I cannot say when it was I first worked out I was in love with being terrified. My parents would tell you that as a child an episode of the old Goosebumps TV series scared me so bad I woke up screaming for 3 nights that week…. I was subsequently banned from watching scary things as a kid. My next strong recollection of being scared through creative media came with the VHS release of ‘The Matrix’; My parents rented a copy and forbade me to watch it with them, I was 10 so this seemed the largest of injustices. I snuck a view from the hallways secretly as Agent Smith removed Neo’s mouth – and I was done, no more movie for me.
But I cannot recall when things changed and I released that Horror excited and enthralled me. I began seeking out classic films in the genre and reading creepy pasta and watching YouTube clips about serial killers. I began enjoying the heart pounding terror induced by a well crafted scare. I fell in love with the feeling of empowerment in overcoming the oppressive atmosphere of dis-empowerment this media sought to create. Somewhere in this transition I found one of my all time inspirations – Howard Phillip Lovecraft.
Lovecraft is perhaps most famous for his seminal work ‘The Call of Cthulhu‘ and this was certainly the way I found him. I like to read about and explore the media I experience and so one of the director’s interviews or another referenced this as an inspiration and I went searching for it. What I found hooked me deep. The anachronistic style of Lovecraft and the themes of thirst for knowledge and the limitations of humanity revved my engine immensely. I began to read his collected works – Fortunately they are in the common domain so they are freely available online. It was in this initial foray into Lovecraft that I discovered the most singularly affecting story I have ever read – The Colour Out Of Space.
I won’t go into great detail about the plot here, the story is very short and you can rip through it in about 30 minutes, what I want to discuss is the perfect way in which this story manages to capture the fear of the unknown and unknowable.
It is common knowledge among horror movie fans that the more you see of a creature the less scary it becomes – your imagination is always far more capable of scaring you than any prosthesis or CGI is. This story has at its core a monster that you cannot see – ever. Not because it is invisible or intangible in a ghostly manner, but because it is a colour. The monster that incites dread terror and all sorts of horrific occurance is just light reflecting off a surface in a way that humans are not built to experience.
Throughout the course of the story horrible things happen to those who come into contact with the colour – they all remark upon the oddity of the colour and the things it affects but none of them seem to understand the danger – until it is too late. This is one of the things this story does so remarkably right for me. The fear, the horror is something so banal we take it for granted, we cannot possibly understand a colour as being responsible for horror because it is ‘just’ a colour. This is one of the most perfect examples of fear being embodied in something that is purely the construct of the viewer – purely a personal fantasy.
Lovecraft is famous for constructing tales of things that we simply cannot comprehend and this story, I think, is the pinnacle of that tradition. There are other stories with more profoundly unsettling imagery or more vividly constructed creatures – even with more oppressive atmospheres. This story however shows Lovecraft’s true genius at constructing a fear so beyond our scope that we cannot see it even when it is right in front of us. Lovecraft constructed true terror in something so alien in its mundanity that it cannot be understood let alone combated.
It still makes my head spin to this day thinking about the way this story first affected me as a younger man – I couldn’t walk alone at night for a week. So i do implore you, if this piece has interested you in slightest, take a read. Who knows, maybe you’ll experience your own version of my terror.