Lovecraft Sketch MWF: Cthulhu and Pets

Lovecraft Sketch MWF: Cthulhu and Pets

This was a sketch by request for a Kickstarter backer. The bunny and the badger look, perhaps, like Aberrant D&D versions of standard animal templates. (Or perhaps, a Dire Badger?) Presumably they are the offspring of normal animals who bred with extradimensional entities, and in fact, if you look carefully, you may be able to figure out who the bunny’s father is. Either way, aren’t they cute?

I recently watched Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus”, which was enjoyable, but pretty light given all the buildup; also, it was much more of an “Alien” movie than I expected. Particularly, it left me wondering, exactly what in “Prometheus” was supposed to be so much like Guillermo Del Toro’s “At the Mountains of Madness” that Del Toro gave up on making the film? The scenes of exploring the tunnels? The holograms (perhaps a smart replacement for Lovecraft’s scenes of people deciphering endless amounts of wall-carvings)? I didn’t see anything which really screamed “This is just like At the Mountains of Madness” to me, honestly, but I guess the superficial similarity of “archaeological quest to discover humanity’s origins” is close enough to make a studio shy away.

Clearly, though, the “Alien” franchise hook was the push that the studio needed to green-light a big-budget R-rated science-fiction/horror film, unlike “Mountains of Madness”, which Del Toro reported was plagued by the studio demanding a PG-13 rating. I have mixed feelings about the ratings problem: if Peter Jackson’s “King Kong,” with its scenes of people being eaten by giant gross bug-things, got a PG-13 rating, I really don’t think “Mountains of Madness” necessarily needed higher than PG-13. But on the other hand, Hollywood’s movie ratings have gotten so much, much stricter over the 30 years that I’ve been watching movies (the first R-rated movie I saw was the Arnold Schwarznegger “Conan,” with my dad at the age of six or seven) that perhaps I’m wrong, and even a single Shoggoth Death Scene would have gotten “Mountains” an R. PG and R- rated movies in the ’70s and ’80s were INFINITELY gorier and more violent than movies with the same ratings today. Frankly, it’s been depressing and irritating watching American society fall backwards and get more and more conservative in this regard… particularly while gore-for-gore’s-sake films like “The Human Centipede” series are still released openly in American theaters, albeit Unrated. Anyway, I mention all this because the Wikipedia page for “Prometheus” says that there was no way “Prometheus” could have been released with a PG-13 rating if any of the surgery scene (probably the best part of the movie) was left intact; but sheesh people, it’s just a little CG surgery! The liposuction scenes in “Super Size Me” were MUCH grosser!

It almost seems like there’s some kind of reluctance to have extreme levels of gore and bloodshed in movies with a fantasy or sci-fi element, as well as ‘classy’ movies in general, whereas nonsupernatural and aggressively ‘trashy’ movies with blood and gore still get a pass. Obviously, Lovecraft himself would probably have disapproved of too much gore (then again, he’d have disapproved of a lot of things), and it doesn’t seem strictly necessary for a “Mountains of Madness” adaptation. But as someone who’s watched Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento and early ’80s Tom Savini movies… sheesh, people. NOTHING I’ve seen in an R-rated movie since I came of age to watch them has been NEARLY as violent and shocking as R-rated movies thirty years ago, in that hazy wonderland of gore and terror into which I was born, a primary-school child looking with dread and curiosity at the posters of splatter movies outside the local movie theater. That’s why I lose all respect for anyone who complains about ‘how violent movies are nowadays’; they’re basically total idiots with no historical context. Then again, if I apply this relativistic line of logic to other areas, like racism, virtually no fictional work today is racist if you compare to how racist things were in Lovecraft’s time; -_-; (except of course that awful giant-crocodile movie “Primeval”). But in the case of graphic violence, which hurts no one except for fictional characters, I will forever be adamantly pro-early-’80s.

Discussion (7)¬

  1. Esn says:

    You don’t need to depict gore and bloodshed in order to portray stark terror and terrifying violence.

    Have you ever seen the 1985 film “Come and See”? A masterpiece, a highly accurate depiction of the Eastern Front in WW2, one of the most harrowing war films you’re ever likely to see, and the antithesis to the typical American way of making them.

    But frankly, isn’t American culture violent enough for you already as it is? Your TV shows and movies seem to all be about action and violence, and quite a lot of them are about violent criminals. Your religious groups have problems with sex, but not with violence. At least that’s what it looks like from here.

    And hey, doesn’t the racism in Lovecraft’s stories hurt no-one except for fictional characters? What’s the issue?

  2. Jason says:

    I haven’t seen “Come and See,” but thanks for the recommendation.

    I am disappointed by the way that the graphic violence in ’70s and early ’80s movies has, for reasons of whatever social trends, become less accepted. (Although as movies have become less gory, video games, for instance, have become gorier, so I guess it’s an issue with movies in particular and not culture in general.) I think the rise of gory exploitation movies in that period — and more interestingly, the corresponding rise in graphic violence in movies which were *not* intended to be ‘exploitation’ — may have a lot to do with the fact that, in the ’70s, TV news footage was not as censored as today, and it was considerably more common to see blood & graphic imagery in the coverage of, say, Vietnam — at least more common than in the sanitized coverage of the Gulf Wars and Afghanistan. There was more violence ‘in the air’ then, and the escapism of the time reflected that. Today, there is more air freshener in the air.

    Frankly, I think it’s very unfortunate that TV news today is so much tamer and presents such a bloodless vision of the world and of American military conflicts. And while there is still violence on American TV shows and movies, the violence in most of these American action films, cop dramas, etc. is STILL ‘bloodless’ — it’s mostly tame body-count scenes of cops or heroic mercenaries or soldiers or heroic assassins killing people (and occasionally vice versa) — the heroes shooting and bodies falling down — bap bap bap!

    An intentionally nauseating and/or horrific focus on the actual consequences of physical violence is, I think, something very separate from this… of course I’m talking here about violence that’s meant to shock & horrify and not violence for comic purposes, although I would defend the latter type as well, and the lines are of course thin, often depending on as little as whether it’s one solitary person watching the horror movie, or a bunch of drunken dudes watching the horror movie in a group. Anyway, regardless of possible political or cultural reasons for violence, I approve of violent movies on free-speech grounds and in the end, I don’t think it is anything specifically “American”, since many other countries (Italy, Japan, etc) produce equally if not more violent & gory escapism while having extremely different political climates from America’s.

    And I, personally, of course, find that it has a powerful cathartic effect. The violence in films, like the horror in films, is most effective when it dances around the edge of my expectations — my expectation that I will at some moment witness something SO HORRIBLE that it’s unbearable, that I’ll have to shut my eyes rather than see whatever nightmarish thing is about to be shown to me. It’s this fear-fascination of knowing that the MOST HORRIBLE THING IN THE WORLD is waiting out there, ready to split my mind in half like a walnut, and that maybe this time it’ll be shown to me and I’ll have to put my hands over my eyes. I mean, now that the Internet exists, this fear-disgust-fascination should be omnipresent for everyone: all you have to do is type in google imagesearch terms like “ugliest” or “most disgusting” or “rotten” or “corpse” or “maggots” or “wound” “scariest” or “most horrifying” (none of which I would ever dare type in) and, like pornography, the most absolutely vile & hideous imagery will appear before your eyes in instants. In our world, the most repellent side of the human consciousness is now continually at hand, oozing beneath the surface of the collective consciousness like a floating cloud of oil beneath the water. The worst that any creator of horror movies or violent movies can do is to reach out and grab one clot of this revolting, imbecilic, idiot stream and (if they are any good as an artist) try to graft some logic or sense or focus or reason onto one of these images, on the unreasoning, nightmarish world of the disgusting and vile with which we have surrounded ourselves.

  3. Esn says:

    Thanks for such a detailed reply, Jason. I was being a little provocative, I’m afraid. Although you still didn’t really address one of my points: can’t your rationale for “harmless fictional violence” be equally applied to “harmless fictional racism”? The rationale for your personal discomfort with Lovecraft’s racism (in some of your past writings) is the same rationale that can be given by those who oppose gratuitous depictions of violence. What you share is a belief about what kind of society you want to live in, and a belief in the power of art to transform behaviour… a topic about which has been studied, incidentally, and your suspicions confirmed:

    I agree with you that it would be better if news coverage wasn’t so sanitized, if the public saw what the wars that they support actually look like. It might lead to less doublethink and hypocrisy, making people more aware that the policies they support have actual consequences and are not merely about fashion or abstract theories.

    I’m afraid that I don’t really understand your last paragraph, however. I have no desire to be afraid of the dark, myself. To think of all the potential horrors that are outside the known. Of carnivorous aliens or malevolent undead dogs. I am quite glad that I’m no longer afraid of a monster under the bed because science does not allow for one. (for that matter, I’m also quite glad that I am no longer afraid to take buses because of the chance of being blown up in them, because I now live in a more peaceful country)

    What inspires me is not cannibalism or festering flesh-eating wounds, but unlooked-for scenes of wonder and imagination (why I love your Lovecraft adaptations, incidentally). The gems that people are sometimes capable of when they are at their best; transcendence, not self-destructive debauchery. If there was one thing I could change about my cultural milieu, it would be to have those gems of human achievement more widely disseminated through the mass media, and more widely known, and not ignored simply because of not being in the appropriate format. That goes for transcendental art just as much as for scientific insights.

    Anyway, to backtrack, I support increased portrayal of violence for educational purposes but decreased portrayal of it for entertainment. Much like how racist humour is often considered inappropriate these days, ideally I don’t want violence and cruelty to be a source of casual enjoyment in the mainstream culture.

    (P.S. I do recommend “Come and See” – I think it should be shown in history classes. The director lived in Stalingrad as a young boy during the war, and the movie is largely based on the book “I Am from the Burning Village”, a collection of first-hand accounts from the time. The director’s films had a history of being censored, and this film too was delayed for 7 years, until finally the go-ahead was given to mark the 40th anniversary. The main character, a boy who had never acted before, was hypnotized into his role to be more convincing and to protect him from psychological damage)

  4. Jason says:

    You reminded me of a historical event: when EC Comics was attacked in the US Senate for “causing juvenile delinquency” due to the violence and gore in their comics in the ’50s, they offered a contradictory defense. They pointed out that, firstly, their violence and gore was just meant as fun and no one could possibly be influenced by it, and secondly (not in the same sentence, I think) they tried to bring up the fact that they had run stories with ‘moral messages’ about racism and so on! ;)

    Now, in EC’s defense, I think their defense was not ENTIRELY flawed, because, clearly, it is much easier for people to hurl racial epithets or to harbor negative images of people or groups — a “thoughtcrime” or “speechcrime” — rather than to drink human blood or hack people to bits with a hacksaw, an actual crime.

    But if it’s possible that violence or the like has a negative, desensitizing impact on some subsceptible people: really, so what? It’s also possible that pornography (in which I include all sexualized nudity) has a negative impact on people’s behavior towards the opposite gender and their attitude towards sex, but pornography is still legal, and there is sexualized nudity in “non-pornographic” works too (although, like with horror, there is a vast sea of trash out there: I’d list a few examples of awful horror that I find disgusting and exploitative, but there’d be no point in picking one or two whipping boys just to prove that my taste is supposedly so much better -_- ). So, yes: I’d conceive that watching violent movies all the time could make one to some degree desensitized to real violence, and it’s also conceivable that reading Lovecraft stories (or other late 1800s-early 1900s media, like Booth Tarkington, who I have been reading) all the time could make one desensitized to racism merely by the fact of the awareness that people’s attitudes were once so different. But at the same time, like any escapist influences on behavior, these influences are going to be TREMENDOUSLY outweighed by the fact of living in a society which is not full of casual, constant real-life violence (if one is lucky enough to live in such a society of course), and which is less racist than in Lovecraft’s day (again, hopefully, luckily).

    You and I are different folks. Most people don’t see the need to defend (or attack) the desire to experience escapism which makes them laugh or cry or feel romantic (or sexual, although indeed some people attack that desire) without real-life consequences; I don’t think I should feel the need to defend the desire to be scared or disgusted or enjoy mock violence without real-life consequences. You don’t, but I *do* enjoy being scared and repulsed (well, not being repulsed per se, but I enjoy feeling scared *of* being repulsed). -_- But more importantly than personal taste: free speech trumps EVERYTHING.

  5. Esn says:

    Well, just to play devil’s advocate, completely free speech can only happen when you’re alone. In society, there are always consequences (big or small), and consequences = censorship. Consider that someone undergoing torture is entirely free to say anything they want, just certain responses will lead to different futures, some more desirable than others. Dial that back a tad and you have everyday life.

    And I’d further postulate that the reason we put up with it is because the same processes that allow us to be censored also allow us the opportunity to make a difference with something we say. If someone truly has free speech, I’d say it’s either because they’re a hermit or because nobody takes them seriously. Free speech comes with a complementary side dish of social disengagement.

    We’ve seen where excessive “neighbourliness” leads, but excessive free speech would also seem to lead to an unattainable and dystopian ideal – a society of isolated individuals in which there is no communication or interaction. Something like Asimov’s “Solaria”, perhaps.

    Anyway, as for influencing mainstream discourse, I don’t really like the idea of doing what the US Senate did – the most effective and probably more ethical way to change tastes is to provide better alternatives. Make your vision appealing, don’t just disparage the one you don’t like.

    And you’re probably right that in a lot of cases escapism is the safety valve that allows people to vent off primal urges that would not be acceptable in contemporary society.

    Anyway, there are a few horror films I like. I liked “Poltergeist”, which seemed more childhood fantasy than horror (and I guess it was a bit cathartic to see so many of my old childhood fears brought to life). I really like weird movies with disturbing styles such as “The City of Lost Children” or Barta’s “Pied Piper of Hamelin”, or “One Night in One City” (I don’t consider them to be horror movies at all, but apparently some others do).

  6. Jason says:

    Ooooh, those Barta movies look incredible! I’ve never seen them before, thank you for telling me about them! Reminds me a tiny bit of Jan Svankmajer….

    “Poltergeist” is a good example of a movie that was somehow rated PG, but would almost surely be R if it was released today. The scene where the guy disassembles his own face… AGGHGHGHGHHHH! I watched that in the theater as a kid, and although I knew the scene was coming based on other people’s warnings, I was so terrified I kept my hands pressed over my eyes the entire time and just the NOISES were enough to make me wish it would stop. Looking back, this is a fond childhood memory.

  7. Night-Gaunt says:

    These days if you say “fuck” you get an “R” rating. Ridiculous, only by people who believe in ‘bad words’ would do so even though the concept is solipsistic in its entirety. Words describe, only in a superstitious mind would some words be described as “bad.” We are regressing to a corporate theocratic Holy American Empire if trends continue and they are accelerating.

    I like the idea that Cthulhu and its spawn are so advanced it looks like magic to us, but they can manipulate things and organisms, and human minds on so many levels we would need microscopes to perceive.