15. The Shining (1980). Stanley Kubrick’s examination of domestic violence, father and son relationships, alcoholism, and the ghosts of the past (either ours or someone else’s) is weird, off-putting (as is Shelly Duvall’s bizarre performance), and hypnotic. Conspiracy theories about the film’s true message (Native American genocide guilt, the moon landing was faked, the Illuminati control America, etc.) abound and only serve to add to the film’s mystique.
Cthulhu Fhtagn! Weird Tales Inspired by H.P. Lovecraft
Edited by Ross E. Lockhart
Published by Word Horde
If you’re like me, you’re burned out on Lovecraft.
That’s not to say that I don’t still read him at least once a year. Or that I’m suddenly too-cool-for-school when someone says “Lovecraftian fiction.” I discovered Lovecraft sometime early on in college, and thought I was the only one tracking the man’s bizarre work, which resonated with me in a way that few “old” works could.
That was naïve of me. Lovecraft and his legacy are now bigger than ever, which is, of course, a double-edged sword. I liked Cthulhu before it was cool, and all of that. But I am increasingly skeptical of the words “Cthulhu”, “weird tales,” and “Lovecraftian”, and no longer drawn in by those signifiers as I once was.
It’s with that disclaimer that I’m glad I gave Cthulhu Fhtagn! a chance. Word Horde (and its editor, Ross E. Lockhart) have an iron-clad reputation for quality, and they didn’t disappoint with this offering, well-worn territory or no. The stories here are all befitting the impressive roster, and you’ll find more than a few that you’ll like, and probably just as many as you’ll love. Many of the stories are classically Lovecraftian (in the best possible sense), and a few take those ideas, or parallel those ideas, and have some fun in the process.
This is a big book, with very diverse offerings. Yes, people discover Strange Things or Places and meet Terrible Fates, Lovecraft’s cosmic horrors find purchase in bizarre and clever science fiction venues, and poetic, dreamlike terrors haunt these many pages. There’s even some grotesque body horror, political posturing and allegory (your mileage may vary), fantasy, and meta-narratives here, some directly referencing the characters and motifs of Lovecraft, others content to chart their own paths.
My favorite stories were those that didn’t take themselves too seriously, and had more than a little fun with the ideas (and maybe even the character) of the Old Man himself.
“The Lurker in the Shadows” by Nathan Carson tackles two towering figures of pop horror—Lovecraft himself, and Stephen King—and imagines what if Lovecraft had found health, wealth, and literary success in life long enough to mentor and meet the young would-be [K]ing. It’s a story that is both a love letter to the work of both men, while still a clever and sinister weird tale in its own right.
“The Insectivore” by Orrin Grey is less a Lovecraftian pastiche and more a Bradburyian one, with all the trappings of youthful innocence crashing against the walls of reality.
“Aerkheim’s Horror” by Christine Morgan is an anachronistic Viking adventure saga gone wrong, with lots of fighting and blood and guts to keep up the pace.
“Love Will Save You” by Cameron Pierce is a haunting, disturbing, maybe even symbolic tale about floating orbs and lusts of the heart.
“Assemblage Point” by Scott R. Jones is a wicked, delightful little meta-story, which simultaneously mocks and embraces weird horror tropes. In the hands of a lesser writer, the concept could have slipped into condescension. Instead, the story is creepy and memorable.
Then there’s the final story, “Don’t Make Me Assume My Ultimate Form” by Laird Barron. I can’t say as I understood what, exactly, it was all about—but it was a fun read, and full of wild imagery: a Charlie’s Angels-style super team of assassins, ex-cons, and martial arts experts, a malignant entity inside of a doll, psychic powers, and overcoming childhood trauma.
The best story—in this reader’s opinion—is “The Curse of the Old Ones” by Molly Tanzer and Jesse Bullington. It’s funny, bizarre, and a page-turner. It features some very, very beloved figures of mid-century horror cinema dealing with our favorite occult terrors. It’s written with the pacing and flourish of a Hammer Studios or William Castle film. I had a smile on my face pretty much the whole time I was reading it. Kootulu is King of Hell!
So are you tired of Lovecraftian fiction? No? Then buy this book. Yes? Get this book anyway. These are all Lovecraftian stories, then, even if more than a few of them, this many generations hence, have moved well past the tropes and conventions the Old Man developed. This book shows us some of the best that pastiche, tribute, and evolution of the Lovecraftian Weird Tale can offer.
Review by Billy Lyons
“Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t” is a phrase meant to be taken quite literally in Stephen King’s brilliant, yet disturbing, 2014 novel Revival. Man or woman, young or old, hero or villain, sinner or saint; we’re all damned.
Revival tells the story of Jamie Morton, and how his life is shaped by an on-again, off-again relationship with the Reverend Charles Jacobs. Jamie first meets Jacobs a few days after his sixth birthday when Jacobs, the new minister of the local Methodist church, stops by to introduce himself. The two quickly become fast friends.
Jamie first learns of the reverend’s fascination with electricity when Jacobs heals Jamie’s deaf brother with a strange electronic contraption of his own creation. He gives God all the glory for the miracle, but the awed tone in his voice as he describes the mystery behind the machine suggests that it’s very likely the good reverend’s devotion has switched to something besides Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Everything changes for both Jamie and Jacobs when a tragic automobile accident takes the life of Jacob’s wife and son. Shortly after their funeral, a bitter Jacob returns to the pulpit and delivers what will forever be known as The Terrible Sermon, in which he renounces his faith and suggests that if his congregation wants to believe in something real they should turn to the infinite power of electricity. He is summarily fired and quietly leaves town for parts unknown.
After The Terrible Sermon, Jamie throws his faith to the wind as well. From here, we follow these characters through a winding path of mystery surrounding the true power behind Jacob’s new faith.
Revival is perhaps King’s most terrifying work to date, mainly due to the insidious nature of the horror found between its covers. At first, readers will find the story similar to much of King’s writing, chock full of themes of redemption, youth’s inherent innocence, and love. This comfortable familiarity only serves to suck the reader into a false sense of security, so much so that when the hammer finally drops, he or she is completely unprepared for the sheer terror that is the last thirty pages of the book.
If there is one criticism of Revival, it is that its protagonist Jamie Morton is achingly similar to those found in other King novels. Once could very easily take Jamie Morton and replace him with Dan Torrance from Doctor Sleep, Edgar Freemantle from Duma Key, or Dale Barbara from Under the Dome and no one would know the difference. The idea of the beleaguered, worn-down, genuinely nice guy who must find redemption by fighting his way out of some supernaturally-fueled existential crisis is starting to wear a little thin.
Even so, the writing is brilliant, the story captivates from beginning to end, and King proves yet again that he can scare the living hell out of his readers any time he takes a notion. Revival is a masterpiece of supernatural fiction, one that further cements King’s reputation as one of the greatest writers of our generation.
Still, there’s a tiny part of me that wishes I’d never read it. This is especially true late at night, when I lay in bed unable to sleep because I can’t stop thinking about those last thirty pages.
When this happens, I often think back to the prayer of my youth, the one that contains the words: If I should die before I wake. And if I should, where would I find myself? In Heaven, Hell, or, if Revival is to be believed, “the land beyond death, a place full of insane colors, mad geometry, and bottomless chasms where the Great Ones live their endless, alien lives, and think their endless, malevolent thoughts”?
Billy Lyons started reading at age three and fell in love with weird tales soon after. He holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in psychology from The Citadel and George Mason University, respectively. His influences include H.P. Lovecraft, Richard Matheson, Peter Straub, and Stephen King. His story “Black-Eyed Children, Blue-Eyed Child” appears in High Strange Horror. He is seeking a publisher for his debut novel, The Junkie Vampires, which he loosely describes as True Blood meets Trainspotting. Billy lives in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia with his brother and their two cats.