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Nightmare Fuel: H. P. Lovecraft
H. P. Lovecraft is probably one of the most respected horror writers of all time. Pretty much any horror author that came after him owes him for at least one idea. He codified the idea of the Eldritch Abomination in fiction and was one of, if not the first, writers of the Cosmic Horror Story. There were so many brown notes in his work, you could call it a brown opera. He is the trope namer for Go Mad from the Revelation, created the creature Cthulhu (one of the most well-known monsters in horror literature outside of Dracula or Frankenstein's Monster), and, in general, wrote some pretty spooky stories.
"Pickman's Model" takes the cake. Not only is it an excellent discussion on the process of creating horror, the final line is skin-crawlingly creepy. The worst part comes from thinking about other pieces of art that could have been painted in a similar fashion, this being a good example.
"That nauseous wizard had waked the fires of hell in pigment, and his brush had been a nightmare-spawning wand."
Fridge Horror in "The Thing at the Doorstep": Asenath Waite is really her father Ephraim's consciousness switching bodies. When he/she possesses Edward after Asenath's body's death, his consciousness is stuck in Asenath's body. That means that Asenath's consciousness was stuck in Ephraim Waite's body for years by the end of the story and probably not as able to do stuff with it as Edward was with Asenath's body.
"The Picture In the House." Unusual for Lovecraft, as it does not involve Cosmic Horror Story tropes, or even the supernatural, and it actually has fairly effective dialogue. Also, the single scariest use of italics, ever.
The Colour Out of Space. It's a story about damned color that will give you nightmares. Lovecraft was Just That Good. Imagine something so abstract that you can never comprehend it slowly eating you and the entire landscape around you alive over the course of months, and being even unable to flee. And considering that the dam project mentioned in the story was real, one has to wonder how many contemporary readers got really uncomfortable about drinking tap water.
...And yet amidst that tense, godless calm the high bare boughs of all the trees in the yard were moving. They were twitching morbidly and spasmodically, clawing in convulsive and epileptic madness at the moonlit clouds; scratching impotently in the noxious air as if jerked by some alien and bodiless line of linkage with subterrene horrors writhing and struggling below the black roots.
You think his standard stories are scary? Try reading some of his calm and lucid descriptions of his own real dreams. The man was the living embodiment of Nightmare Fuel.
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 hogs-heads that haff shut up when they step... nothin' solid abaout it—all like jelly, an' made o' sep'rit wrigglin' ropes pushed clost together... great bulgin' eyes all over it... ten or twenty maouths or trunks a-stickin' aout all along the sides, big as stove-pipes an all a-tossin' an openin' an' shuttin'... all grey, with kinder blue or purple rings... an' Gawd it Heaven—that haff face on top... ... Oh, oh, my Gawd, that haff face—that haff face on top of it... that face with the red eyes an' crinkly albino hair, an' no chin, like the Whateleys... It was a octopus, centipede, spider kind o' thing, but they was a haff-shaped man's face on top of it, an' it looked like Wizard Whateley's, only it was yards an' yards acrost...
Wilbur Whateley's true, undisguised form was also pretty dreadful:
"The back was piebald with yellow and black, and dimly suggested the squamous coloring of certain snakes. Below the waist, though, it was worst; for here all human resemblance left off and sheer phantasy began. The skin was thickly covered with coarse black fur, and from the abdomen a score of long greenish-grey tentacles with red sucking mouths protruded limply. ...On each of the hips, deep set in a kind of pinkish, ciliated orbit, was what seemed to be a rudimentary eye; while in lieu of a tail there depended a kind of trunk or feeler with purple annular markings, and with many evidences of being an undeveloped mouth or throat. The limbs, save for their black fur, roughly resembled the hind legs of prehistoric earth's giant saurians; and terminated in ridgy-veined pads that were neither hooves nor claws.
"Cool Air". The next time someone asks you to crank up the AC for them, you're definitely going to think twice...
"Dagon". Everything about this story emanates horror, from Lovecraft's vivid description of the vast wasteland the protagonist is lost in, to the way that the reader and the narrator both share the same obsession with climbing the mountain. Neither know what this will achieve, but both begin to think, on the sole basis of paranoia, that it is their only hope. Then there's the final passage, which is simply terrifying.
"Often I ask myself if it could not all have been a pure phantasm — a mere freak of fever as I lay sun-stricken and raving in the open boat after my escape from the German man-of-war. This I ask myself, but ever does there come before me a hideously vivid vision in reply. I cannot think of the deep sea without shuddering at the nameless things that may at this very moment be crawling and floundering on its slimy bed, worshipping their ancient stone idols and carving their own detestable likenesses on submarine obelisks of water-soaked granite. I dream of a day when they may rise above the billows to drag down in their reeking talons the remnants of puny, war-exhausted mankind — of a day when the land shall sink, and the dark ocean floor shall ascend amidst universal pandemonium."
"The end is near. I hear a noise at the door, as of some immense slippery body lumbering against it. It shall not find me. God, that hand! The window! The window!"
"The Call of Cthulhu", the penultimate of all things Lovecraft and the birthing place of the horrid thing itself.
"The stars were right again, and what an age-old cult had failed to do by design, a band of innocent sailors had done by accident. After vigintillions of years great Cthulhu was loose again, and ravening for delight." Aaaagh! Though he gets taken out by being smacked in the head with a boat.
The Shadow Over Innsmouth(available here) because of one thing: when the village drunk tells the protagonist the tale about the reason the people of Innsmouth are part fish. Some real Squick and Fridge Horror (or Nightmare Fuel, if you are particularly awake when you read it) when he mentions that the sailors mated with some strange-looking fish! That isn't the worst of it: the protagonist is also part of the Innsmouth folk and, upon learning this, he decides to invite his family to swim in the water in a manner that is seriously creepy.
"The Case of Charles Dexter Ward". Even if you see the twist that Curwen had come back to life and killed Ward to assume his identity coming from a mile away, the storytelling is so good, and the writing so skin-crawlingly creepy, that it doesn't matter. Now that, my friends, is some damned effective horror.
Similarly, we have Under the Pyramids, listed here as "Imprisoned With Pharos", a Lovecraft story that relates Harry Houdini's (fictional) experience in Egypt. After being lowered into a pit near the Giza pyramids and the Sphinx, Houdini follows a procession of beings that look similar to the Egyptian Gods, along with mummies and assorted undead. He then watches an elaborate ceremony that eventually reveals the Sphinx itself, which has 5 heads and tentacles. Except these are actually the toes and the claws of the creature; the narrator simply mistakes the being's single paw for the creature itself. The thing's true face, which is supposed to have been the Sphinx's original image. is left completely to the reader's imagination.
"Herbert West-Reanimator". It's not that Mr. West reanimates the dead—it's what he reanimates them as.
"The Terrible Old Man". He gave a hideous smile
Inspired by Lovecraft
H. P. Lovecraft has spawned nightmare fueling authors as well. A fairly good collection is The New Lovecraft Circle. One of the stories in this volume, Robert M. Price's "Saucers from Yaddith" has a mildly silly title that may lull you into a false sense of security before bringing out the phrase "Jungle Gym of Flesh." Body Horror city.
Author Ramsey Campbell is a good Lovecraft successor. Specifically, The Darkest Part of the Woods invokes old English legends, Asian-style freakish body corruptions, Squick situations that are oddly tastefully handled, more Body Horrors...
The cult favorite Thomas Ligotti, who should probably have his own HONF page, has written essays on Lovecraft.
"Children of Cthulhu": An anthology of short stories in the Lovecraft manner...the very first one was essentially based on the old adage "The Devil's in the details!"
A story from the Cthulhurotica anthology called "Flash Frame" by Silvia Moreno-Garcia was pretty damn disturbing. It's basically a modern-day retelling of The King in Yellow with a good dose of The Ring thrown in. A reporter for a Mexico City tabloid is on the hunt for a sensational story when he hears about some kind of cult meeting at a local porno theater. So he decides to spy on them. Strangely, all they seem to do is view a few minutes of some faux-Roman exploitation flick that seems a bit... off. After a few sessions, the reporter starts having nightmares about a grotesqueseductress. And then he realizes his tape recorder has picked up the hidden audio track...
The sound was yellow. A bright, noxious yellow.
Festering yellow. The sound of withered teeth scraping against flesh. Of pustules bursting open. Diseased. Hungry.
The voice, yellow, speaking to the audience. Telling it things. Asking for things. Yellow limbs and yellow lips, and the yellow maw, the voice that should never have spoken at all.