We’ve made enough Xeroxes of Lovecraft that we can put the original in the bin. Here’s how:
H.P. Lovecraft is undeniably one of the most profound influences on everything we think of as horror today. He mixed supernatural events with deep, troubling existential questions of the scale of time and space itself. Characters lose their minds because of the overwhelming amount of information they try to absorb about his canon version of the world.
If you love his stories, and more importantly the influence his stories have had, I’d like to share a lot of other stories, ideas, events, legends, movies, and more that have some of the same themes: paranormal investigation, loss of sanity, cults and other insular groups, unfathomably big ideas, faraway and isolated places, monsters beneath the world or behind the door, and the horrifying passage of time.
CALL OF CTHULHU (1981 role-playing game)
Just seven years after the first edition of Dungeons & Dragons, Chaosium released Call of Cthulhu, an expansive tabletop RPG tapping directly into Lovecraft’s mythology. Stu Horvath and John McGuire talked about the game in the second episode of their new Vintage RPG podcast. CoC is in its seventh edition, but Horvath explains each has tweaked and improved on the one before, rather than the wholesale reinventions D&D players are used to.
In CoC, players are everyday folks in a darkly Xeroxed real world. They’re investigators and researchers. The One Shot podcast has done two great versions of the game that highlight its flexibility: Scooby Doo: Pooch on the Doorstep, where the players are Fred, Velma, and friends; and Pulp Cthulhu, where they play Indiana Jones, Voldemort, Doctor Who, and other genre heroes.
One underpinning of Lovecraftian horror is that the weight and size of the universe and its secrets will make anyone lose their minds. CoC uses this as a gameplay mechanic. When players roll to notice clues and secrets, they also must risk their sanity points. As they lose sanity, rolls get harder, and successes continue to erode their sanity. It’s cosmic horror as microtransaction.
Later this year, Cyanide Games (Blood Bowl) will release video game adaptations of both CoC and Werewolf: The Apocalypse. There’s also a LARP version of the game called Cthulhu Live and countless variations on the original tabletop game.
ARKHAM HORROR (1987 board game, 2016 card game)
Chaosium adapted their own Call of Cthulhu RPG into an obtuse board game and a much more accessible card game nearly 30 years apart. They’re still making and releasing expansions for the card game, with a schedule extending into at least the near future.
CHILL (1984 role-playing game, 1985 board game)
Poor Chill has long been the Jan Brady to Call of Cthulhu’s Marsha. Creators Pacesetter, Ltd. made it just a couple more years before going out of business and selling the rights to Chill to another company. It has changed hands several more times since.
Lovable demon Hellboy, created by Mike Mignola, is stylishly drawn and darkly funny. Over 25 years and a variety of comics, books, games, movies, and cartoons, Hellboy has worked as a “paranormal investigator” with a kind of A Team of other supernaturally talented heroes. Ron Perlman’s popular and well received performance as Hellboy in 2004 and 2008 films will, maybe, be eclipsed in 2019 by a rebooted movie starring Stranger Things’s David Harbour.
KRAKEN (2011 novel)
China Mieville’s darkly funny novel posits a world where competing factions of cult members and magic users overlay and adorn the real London. They’re all trying to get to the bottom of a missing giant squid that turns out to be, well, important.
NEONOMICON (2010 comic) and PROVIDENCE (2015-17 comic)
In each of Alan Moore’s Lovecraft-lore series, people investigate extreme and mysterious happenings, with monstrous results.
A STUDY IN EMERALD (2003 short story)
Neil Gaiman’s Hugo Award-winning story follows a war-traumatized young man in a thinly veiled version of the real world. He meets an exceptionally keen detective and becomes his mystery-solving partner in crime, but in this version of the world, all of everyone’s worst nightmares are true.
AMNESIA: THE DARK DESCENT (2010 game)
In this first-person survival horror game you fight monsters around you and inside your head.
TANIS (2015-? podcast)
Where Welcome to Night Vale is a bit dotty and precious, Tanis is frightening and earnest. The show finished its fourth season in June of 2018.
CARTER & LOVECRAFT (2015 novel)
A horrifying tragedy and a series of unlikely events lead Detective Dan Carter to Providence, where he now co-owns a bookstore with one of Lovecraft’s descendants. Jonathan L. Howard’s burgeoning series includes a second book published in 2017.
TAMAM SHUD CASE (1948 unsolved murder)
Seventy years ago, a corpse appeared on a beach in south-central Australia with a scrap of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam in his pocket. He has never been identified. Norway’s Isdal Woman has a similar story.
THE LITANY OF EARTH (2014 novella)
Ruthanna Emrys continues her Innsmouth Legacy series with this story, where protagonist Aphra is pursued and bargained with by a shadowy organization in her dark Lovecraftian world.
DON’T GO INTO THE WOODS: EVENT HORIZON (2018 podcast episode)
Autosave’s own Kelso Rowland hosts this podcast about horror movies, and for the 1997 space-monster psychological horror Event Horizon, she and cohost Josh Ickes discuss it and similar movies of frightening isolation, despair, and the unknown.
ALONE IN THE DARK (long-running game franchise)
In half a dozen games, two movie adaptations, and more, Edward Carnby solves horrifying mysteries. Like all great pulp heroes, his backstory has been manipulated over the years to explain changes in age, place, and time. I’m not sure how, but they got Christian Slater to play the character in a Uwe Boll movie.
THE SINKING CITY (2019 video game)
This “action investigation” game’s teaser trailer shows a man threatening a tentacle monster with a gun, a dreamy transition through a flooded office, and our hero being scooped up in an enormous hand. In other words, plan for a Big Lebowski dream sequence but of horror.
NOSLEEP: THE HIDDEN WEBPAGE (2017 podcast episode)
This feature-length, standalone episode of NoSleep follows someone with clouded memories of a shady internet cafe and what happened inside. It feels like the nightmare you’d have if you were born in the ‘80s and fell asleep during the end credits of Hackers.
THE TURN OF THE SCREW (1898 novella)
Henry James’s horror story is his most famous work, and he uses both a framing device and an unreliable narrator to show how fickle everyone’s grasp of reality is in the story. Come for the spooky ghost on a scenic country estate; stay for the unanswered questions.
AJAX (400s B.C. play)
Athena isn’t an elder god, but she definitely fucks with legendary warrior Ajax when she magicks him into slaying an entire herd of cattle and their herdsmen in a temporary blind rage. And despite the divine interference, Ajax must answer for his crimes, both to his people and to his own conscience. All of Sophocles’s plays are filled with torment, but they don’t all have goddesses as main characters.
FEARLESS (1993 film)
I’ve flexed author privilege to include my favorite movie in this list. Jeff Bridges plays a businessman whose life is interrupted by a terrible plane crash, but instead of experiencing fear of God or traditional signs of trauma, surviving the crash makes him feel dangerously godlike and reckless. What could be cosmic fear becomes cosmic arrogance.
THE KING IN YELLOW (1895 short story collection)
Famous now for its inclusion in True Detective, Robert Chambers’s landmark work is as confusingly weird and genre-creative as Moby-Dick.
ETERNAL DARKNESS (2002 game)
Nintendo’s Miyamoto-led survival horror GameCube game literally patented the idea of sanity as an in-game meter with intrusive consequences. The game did well with reviewers but didn’t sell, and the planned sequel was cancelled. An eternal darkness is also the term to describe a crater that is permanently in shadow. “Imagine if it was full of unsold copies of Eternal Darkness?” wonders Charles, who is a bad person.
MIRIAM (1948 short story)
Truman Capote is most famous for Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but Miriam boils Capote’s love of bleakness down to a pure, haunting allegory. An aging woman meets a young girl who will absolutely not leave her alone or take no for an answer. It’s interesting that Capote’s story appeared in a magazine the same year as Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, because Mademoiselle readers also apparently didn’t really get it. Cynthia Ozick’s beautiful novel The Puttermesser Papers has always reminded me of Capote’s story, with a young female golem instead of an alleged human child.
THE LONG RAIN (1950 short story)
Ray Bradbury’s most famous novel, Fahrenheit 451, has created an impression that Bradbury was political and future-shy in ways that his other work doesn’t always bear out. Bradbury’s story “The Long Rain” is a claustrophobic psychological horror. It’s set on Venus but could happen anywhere at almost any time of extreme seclusion or confinement.
RIDE THE LIGHTNING (1984 album)
Metallica’s beginnings as a thrash metal band began to fade with 1984’s Ride the Lightning, where they slowed down and made more complex songs with more audible lyrics. The most direct Lovecraft shout is Call of Ktulu, but other songs on the album were inspired by other horror luminaries and show the band’s strong interest in the grimly occult. James Hetfield even voiced the Lovecraftian troll Mustakrakish in a 2006 episode of Metalocalypse.
BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW (2010 film) and MANDY (2018 film)
Panos Cosmatos is an Italian-Canadian filmmaker whose 2010 debut, Beyond the Black Rainbow, is a stark psychological horror story told in an incohesive and dreamy way. Cosmatos’s followup, which has already played at festivals but will open in the U.S. in September, promises more of the same, but where Black Rainbow was black and white with the contrast up, Mandy is full-on Dario Argento saturated color. There are Satanists, bespoke battleaxes, and one very blood-soaked Nicolas Cage.
LORE: ROPE & RAILING (2015 podcast episode)
Aaron Mahnke is so good at personalizing the horror of people placed in extreme and isolated situations. What if you had to stay at a remote lighthouse all winter with just one other person?
FIRST IT GIVETH (2003 song)
With a title from the Book of Job, Queens of the Stone Age’s driving stoner-metal anthem describes the push-pull and ambivalence of using drugs to try to stimulate your imagination.
MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS (2018 board game)
Mountains of Madness uses a mechanic similar to Call of Cthulhu, where players must battle against their own sanity. But the board game, designed by Rob Daviau of Pandemic Legacy and Betrayal at House on the Hill, includes Daviau’s maybe trademark of intrusive psychological stresses that shape and impede your progress. Players draw “madness” cards and must sit silently, touch other players, lie, speak in questions, and more. Polygon chose the game for its inaugural episode of Overboard.
REQUIEM IN D MINOR (1791 classical piece)
Mozart was partway through composing this remarkable, startling piece of music when he died. His death is strongly dramatized in the movie Amadeus, although no one really knows how or why Mozart died. But for his last work to be on a requiem mass is almost too uncanny.
THE UNCONSOLED (1995 novel)
I’d love to call this Kazuo Ishiguro’s most divisive novel, but he’s continued to try to surpass it with 2016’s The Sleeping Giant. We join a traveling musician as he tries to navigate a vaguely Eastern European city marked by dead ends and stone walls. He continues to feel alienated and “foreign” as his plans to even walk to basic places are thwarted at every turn.
THE JAUNT (1981 short story)
I first read Stephen King’s short, even tiny, story in the secluded fiction section of the small public Carnegie library in my hometown when I was maybe 10. I’ve read almost all of King’s work and I am a huge, but not uncritical, fan. So please understand how much it means that this is the single most memorable and terrifying thing I’ve ever read.
BLACK MIRROR: MEN AGAINST FIRE (2016 TV episode)
The episodes of Black Mirror that haunt me most are psychological, and Men Against Fire pairs dark psychology with Lovecraftian xenophobia. We follow supersoldiers as they raid a house and exterminate its monstrous residents. But why are they doing it? What’s really happening?
CHARLES MANSON’S HOLLYWOOD (2015 podcast)
Karina Longworth’s long-running You Must Remember This podcast spent a season on the fascinating story of the Manson Family.
YOUNG GOODMAN BROWN (1835 short story)
American public schools have ruined Nathaniel Hawthorne by making teens read the Scarlet Letter, but Hawthorne’s story Young Goodman Brown is an all-time great of pure scary shit. Yes, it has literary merit and is probably studied. But no, you don’t have to think about any of that to enjoy it.
BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES (1970 film)
The original Planet of the Apes is a masterpiece with an iconic ending, but the second film in the series tries really hard to outdo it. If you haven’t seen this movie, please do, and don’t read up on it beforehand.
THE SHROUDED ISLE (2017 game)
In this stylish indie “cult management sim” from the makers of upcoming Boyfriend Dungeon, you make tough decisions, like which of your followers to sacrifice to the dark lord.
THE VOID (2016 film)
This low-budget Canadian horror movie ticks almost all the boxes: a murderous cult, a scary hospital at night, a monstrous birth, a lot of tentacles, and an unfathomable void.
THE MAGUS (1965 novel)
A young man living unhappily on an isolated Greek island is drawn into the confusing, dreamlike, and increasingly disturbing inner circle of his new friend and mentor.
HEAVEN’S GATE (2017 podcast)
Snap Judgment’s Glynn Washington hosts this miniseries about the famous cosmic horror cult that committed mass suicide in 1997.
MARCHE SLAVE (1876 classical piece)
Tchaikovsky’s evocative piece uses music to describe the ongoing war between the Ottoman Empire and the people of Serbia, who were outnumbered, underprepared, and of a different religion than their oppressors. He wove in motifs and scales from traditional Serbian music.
THE LOTTERY (1948 short story)
Shirley Jackson’s massively popular and influential short story, arguably the most well known story ever written by an American author, is a simple but uncomfortably effective parable about a idyllic-seeming small town. This theme is so common now that it was the inciting incident in the Hunger Games trilogy, but in 1948 the story was shocking and even offensive to many of those who first read it in the New Yorker. Some even believed the story was true.
There’s a lot to comment on about this reaction. For Jackson’s horror story to even appear in the New Yorker at all shows that so-called pulp and genre fiction was making a great deal of headway into the mainstream by 1948 compared with when Lovecraft was writing just a few decades prior. It’s also a sign of Jackson’s influence that so many of today’s best literary fiction novels are anchored with at least some hallmarks of genre fiction.
LOVECRAFT COUNTRY (2016 novel)
Matt Ruff’s political horror novel uses an overall frame of horror tropes and history to tell affecting stories about racism in America. The novel is being adapted into an HBO series produced by Jordan Peele and starring Jurnee Smollett-Bell.
CAT’S CRADLE (1963 novel)
I’m not sure Kurt Vonnegut’s satire can really be funny in 2018 instead of crushingly sad, so if you try it out, let me know. On the isolated fictional island of San Lorenzo, a long history of clashing rituals from opposing cultlike groups leads to a madcap apocalypse.
THE WICKER MAN (1973 film)
A police officer gets an anonymous tip about a mystery on an isolated island in Scotland’s Hebrides. When he gets there, he finds disturbing rituals and superstitious beliefs that threaten him directly as an outsider and a Christian. Once he’s trapped on the island, everything escalates, culminating in the iconic Wicker Man scene. And his strongly held personal beliefs cause him to fear and judge the locals, which helps to seal his fate.
99% INVISIBLE: NUMBERS STATIONS (2013 podcast episode)
Numbers stations remain one of the most unsettling so-called commonplace mysteries, something regular people can still find and explore and never understand because of their secrecy. In fact, there’s a whole community of folks who listen and speculate on what these stations really are.
THE ROAD (2006 novel)
Cormac McCarthy’s bleak dystopian horror novel posits one version of how people will treat each other following a mass extinction event.
THE TWILIGHT ZONE: THE SHELTER (1961 TV episode)
During a birthday party at a house in the suburbs, guests talk about and praise their host’s hand-built nuclear fallout shelter. But when an alarm goes off signaling some kind of event, the host and his family rush into the shelter and leave their friends and neighbors locked outside, where they fight bitterly, resorting to racism, xenophobia, and brutal tactics.
LORE: THE KING (2016 podcast episode)
First everyone is stranded. Then the food goes bad.
HEARTHSTONE: WHISPERS OF THE OLD GODS (2016 expansion)
The elder gods appear in this expansion pack, along with threats to sanity, blindly devoted followers, and aggressive minions.
EVIL EYE (2013 novella)
A young, passive new wife is sheltered and coddled by her much older husband, until one day he tells her his first wife is coming to visit. And something horrible is wrong. I know Joyce Carol Oates can act like a real steaming shit sometimes but she’s an absolute master of cold dread.
CULTIST SIMULATOR (2018 game)
Cultist Simulator is creator Alexis Kennedy’s first solo project after leaving Failbetter, where he created Fallen London and Sunless Sea. Using a deck of cards that’s one part Magic: The Gathering and one part tarot deck made entirely of Hanged Men, you’ll try to hold off dread long enough to succeed. But what will that success really be?
RAGE (1977 novel)
In the late ‘70s, Stephen King began using the pseudonym Richard Bachman to kind of Undercover Boss his own writing success. Rage is a first-person psychological horror from the perspective of a school shooter caught in the pretentious whirling of his own dervish. Charlie, a trickledown Holden Caulfield, harrows his classmates while railing on the nature of the universe.
HIDDEN BRAIN: CREATING GOD (2018 podcast episode)
Shankar Vedantam’s NPR show is mindblowing on the regular but this episode posits theories about why and how humans create myths and gods.
IN THE HALL OF THE MOUNTAIN KING (1875 classical piece)
Edvard Grieg’s evocative, spooky piece follows the action of a Henrik Ibsen play about the boundary between being human and being part of a threatening and alien race: the trolls.
REPLY-ALL: THE QANON CODE (2018 podcast episode)
For the Lovecraftily xenophobic and paranoid in 2018, there’s no more tantalizing idea than the global conspiracy whistleblower QAnon. This episode was released before speculation intensified that QAnon is actually a liberal troll.
POLES OF INACCESSIBILITY (geography)
What’s the point furthest from land or most remote within a landmass? One real pole of inaccessibility, Point Nemo, is part of Lovecraft’s own lore as the secret and forgotten location of the city of of R’lyeh. Nemo is 1,400 miles from the nearest land spots, which are themselves some of the most remote island chains on Earth. Writers and dreamers in general have loved to imagine these faraway places as the homes of dragons and secret civilizations. Lovecraft’s is evil, of course.
FUGUE IN VOID (2018 game)
This freshly released walking sim from Moshe Linke explores bleakly beautiful land- and cityscapes. “Can a Video Game Make You Belatedly Appreciate Brutalism?” Cameron Kunzelman wonders at Waypoint. Cameron, you had me at hello.
HELLRAISER (horror franchise)
Clive Barker’s long-running horror property follows a group of grim and tortured demons from another dimension and the regular earthlings who, for some reason, keep unlocking the gateway to hell. Astrid Budgor just wrote a great piece about the link between sexuality and hellish horror in Barker’s original source novella and in the absurdly misogynistic game Agony.
LORE: ADRIFT (2015 podcast episode)
What’s the human cost of a pole of inaccessibility?
BURGESS SHALE (1909 scientific discovery)
Like a 21st century lifehacker, Charles Doolittle Walcott had a high-paying day job and an extreme weekend and summer hobby. He ran the Smithsonian Institution for decades after a long career as a paleontologist, so he and his family traveled whenever they could for him to keep digging stuff up. In 1909, he first discovered the bed of bizarre Cambrian fossils that became his major legacy. A geological fluke preserved these “soft body” fossils, meaning the outlines of their bodies, not just their skeletons. Because of that, we know about a huge worm with five eyes that lived 500 million years ago. I’m not scared of Jurassic Park anymore.
THE THING (1982 film), PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1987 film), and IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS (1995 film)
John Carpenter’s Apocalypse trilogy explores sanity, extraterrestrial life, and demons from hell as lampshaded by investigators and scientists. Carpenter has said he felt inspired by the idea of mixing traditionally evil monsters and cutting-edge scientific theories like quantum physics. These theoretical science concepts can definitely give you a feeling of metaphysical insanity if you think about them for too long.
THE ROAD TO VIDEO GAME HELL (2018 article)
Eurogamer’s Andreas Inderwildi is developing a Lovecraftian beat. His July article The Road to Video Game Hell compares fine art depictions of hell with game art, and his August article The Occult Mechanics of Bloodborne, Cultist Simulator and Pyre begins with the provocative claim that “All games are occult.” As of this writing, he follows 666 people on Twitter.
PERSISTENT NATURAL FIRES
Wikipedia is filled with the most excellent lists, but my new favorite category page is persistent natural fires. You might recognize Centralia, Pennsylvania, as one of the real-life inspirations for Silent Hill. If you’ve seen the new Netflix show Dark Tourist, you’ve seen the Darvaza gas crater, which is also called the Door to Hell. (It’s where host David Farrier’s local fixer wants to cook an egg on a very long stick.) But there are over a dozen more neverending fires around the world.
RE-ANIMATOR (1985 film)
This cult classic film is, somehow, a funny adaptation of a Lovecraft story about bringing corpses back to life. It’s set at Lovecraft’s iconic Miskatonic University, and the ambitious scientists start to kill off their competitors to protect the secret of the titular re-animator.
POLYNIA (2015 short story)
China Mieville’s self-described “weird fiction” takes the mantle directly from genre-bending pioneers like Lovecraft, but Mieville also brings anarchist politics and a ph.d. in international relations. Many of his short stories are horrifying and Lovecraftian in one way or another. In Polynia, several huge mountains of ice suddenly appear in the sky.
On a quiet, calm summer afternoon, it’s easy to forget that Earth is spinning and hurtling through space at a cool quarter mile per second for each. And not even the surface of Earth is still. Yes, the tectonic plates move and grind, leading to earthquakes and volcanoes. But when plates collide, like they do deep beneath the ocean, one plate buckles under the other and is reabsorbed into Earth’s liquid nethers. And new surface is born every single day out of white-hot magma fissures in the middle of the ocean floor.
CTHULHU WARS (2015 board game)
Legendary game designer Sandy Petersen, who wrote most of Call of Cthulhu when he worked at Chaosium, started a company in 2013 and Kickstarted this luxe, detailed board game. Play as different elder gods and try to take over the world.
The supervolcano beneath Yellowstone National Park is legendary. It erupted 2.1 million, 1.3 million, and 630,000 years ago. So with 800,000 years between the first two eruptions and 700,000 years between the second and third eruptions, I’ll let you do the math on a hypothetical fourth.
MARS IS A DEAD EARTH
If thinking about Earth constantly chewing up and melting its own surface is overwhelming, imagine the alternative. Lots of evidence suggests that Mars is similar to Earth but, because Mars is a much smaller planet, it just ran out of juice faster. Earth has a hot liquid core that generates massive energy, and while we keep spinning with that liquid core, our atmosphere stays attached and keeps us alive.
COUNTER/WEIGHT (2015 podcast)
Friends at the Table’s best “season” is set in distant space in another time, with creator Austin Walker’s own take on the idea of an elder god: ancient mechanical gods that protect regular folks and form the basis of the religions on their planets. Despite being FaTT’s best work, the arc is still uneven, and most of the “faction” episodes are skippable if you can read a recap instead. The planetside game uses Hamish Cameron’s cyberpunk Apocalypse World system called The Sprawl.
SERENITY (2005 film)
The standalone movie version of Firefly takes the series’s major themes and tells a fresh and complete story. When the Firefly picks up River and Simon, it’s clear something very damaging and traumatic has been done to River on the “civilized” central planets. But what was it, and why, and who’s responsible? These questions lead the crew to the extreme bleeding edge of their galaxy. Literally.
DELTRON 3030 (2000 album)
This concept album by the short-lived supergroup of the same name pairs Del the Funky Homosapien and Dan the Automator for a meditation on a far-future dystopia where no one is allowed to express themselves. Madness in particular is about frightened groups turning on each other because of an authoritarian regime.
THE CURIOUS EXPEDITION (2016 game)
H.P. Lovecraft is one of the folks you can choose as your explorer in this roguelike survival game. With some famous real explorers and a diverse mix of other great historical figures, each with marked strengths and weaknesses, this unforgiving game is brutally fun and unpredictable. When you choose Lovecraft, he carries his own Necronomicon, which summons chaotic magic. Even with other explorers, you have magic, abominations, tame dinosaurs, portals to other dimensions, and more, all in the seclusion of unexplored lands. And you still might find a Necronomicon to buy.
HEAT DEATH OF THE UNIVERSE (scientific idea)
Mars is like a smaller Earth on fast forward, an example of what happens when a planet’s thermodynamic life cycle ends. The heat death of the universe is when that has finally happened to everything.
Q (Star Trek character)
John de Lancie appears twice on this list, this time for his portrayal of the omnipotent, omnipresent galaxy-god Q in Star Trek: The Next Generation and subsequent series. From the first episode of TNG, Q appears at regular intervals to meddle and disrupt: “this godlike, amoral brat,” as my friend Andy Lee described him. But to even call Q “him” is wrong. Q is played by a male actor but is a formless, genderless, massively powerful and knowledgeable being.
LEITMOTIF (1998 album)
The band Dredg have carved a niche between art metal and prog rock to make noisy, catchy, and melodic songs about mystical, surreal, and fantastical ideas. Their debut album Leitmotif is about a long, long journey to try to discover and do the right thing.
LITTLE, BIG (1981 novel)
John Crowley’s fantasy novel is kind of a traditional family saga over several generations, except that the family lives in a home built on a portal to another dimension. Clashes between different groups and worlds cause changes and destruction over time.
IN THE UNLIKELY EVENT (2015 novel)
Judy Blume’s novel about a town with an improbable number of plane crashes is based on her own real experiences as a girl in Elizabeth, New Jersey. When people imagine events being “random,” they often intuit that to mean evenly spaced and regularly distributed. Check the reviews of a game you love that includes some element of chance and see how folks feel about the truly random. Blume’s novel describes three plane crashes within two months in a city of just 100,000 people.
MELANCHOLIA (2011 film)
There’s no horror more literally cosmic than a rogue planet taking out Earth, but Lars von Trier’s real genius in Melancholia is making this cosmic event relate directly to the protagonist’s depression. Lovecraft’s extreme xenophobia was energized by his invented outlet of frightening and unknowable monsters, and Justine’s depression is energized by the impending apocalypse.
DEEP TOWN (2016 game)
In this fun, lightweight, surprisingly long-term hybrid idle clicker, you mine resources out of a pit that seems to have no bottom. But it’s also filled with huge elemental tentacle monsters that you must craft special laser and explosive weapons in order to defeat.
IRONCAST (2015 game)
Choose your pilot, choose your mech suit, and defend morally ambivalent steampunk England from the invading French army. But what has enabled this technology, and what’s all this fighting really about?
MOBY-DICK (1851 novel) and RAILSEA (2012 novel)
The thing about Herman Melville’s classic epic adventure novel is that it’s filled with the most beautiful, strange, overly involved chapters about different kinds of ships, different things about whales, and a thousand other minutiae. If you think of these chapters like brief sojourns to Wikipedia between sections of the real story, you’ll love this book as much as I do. It’s a tale of profound obsession enabled by power and funding. China Mieville’s YA retelling of it, Railsea, is a stylish steampunk dystopia where the whale is replaced by an extraordinary mutant mole. But the real enemy was capitalism all along.
THE DINOSAUR TOURIST (2018 short story collection)
Caitlin R. Kiernan’s upcoming collection promises to “explore that treacherous gulf between what we suppose the world to be and what might actually be waiting out beyond the edges of our day-to-day experience.”
KINGDOM (2015 game)
Take the crown of your randomly generated kingdom in this low-key pixel roguelite about managing resources and defeating portals to other dimensions.
THE DARKEST OF THE HILLSIDE THICKETS (band)
This Canadian punk band performs songs dedicated to Lovecraft and his extended universe. In over 25 years as a band, they’ve rotated members and costumes and gone on various tours.
COLLECTED GHOST STORIES OF M. R. JAMES (short story collection)
Dr. Montague Rhodes James was a gentleman, a scholar, and a noted influence on Lovecraft. His stories set a tone for ghost and horror stories that we still see in storytelling, the same way Lovecraft’s elder gods still influence horror.
CALL OF CTHULHU (2005 film)
This silent adaptation of Lovecraft’s story is about the length of a TV episode.
MY FATHER’S LONG, LONG LEGS (2013 interactive fiction)
Michael Lutz is a long-tenured internet scholar and raconteur. His short, frightening browser IF may cause you to keep the lights on, especially if, like me, you grew up with a dirt floor in your basement.
MICHAEL BUKOWSKI (artist)
For nearly a decade, Bukowski has worked to draw all the creatures and monsters in Lovecraft’s work.
14 (2012 novel)
Peter Clines’s lifelong interest in Lovecraft grew until he began selling fiction and publishing novels in the 2000s. In 14, he mixes chamber mystery with Lovecraftian apocalypse mythos into one well paced story about an uncannily eventful apartment building.
SUNLESS SEA (2015 game)
My love for Failbetter’s rainmaker, which will also come out on PS4 later this year, is old news. The world depicted in Sunless Sea is already subterranean, having sunk beneath the ground after Queen Victoria made a deal with the devil. But beneath its surface are far more layers: monstrous creatures, sunken civilizations, and unfathomably ancient ruins. Sailing into the dark fills your crew with fear, and that fear can and will consume you.
ELDRITCH (2013 game)
Reviews for this first-person supernatural dungeon crawler are mixed, and at five years old it’s not likely to be updated anytime soon. But the mechanics and art direction are beautifully frightening and true to Lovecraft’s vision.
STAR TREK TNG: THE INNER LIGHT (1992 TV episode)
I’m no innovator with this, one of the best and most famous TNG episodes.
LIVING WITH A WILD GOD (2014 memoir)
Journalist Barbara Ehrenreich is brilliant and fastidious in her documentation and memories of a life spent wondering what life’s point really is. It’s hard to explain the expansive and beautiful sense of real, inquisitive wonder she shows in this book, and the love with which she describes her teenage self’s struggles and questions. How could an infinite universe be made by even an omnipotent being? What happens after we die?
ANTIKYTHERA MECHANISM (ancient device)
There’s nothing inherently spooky about the Antikythera mechanism, which is a truly exciting ancient device that could do manual computing. It’s not even spooky to imagine how such an advanced technology could be lost for nearly two millennia after it was lost in a shipwreck around 100 BC. Many ancient cultures had advanced technology that was overtaken and lost during natural disasters or wars or in intellectual dark times. But it is frightening and unfathomable to try to imagine the full scale of what we’ve lost over the length of human civilization.
WHAT DREAMS MAY COME (1998 film)
The late ‘90s had a spate of afterlife- and angel-themed pop culture, but Robin Williams and astonishing art direction make What Dreams May Come one of the best examples. Williams had an uncanny gift for where absurdity met literal magic in movies like Hook, Jumanji, and the Fisher King. In this, he chases his wife into the dark afterlife where she has chosen to go after the devastating death of their children and, although he doesn’t realize it, himself. The imagery of various flavors of afterlife is haunting, grandiose, and sometimes terrifying.
AKUPARA AND JORMUNGANDR (ancient gods)
Akupara is the Hindu world turtle and Jörmungandr is the Norse world serpent, but there are many, many more examples of planet-size creatures that carry or surround the world and exist forever.
JOHN DONNE’S HOLY SONNETS (1633 poetry collection)
Donne has suffered as part of the weaponized canon, works whose language is now used against students as a test of their intellectual rigor and dedication. But his holy sonnets are some of the most powerful and visceral works of sacred writing, where Donne addresses God directly and demands explanations for how lost and unwanted he feels, how brutalized by his life and heatlh, and how despairing and filled with questions. Lovecraft may frighten us with the lore he created, but Donne may make you fear for your real being.
BLACK MIRROR: WHITE CHRISTMAS (2014 TV episode)
There are a handful of Black Mirror episodes that confront the scaling up of time head on. This is just my favorite, because Jon Hamm is masterfully cast in an episode that plays out like a real dream.
99% INVISIBLE: TEN THOUSAND YEARS (2014 podcast episode)
How do you indicate to the people of ten thousand years from now that you’ve buried poison deep under the ground?
ARRIVAL (2016 film)
Amy Adams is a superstar in this provocative scifi film, which has a stronger sense of the scale of time and space and of the alienness of otherworldly visitors than almost anything else I’ve ever seen. Adams plays a linguist called in to try to decode the ethereal language of an alien species inside their monolithic spaceship.
CONTAINMENT (2016 documentary)
This hybrid animated documentary picks up the themes from 99% Invisible’s episode, exploring how governments and groups around the world are choosing to show the danger of what lies beneath in the nuclear graveyards of the world. For more on this theme, check out the second episode of the Netflix series Dark Tourist, “Japan,” where the host visits irradiated places and a depository for poisoned topsoil.