Genre Definition Module Week 4: Horror

* by Mr Andy Sawyer

In part assocaited with sf, usually in the form of film ("Monster" movies: Frankenstein etc.). Horror (and Terror) is a sensation which can be evoked regardless of genre, but there are a number of ways in which sf and horror overlap. Peter Nicholls in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction writes in the entry for GOTHIC SF:

"There has always been a tension in sf between the Classical desire for order and understanding -- for the Universe that can be known -- and the Romantic desire (which fits the observable facts to date) that the Universe should continue to surprise us, hold secrets and malignities. This latter desire (or fear, or both) is the Gothic.

Edgar Allan Poe, "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar"
Poe is the first significant figure in sf after Mary Shelley, in whom some of the themes of sf begin to develop: cosmology (his essay "Eureka"), space travel ("The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfall") and arguably the cyborg ("The Man That was Used Up"). His hoaxes follow the astronomical discoveries and observations of the time, his tales of reasoning anticipate the detective story as well as the underlying focus of sf. "M. Valdemar" fuses a clearly science-fictional theme (mesmerism, perhaps now best regarded as a "pseudo-science" used as a tool to investigate life after death) with one of horror's common themes -- the ambivalence towards, leading to disgust with the body.

* Scientific analysis leads to a conclusion which seems to undercut its rationale. The narrator's language is detailed and analytical -- almost in the manner of a scientific report, until the final sentence. We are given the "facts" of a "case". But the investigation of a mystery brings terror rather than comforting explanation.

H. P. Lovecraft, "The Colour Out of Space"
HPL is often seen as a writer of supernatural tales. The "Cthulhu Mythos" one of demon-gods from outside, worshipped by human acolytes. But Lovecraft's fiction is marked by materialism and scepticism. In "The Call of Cthulhu" (Weird Tales, 1928) he writes:
"The Most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inabillity of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black eras of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little, but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age."
Cosmic pessimism rather than a rejection of knowledge?

"Colour Out of Space" published in Amazing Sep 1927: Lovecraft's only story for that magazine (annoyed by the low pay, he never submitted to Amazing again).

S. T. Joshi calls it "the first of Lovecraft's major tales to effect that union of horror and science fiction which would become the hallmark of his later work" (notes to Penguin The Call of Cthulhu (1999)). Moves focus from the human world, or at least this Earth, to outer space for the generation of horror. The story is told like a horror story, but could be an "alien invasion" story.

Begins with the sense of (haunted) place: deserted valleys which disturb the imagination and being bad dreams. Legends of witchcraft, dark folklore, Indian legends.

The "great rock that fell out the sky". Analysed by Professors from the University. An unknown element ... but is that necessarily sinister? What's behind the language "It was nothing of this earth, but a piece of the great outside"? (note repetition of "outside" as the sentence continues.) Loaded words like "cryptic", "weird", "The Shadow out of Time" (Astounding, June 1936) presents a simiar, but even more science-fictional fusion. The "Old Ones" are given a rational science fictional explanation, as beings from elsewhere in the cosmos. Peaslee, abducted by creatures from the future, may write of "monstrous and unguessable horrors" but he himself is analysing them to the last.

* Suggestion that our scientific laws are only local.
* The effects of the phenomenon on crops and wildlife. But the avoidance of actual description. "Bitterness" ... "disgust" of the fruit's taste, but "something not quite right" about the animal tracks. The woodchuck "altered in a queer way impossible to describe", but the chemistry of the object is described in detail.
* Increasingly loaded language: "no sane, wholesome colours ... sinister menace ... insolent in their chromatic perversion." ... "blasphemous monstrosity ... nameless fate."
* The madness of Mrs Gardner and Thaddeus: "In her raving there was not a single specific noun, but only verbs and pronouns."
* Horror linked to this unspecificity, to the dissolution of the body, to stickiness and dampness.

From Nahum's ramblings we can deduce that the "colour" is a life-force which preys on other life-forces. But Lovecraft adds other levels of "wrongness" to this interpretation.

Arthur Machen's "The White People" in The House of Souls. "What would your feelings be, seriously, if your cat or your dog began to talk to you, and to dispute with you in human accents? You would be overwhelmed with horror. I am sure of it. And if the roses in your garden sang a weird song, you would go mad. And suppose the stones in the road began to swell and grow before your eyes, and if the pebble that you noticed at night had shot out stony blossoms in the morning?" (HS 116)

* Machen suggests that this is "sin", a perversion of the pre-ordained order of things. But Machen was a mystical Christian, and Lovecraft a materialist sceptic. So why expressions like "blasphemous" and "it was not meant that we should voyage far"?

One clue: the proto-existensialism of French mathematician Blaise Pascal (1623-1662): engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces whereof I know nothing, and which know nothing of me, I am terrified. The eternal silence of these infinite spaces alarms me." (Pensees) Pascal is known for his "wager": If God does not exist, one will lose nothing by believing in him, while if he does exist, one will lose everything by not believing.

Another: Look for true horror in Lovecraft in other aspects of his fiction: the paranoia, his feelings towards sex and other races, his references to inbreeding and interbreeding.("The Shadow Over Innsmouth", etc.)

See S. T. Joshi, H. P. Lovecraft: A Life. Other fictions where sf and horror had yet to separate, such as William Hope Hodgson, The Night Land and Arthur Machen, "The Great God Pan" or The Three Imposters. For a more recent take, see Brian Aldiss's "The Saliva Tree".

The Wicked City 《妖獸都市》(1992)
Director: Peter Mak(麥大傑)
Starring Jacky Cheung(張學友), Roy Cheung(張耀揚), Leon Lai(黎明), Michele Reis(李嘉欣), Yuen Woo-Ping(袁和平)
Based on a manga by Hideyuki Kikuchi(菊地秀行), filmed as an anime directed by Yoshiyaki Kawajiri (川尻善昭)(1987)

The live-action version, centred around Hong Kong, refers to the return of HK to China. But more focus on:

* The body-horror of scenes like the opening seduction of the adent by the prostitute who turns out to be a spider-like "raptor".
* The "raptors" themselves, beings from a dark "other" world. Are they demons or aliens? There are no references to them being extraterrestrials, but science fiction expressions like "telekinetic" are used in the dialogue.
* The double identity of Ken, half human half raptor. Is hybridity necessarily impure?
* The change of shape, the fluidity of identity.

The drug "happiness".

* The raptors entering the human world through economics (note the Bank of China).
* The cityscapes (see also the anime The Ghost in the Shell).
* Time: the threat of devolution by the evil raptors and also "time running out" before the handover of the Colony to China.

In films such as Wicked City and other examples of Japanese/Chinese sf, do we see the breakdown of categories? Nb earlier Japanese examples such as Gojira (Godzilla) (1954). Or were the categories never that fluid to begin with?

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...