friendly.  Beware... 






next up:   LOVECRAFT IN FILM Pt.3

Staring into MADNESS...

Sunday, August 10, 2008

LOVECRAFT IN FILM Pt. 1 : The Horror Cosmic



  One of the hallmarks of the Lovecraftian stories is the element of COSMIC HORROR.  In many of his stories, the antagonistic force is from beyond space, a sometimes unnameable, often insanity-inducing thing that is quite beyond human comprehension. Lovecraft actually crafted an entire pantheon of alien beings, the ELDER GODS or OLD ONES, and elements from these mythologies pop up all over the stories in various ways.  

   This idea of persecution and death at the hands of an unknown alien force is also a common ingredient in a lot of Science Fiction movies. Some of the most influential films for me growing up are brimming with these Lovecraftian ingredients...


    
   John Carpenter's THE THING is based on the short story WHO GOES THERE?, by the author John W. Campbell Jr.  While it's arguable that his story was influenced by H.P. Lovecraft ( they were both being published regularly in the 30's ),  I think the film is gets right to the heart of imagery and themes that are typical in HPL's work.  In fact, I'd argue that this film is one of the BEST of it's kind, and that John Carpenter succeeded here in making the ULTIMATE Lovecraft film.

   From the setting of of an isolated Antarctic Research Base, where a group of scientists discover an ancient spacecraft in the ice, to the UNSPEAKABLE horror that emerges from it, this film covers the gamut of Lovecraftian elements. But it isn't simply superficial ingredients that make THE THING so effective.  It amplifies the horror even more by delving into the deep, psychological trauma and paranoia felt by the men as they are infiltrated by the chameleonic visitor.  

   From a DESIGN standpoint, THE THING is also a high water mark.  Most of the original Lovecraft stories only vaguely hint at what the the creature looks like, while the protagonists risk insanity if the look too closely.  I think it's one of the most unsettling aspects of the original stories ( I will touch on this idea in more detail in later posts... ).  

   INSANE might be the best term to describe Rob Bottin's creature design work in THE THING.  Testing the limits of Animatronics in the early 80's, the work in the film still has quite an impact.  The very nature of the THING, a creature who mimics the cellular structure of it's  victims, is realized to great effect... With it's different biological components mixing and taking elements of man and dog and more, it's whipping tentacles, oozing and gibbering...It is the EPITOME of Lovecraftian imagery.

   Bill Lancanster wrote the screenplay adaptation of the original story , and he does a great job capturing the tone of it, as well as preserving a number of great scenes and characters.  I was pleasantly surprised to see how closely the film adheres to the original story, since the the first film adaptation, THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, strays a bit further...I'm still personally curious what sort of influence Lovecraft had on Campbell.  HPL's classic AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS  was serialized just  a couple of years before WHO GOES THERE?and they have some definite parallels.  The remote Antarctic expedition, evidence of ancient alien 'things' preserved in ice and brought to the camp, mayhem and death and madness...I'm sure John Carpenter was aware of these things too, but regardless of his sources, he  has a clear appreciation for the Lovecraftian sensibility.  I think THE THING remains one of his very best films,  a quintessential exploration of the HORROR COSMIC.




next up : LOVECRAFT IN FILM Pt.2 : 

Friday, August 8, 2008

another CON sketch


 Some more monster doodles in between book signings...usually sketches like these will find their way into my ANNUALS...

Thursday, August 7, 2008

CON Sketches...



Sitting at the Comic-Con Booth for days and days,  I had a chance to do some sketching.  Here's a couple of  pages from my sketchbook, and a glimpse of some of the ideas cooking for my new AFTERWORKS 3 story....

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

LOVECRAFT IN FILM : An Introduction


Speaking of the weird fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, I wanted to get started on what I expect to be a series of posts about films that bear the influence of his work. Years ago, as I first discovered his stories, I began to realize that a lot of the monster movies I enjoyed were very much connected to Lovecraftian imagery and themes. Some of these films were either direct adaptations, or tangentially influenced, but all were connected in some way to his imaginative works .

I plan to touch on how elements of Lovecraftian Design, Story and Theme have permeated these films. I also plan on discussing the huge challenge filmmakers have faced in their efforts to ADAPT his work, and how these different films have succeeded or failed in their efforts.

I hope this will be an interesting examination, worthy of a case study at Miskatonic University...

shambling thing


a monster for wednesday in the Lovecraftian spirit...

Friday, August 1, 2008

Son of the Forest


Here's the painting I contributed to the upcoming TOTORO FOREST PROJECT...

Click the link in the sidebar to see the rest of the AMAZING artwork donated for this HISTORIC event!

Friday Monster


A new MONSTER for today...