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 who came after him owes him for at least one idea. He codified the idea of the Eldritch Abomination in fiction and was one of the first (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 and the creator of the creature Cthulhu (one of the most well-known monsters in horror literature outside of Dracula or Frankenstein's Monster). In general, he has some pretty spooky stories to his name.

  • "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."
  • Try reading "The Statement of Randolph Carter." Up to the last line: YOU FOOL, WARREN IS DEAD!
  • Or "The Festival."
  • Or "The Whisperer in Darkness" — never look at those "lonely woods" the same way again.
    • The last freakin' sentence.
    "For the things in the chair, perfect to the last, subtle detail of microscopic resemblance — or identity — were the face and hands of Henry Wentworth Akeley."
    • Lovecraft began writing the story either just before or just after the discovery of Pluto in February 1930, and he made Pluto the homeworld of the Mi-Go aka The Whisperers In Darkness. It's one of the few stories that actually give the beings in it a specific homeworld in our own reality. As of 2017, all we know of Pluto are surface images, which indeed show a dark, lightless world of ice and stone like in the story. For all we know, something might be there... waiting...
  • Or "The Thing on the Doorstep," or "The Music Of Erich Zann." This guy was a master of horror. "The Music of Erich Zann" has some of the best examples of Nothing Is Scarier ever devised.
    • Fridge Horror in "The Thing on 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 corpse. That means that Asenath's consciousness was stuck in Ephraim Waite's corpse for years by the end of the story and probably not as able to do stuff with it as Edward was with Asenath's corpse.
    • The main character of "Erich Zann" never managed to find his way back to the house he rented from... or the street... or the NEIGHBORHOOD. Was it All Just a Dream? Or somewhere out there, is there some spatial anomaly just waiting to draw in another victim to some bizarre, crumbling neighborhood, where otherwordly music echoe through the air?
  • "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 a goddamned 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.
    • His description of the epileptic trees just feels so wrong and vivid.
      ...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.
    • The fate of the poor bastards infected by The Colour. Atleast the animals and plants died quickly, but HUMANS infected by it are, understandably, turned into ravening madmen.
    • The poor farmers son, who has to deal with his mother, now a Madwoman in the Attic, after being driven insane by the infection.
  • 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.
  • The Dunwich Horror. See it here. One of the worst things about this one is that, for once, Lovecraft didn't skimp on the descriptions. The titular Horror was only visible for a second, but... Well, how about we just let the witness explain:
    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...
  • "Dreams in the Witch House." Perhaps one of his most scary stories, mostly because of the confusion and puzzlement felt by the protagonist. You may be afraid of raccoon tracks for about a month afterward because of Brown Jenkin. Raccoon tracks look like little human hands.
  • "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 sequence in which the protagonist is pursued through the town at night by its residence from his hotel room all the way to the surrounding roads, hiding in crumbling houses that contain unseen horrors and praying the townspeople's car headlights don't find him, is one of the most harrowing chase scenes in literature.
  • "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 the Pharaos," 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 finds a large procession of undead led by Pharao Khufu, the king who remodeled the Sphinx after himself, and though he cannot bring himself to look directly at the members of the procession, the shadows that flicker on the wall brings to his mind the stories he had heard from bedoins about blasphemous priestly experiments, with mummies constructed to look like the Egyptian gods, with the bodies of men, and the heads of animals, rejected by all sane divine forces and erased from all historical accounts. He then watches an elaborate ceremony that eventually reveals the Sphinx itself, which has 5 heads and tentacles sprouting from its mouths. 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.
    • "Dammit, it wasn't quite fresh enough!"
  • "The Terrible Old Man:" He gave a hideous smile.
    • The tone of the story up until the very last page is very much the cynical amusement of Bierce or Twain, which makes The Reveal that much worse.
      • The Old Man has another appearance in a story set in the same town, concerning an old wooden house seated atop a cliff by the oceanside, with its only door facing the ocean, and no stairs or road leading to it. The Old Man mentions that the house was ancient even when his grandfather was a boy. The narrator even mentions that, considering the age of The Old Man, that must date back to the very earliest days of colonial America, if not before that.
  • While The Rats in the Walls lacks any of the explicitly supernatural elements found in most Lovecraft stories, it is no slouch in the horror department. In particular, there is every bit of what they find beneath the old priory, and then what this revelation does to the protagonist.
    ". . .they found me in the blackness after three hours; found me crouching in the blackness over the plump, half-eaten body of Capt. Norrys, with my own cat leaping and tearing at my throat. Now they have blown up Exham Priory, taken my cat away from me, and shut me into this barred room at Hanwell with fearful whispers about my heredity and experiences."