Coming Next Turn: “Call of Cthulhu”

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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.

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Not as scary as Trump or Clinton.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

 

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19 thoughts on “Coming Next Turn: “Call of Cthulhu”

  1. I love Lovecraft (though his outrageous racism gives me ulcers). “At the Mountains of Madness” wasn’t my speed, though–too overwrought. It was him at the height of his faux-Victorian-English treacly over-description. My favorite of his works are “Call of Cthulhu” and “The Color out of Space.” The latter is sparse, by Lovecraftian standards, and actually does depend on the “lurking fear” that other of his stories don’t actually accomplish (even “The Lurking Fear,” ironically enough).

    I see your point about the monsters, though. If they were to attempt the Old Ones–those cylindrical bat-winged guys from AtMoM–I don’t think there’s any way it wouldn’t be silly. But Cthulhu could be creepy. That picture you posted up there of him chasing the swimmers, for example, kind of captures it. And I never played it, but it seems like the previous Call of Cthulhu game, Dark Corners of the Earth, did Shoggoths in a kind of cool, “The Thing”-inspired way: http://callofcthuluh.wikia.com/wiki/Shoggoth. (Really need to play that, actually–their Dagon also looked cool: http://static5.gamespot.com/uploads/scale_super/gamespot/images/2005/129/657549-470998_20050510_002.jpg.)

    As for you not liking horror, WHAT.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, that racism…. On the subject of verbosity: I was weaned on Tolkien, so I suppose the over-description is written into my reading DNA. I really enjoyed AtMoM, though his overuse of the word “cyclopean” was distracting haha! I think when the Elder Things took apart the campers and put them back together was one of the most frightening things I could think of.
      I’m not familiar with all of Lovecraft’s creatures, but I definitely think those starfish Things would not be scary at all, and he was wise to keep them more concealed even in the story.
      I haven’t played any other Lovecraftian games myself, either. The potential for a good game is certainly there, but for me it has to sell that “lurking fear”. I’ll definitely take your word for it on Lovecraft’s work and its quality, as you are a horror-connoisseur and I just like to read.
      Thanks for the links!
      And…. well… I need to explain I guess that I do enjoy horror films and books when I personally think they’re well-done. Alien is one of the best I’ve rewatched recently, and Carpenter’s The Thing is as well. But when I think of a lot of horror, I think of the sort of tropes and cliches that Scary Movie pokes fun at, and it seems like there are a lot of band-wagons jumped on in the genre. Remember when everything was zombies a few years ago? Everything. Again, I’m not versed in the subject, but that’s the opinions of someone looking in from the outside, with a decent sampling of some examples. Or it could just boil down to the fact that I don’t like being scared unless there’s something that makes it worth it: the fact the film’s a landmark, top-notch special effects, inspiring storytelling/concepts, etc.

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      • Oh, I agree completely. I can’t stand gory schlock or cliched jump scares. I’m super picky. I suspect we’ve got similar standards in this regard.

        And I also like verbose descriptions of place. It’s more the flowery Victorian stuff that gets me (“unimaginable vistas of vast gibbering Cyclopean unspeakable gelationous madness”). Like, describe the scene, Howard; don’t tell me how I should feel about it.

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        • I guess we’re more similar than I imagined. I’m not a fan of that stuff but I know several people who would unfortunately label that as “horror”, in public perception. And I snickered at that flowery Victorian stuff! Like what does “gibbering Cyclopean” mean anyway?

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          • Yeah, genre stuff is weird. Like probably the stuff I tend to prefer would be better labeled “supernatural thriller” than horror, I guess. Ghosts are about my favorite thing in the world. Don’t care for slashers, psychotic killers or Hostel-like garbage.

            Yeah, “gibbering Cyclopean”… I’m kind of imagining gibbering as the way old Looney Tunes characters would behave when they saw a pretty woman. I didn’t know this until just now, but apparently “Cyclopean,” in addition to just meaning huge, can also indicate a certain type of mortarless masonry. Thanks Webster! Both senses make sense for Lovecraft–he was really interested in architecture.

            But yeah, he had these sort of stock descriptors that he used again and again and again. “Loathsome” is another. And “non-Euclidean.” I love it.

            I actually just finished watching a really really crappy film adaptation of “The Lurking Fear” for a review on another site. Awful, but fun. Lovecraft: catch the fever!

            Liked by 1 person

            • Oh yeah, another aspect of “horror” that’s popular with kids (for some reason) is the torture porn stuff. Not into that in the least.
              You make me want to read one of his stories again. Any suggestions? The ones I can remember most are Call of C. and AtMoM.

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              • I love “The Colour out of Space.” It’s one of the few stories of his that actually creeped me out a little. I also like “The Shunned House” a lot. Lots of flowery Victorian prose. “The Dunwich Horror” is fun, if kind of stupid, and “The Shadow over Innsmouth” is satisfying in a kind of dark Indiana Jones-ish way.

                Liked by 1 person

  2. This looks brilliant, really creepy, and it seem they’ve really captured the tone of Lovecraft’s work. The graphics look very impressive as well, certainly a game I will look forward to checking out.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Seems like I’ve been pronouncing Cthulhu wrong for a while now… I’m not big on the horror genre either. The Resident Evil series are the only “horror” games I’ve personally played. This title seems interesting though. I’ll consider adding it to my backlog if get gets favorable reviews.

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    • I guess Lovecraft explained that Cthulhu’s name was invented by creatures with a language unpronounceable by humans, which I guess is why he said it’s “khulhloo” even though he spelled it “kahthooloo”… which is how I still plan to pronounce it lol

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