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Nightmarish Monsters in Science Fiction (Inspired by Lovecraft)

"The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents." —HP Lovecraft, 'Call of Cthulhu'

By Anthony GramugliaPublished 7 years ago 7 min read
Cthulhu, Great Old One

Many consider HP Lovecraft to be one of the greatest horror writers, despite the fact that many people are only familiar with his works because someone posted a pic of Cthulhu on Reddit once. When Lovecraft wasn't writing letters brimming with overt racism, he wrote stories--many of which are easily among the greatest pieces of sci-fi horror of his time. A whole list could be dedicated to just listing his short stories...

But if Lovecraft only wrote a few good stories, would he be so fondly remembered? Probably not.

Lovecraft's place in history established itself when other writers took up the torch, and wrote stories inspired by Lovecraft's work. Stories of monsters beyond the boundaries of time, of things that simply should not be, of--

You get the point.

To qualify here, it can't be a character created by Lovecraft (so no Cthulhu), yet bares all the trademarks of his cosmic monstrosities. Tentacles also help.

The Thing (The Thing)

"Bellow the waist, though, it was the worst; for here all human resemblance left off and sheer phantasy began." - HP Lovecraft, "The Dunwich Horror"

John Carpenter's adaptation of the novella Who Goes There? took a Lovecraftian approach to the subject matter. Carpenter turned the lumbering, hulking alien from the 50's film into an alien microbe that replicated and replaced people to infiltrated society...but, after the charade ran its course, it transformed into a monster straight out of a nightmare.

Carpenter has always been influenced by Lovecraft's Mythos, and most of his horror films reflect Lovecraft's common themes of alien presences beyond our complete understanding, forces so strong and so monstrous that you either go mad or die. The alien here fits that description to a T. Aside from its grotesque appearance, the alien can become anyone. A perfect replication, so similar to the original that it is impossible for even a guy's brother to tell it apart from the real deal. This establishes a sense of pervasive paranoia. And, indeed, the team of scientists confronting this alien do go mad from it all, as seen when they start attacking each other, vandalizing equipment, etc. This is just one Thing that should not be.

Xenomorph (Alien)

"Complete specimens have such uncanny resemblance to certain creatures of primal myth that suggestion of ancient existence outside antarctic becomes inevitable." - HP Lovecraft, At the Mountains of Madness

HP Lovecraft's famous novel (one of his few) At the Mountains of Madness was supposed to be adapted a few years ago by Guillermo del Toro. However, the film was scrapped after Ridley Scott released Prometheus, his Alien prequel. Studios believed the two stories were just too similar, and that audiences would see the Lovecraft adaptation as a rip-off of the recent blockbuster.

While any of the aliens in the Alien franchise can sufficiently be described as Lovecraftian (such as the Engineers and tentacle creatures from Prometheus), the Xenomorph especially embodies the term. It shares less in common with Lovecraft's Great Old Ones, but much in common with his lesser alien creatures--such as the Deep Ones from "The Shadow over Innsmouth" and Shoggoths from At the Mountains of Madness. The Xenomorph's life cycle is heavily inspired by real life parasites, which is similar to how Lovecraft's creatures drew from aquatic life. Its physical design is horrific and bizarre. Why is its head shaped like that? Why doesn't it have any eyes? What's up with that second mouth? The horrific design by HR Geiger grants the alien a bio-mechanical and phallic appearance that really makes it unnerving to look at.

As audiences, we've all been exposed to the alien's design, so often we forget just how bizarre this creature looks. I'd argue that's similar to how Cthulhu has lost some edge over the years. Horror is enigmatic. What is familiar cannot be truly horrifying. Which is partially why, with each new entry in the series, new elements of the xenomorph lore are added on, to add an additional edge of mystery to the creature to keep us always aware that there is so much more we really don't know.

Tetsuo (Akira)

"Bigger'n a barn...all made o' squirmin' ropes...hull thing sort o' shaped like a hen's egg bigger'n anything, with dozens o' legs like hogsheads...nothin' solid abaout it--all like jelly, an' made o' sep'rit wrigglin' ropes pushed together." - HP Lovecraft, "The Dunwich Horror"

One of the greatest anime films of all time (and not the last time you'll see an anime on this list), Akira depicts a society that has fallen after the rise of the enigmatic entity Akira--in actuality a boy the amazing psychic ability to reshape reality. Thirty years later, the government experiments on a boy named Tetsuo--an unstable, angry boy...given extraordinary powers.

At first, this sounds like a typical cyberpunk/biopunk plotline, but, in the finale of the film, Tetsuo's powers, having gone beyond his control, twist his body into some grotesque monstrosity. It is akin in many ways to birth--the form resembles a baby, one character is crushed by mounds of flesh strongly resembling a womb. It makes beauty ugly. Again, like Lovecraft.

In "The Dunwich Horror," Lovecraft creates a human/elder God hybrid that goes on a destructive bender across a Massachusetts town. In many ways, this Horror resembles Tetsuo's final form. The only thing that stops it is when the creature is taken into another reality. Tetsuo, in a similar finale becomes this unstoppable machine of god-like power until he is taken into another reality by Akira to rule over it as God. In both cases, we witness the birth of a God...and it is horrific.

Lilith (Evangelion)

"And through this revolting graveyard of the universe the muffled, maddening beating of drums, and thin, monotonous whine of blasphemous flutes from inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond Time; the detestable pounding and piping whereunto dance slowly, awkwardly, and absurdly the gigantic, tenebrous ultimate gods." - HP Lovecraft, "Nyarlathotep"

Another anime monstrosity that defies all explanation, it is implied that Lilith, an alien, is the progenitor of all human life. However, she and Adam, another member of this bizarre alien species, are given little to no explanation in the entire series. Yet are essential components to the plot. This may seem unusual for a straight-forward sci-fi series, but for cosmic horror this is almost expected. Cthulhu remains unexplainable. No one can rationalize Nyarlathotep. And, likewise, Lilith and Adam are not explainable. They simply are.

What makes Lilith absolutely unforgettable to anyone who has seen Evangelion is what happens in the film End of Evangelion. The bizarre creature manages to strip away the divisions between different people, turning the planet into some bizarre hive-mind of souls forced into a Nirvana-esque state of integration. And it does this by manifesting billions of naked teenage girls across the planet to harvest souls. Oh, and it hands the fate of the planet over to an emotionally disturbed fourteen-year-old boy who has just gone mad after witnessing Lilith's true form. Lilith leaves the planet a barren wasteland drenched in humanity's blood.

Evangelion is often categorized as a mecha anime. It has far more in common with Lovecraftian horror.

The Event Horizon (Event Horizon)

"The Outer Ones have naturally chosen me--whose knowledge of them is already so considerable--as their primary interpreter on earth...I shall not be called upon to make any trip outside just yet, though I shall probably wish to do so later on." - HP Lovecraft, "The Whisperer in Darkness"

Can a ship be Lovecraftian? The ship from this sci-fi horror film is designed to travel faster than light by folding space. It works too well. The ship travels to a realm of chaos. The crew has gone mad. And the ship wants to take new people back to this hellhole from whence it came.

The fact that an inorganic ship can have a will is already Lovecraftian in and of itself, but what pushes this one over the edge is that sense of madness. Lovecraft's monsters always drove men into madness, sometimes into such a state of mental disarray that the victims turned into cultists for the elder gods. This happens in Event Horizon. The scientist who designed the ship, Dr. Weir, loses all semblance of sanity, morality, and self-preservation as he begins worshiping his own ship.

Aside from Weir, one crew member takes a glimpse at the alien world from where the ship came. His response? Jump into space naked so that he is crushed by depressurization. That's his logical next step. What in God's name did he see...?

The Nothing (The Neverending Story)

"That which spoke could speak no more because it had completely caved in." - HP Lovecraft, "The Color Out of Space"

Perhaps this is cheating, as The Neverending Story is technically fantasy, but The Nothing is so Lovecraftian that it demands acknowledgement.

The Nothing is a force of apathy that tears the magical world of Fantasia apart. Nothing can stop it. Nothing can endure it. Lovable, sweet characters break when confronting the inevitability of their destruction. What is it? Nothing. No, not darkness, since that would be something. Empty space? Well, that's something too. This is...nothing. If you are having trouble understanding what the Nothing is, then good. You are in the same situation that Lovecraft's readers were in when they first read his classic short story "The Color Out of Space." In it, an alien color lands in a field, and corrupts the area around it. The color is something impossible to depict or explain. It is otherworldly. It is other. It cannot be categorized or rationalized. It is simply...there.

Likewise, the Nothing is there. Or maybe it isn't. The audience can never understand what it is they are looking at, so, in some respects...maybe it just...is.

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About the Creator

Anthony Gramuglia

Obsessive writer fueled by espresso and drive. Into speculative fiction, old books, and long walks. Follow me at twitter.com/AGramuglia

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