Call of Cthulhu (pronounced khlûl’-hloo [link]) is an upcoming horror game being developed by Frogwares Studio for PS4, Xbox One, and PC. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I’m not necessarily a horror fan. Some of it is downright eye-rollingly silly. However, this is The Well-Red Mage, and Call of Cthulhu is based on the 1926 literary work of the same name by horror-master H.P. Lovecraft. We appreciate the literature ’round these parts.
Now the thing with Lovecraftian horror that differentiates from spookiness of lower quality (besides for its weird fans… jk) is the kind of scary it represents. Lovecraft’s works are full of monsters but they aren’t the jump-scare type. Think more creepiness than “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAUGH!!” factor. The protagonists in his stories are less scared than they are driven insane by the sudden realization that an entire hidden world of indifferent and malevolent entities exist beyond the veil of visible reality.
It’s a kind of slow, psychological apprehension-horror. The problem? Well, none. Not with the original work. At the Mountains of Madness (my favorite) is a 1931 short story by Lovecraft that is all dread and foreboding, with accents of unseen malice until the final reveal of the grotesque Shoggoth. Therein lies the problem for the visual arts as I see it.
Slimy slug-squids can be as scary as an author wishes through their wordplay and description. But I think it’s much more difficult to make the Elder Things, the Shoggoths and Cthulhu himself visually frightening beyond the word-images of tentacles and mucus.
Lovecraft has always been more gross than scary, but in modern terms of horror storytelling, I wonder that early 1900’s Lovecraftian horror will still hold up. We’re not talking so much about “things that go bump in the night” as “things that go bump in another dimension of perception”. ‘Course, I’m not making the game, so it’s not my money, but it looks from the trailer that they’re on the right track. Somewhat.
I’m interested to hear your thoughts. Can modern storytelling still convey the essence of Lovecraft’s unique “fear of the unknown”? Or will his monsters, dragons, starfish, and amoebas just look… stupid?