by Davy Kenney
We begin with a high-falootin’ assertion that you need not go to crypts and castles of Europe or Asia to find true horror because it exists right here in New England.
Alright, a bit over the top, but you’ve got our attention. Then we hear about a cross-country biker who is caught in a rain storm and (surprise, surprise) the only place to seek shelter is a creepy old house.
Then we get another big shocker when the inhabitant of this house is an extremely creepy individual.
I bet you didn’t see that one coming.
So far we have all the elements that take you out of a good scary story. We don’t believe the plot; the whole thing just seems cliché. The language is bombastic and archaic. In short, nothing about the story so far would induce us to believe that anything like this ever did, will, or could happen.
Then the weird old guy sits on the couch next to the biker and starts talking…
I won’t give away the end, but I vividly remember reading Lovecraft’s “The Picture In the House” for the first time, on my couch, feeling like I was sitting in a decrepit old house in the Miskatonic Valley, next to a ghoulish old man, scared out of my wits.
Other horror writers try to make you believe a situation is real and then make that situation scary. They want you to say, “Wouldn’t it be scary if this actually happened?”
Lovecraft doesn’t even bother with a pretense. With Lovecraft, you are constantly yelling to yourself, “This can’t be happening!” in a vain attempt to remind yourself how ridiculous the story line is.
If you had a dollar for every Lovecraft story that begins with a young man who inherits a creepy old mansion that was owned by his crazy, occultist uncle that disappeared under mysterious circumstances … you would probably have more money than Lovecraft ever earned from writing.
And don’t get me started on the language. Play a drinking game when you read and drink every time the word “cyclopean” is used. You won’t make it past the fifth page. It doesn’t matter which story you read.
And yet, there in lies beauty of Lovecraft. He is insolently spooky. In every one of his stories it is like he is saying to us, “I’m not even going to pretend that this is real, but I’m still gonna’ creep the hell out of ya.” Add a Cthulhu and a few Shoggoths to the mix, and you’ve got yourself a proper October night.
I have not read half of what Lovecraft wrote, but here are a few that stick out in my mind in no particular order. Honestly though, you should just go out and get any collection of his stories. My personal recommendation is to not get one of the new compilations that put the most famous Cthulhu stories together, but get an older collection. It may have a few duds in it, but with Lovecraft, the duds are often just as fun as his best ones.
- “The Rats in the Wall”
- “The Dunwich Horror”
- “The Picture in the House”
- “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”
- “The Survivor” *This is Lovecraft at his best at his worst.