I don’t quite get contemporary horror. Some of it is really good (The Orphanage, The Ring) and some of it okay for one trick (Paranormal Activity) and some of it just plain gross (Saw). But growing up in the late 70s/early 80s exposed me to many all-time great horror movies: The Exorcist, The Thing, Carrie, Hellraiser, Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween. Lots of Stephen King in there too.
A key appeal of Lovecraft’s world is his imagination – the man was a once-in-a-lifetime individual and his work will live on for quite a while. But his take on existentialism was both nihilistic and weird. The story about the fish people breeding with humans in the failed fishing town in remote New England? Kinda different than what F Scott Fitzgerald was writing during the same period.
It’s the same elements that fuel Stephen King. Buoyed by an unstoppable work ethic (and, in the 80s, lots of cocaine and Miller tallboys), King’s work showed that the world still had room for stories about normal people having horrible experiences. King acknowledges his own Lovecraft influences, as does Clive Barker, Neil Gaimen, John Carpenter and Guillermo del Toro, because Lovecraft sets the bar so damn high – not for scary but for Weird.
His landscape is full of distant Dreamlands full of monstrous shadows, dark libraries haunted by broods of alien cats, crumbling towns on the edge of civilization. Lovecraft pushed the boundaries of imagination so far we are still trying to find the edges. But it’s not about shocks. It’s about going to different worlds, meeting strange creatures and understanding that our cosmos is limitless. It’s about stretching our imaginations into unseen territories, dreamscapes, visions.
I love playing Cthulhu Mythos RPGs because they are weird and different. I love writing Cthulhu Mythos RPGs because I get to be as weird as possible. With He Who Laughs Last, which is set in modern Los Angeles, I continually stretched myself to make things weirder, to catch the players off guard and give their imaginations something to sink their teeth into. The greatest pleasure for me comes when, after a PC awakes to find a large hyena statue has moved in the night to now stand next to his bed, the player says, “oh, man, that’s really freaky…” Caught, unexpected, by a stretch of the imagination.
So my modern horror games aren’t about shocks or surprises. Instead, they’re weird, unusual, gross and hopefully totally unexpected. So call it horror, call it weirdness, call it whatever. I don’t need sudden shocks to make my point.
I can just be weird…