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Literature / The Lurking Fear

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"The Lurking Fear" is a November 1922 horror short story by American writer H. P. Lovecraft. It was first published in serial installments in the magazine Home Brew. It has been adapted to film and comics a few times, with little success for any adaptation.

In the Tempest Mountain region of the Catskills, homes are being destroyed and their inhabitants slaughtered during severe thunderstorms. An unnamed reporter travels to investigate, and soon comes to suspect that the killings are somehow linked to the Martenses, a bygone aristocratic family whose decaying mansion remains nearby. But the truth is more bestial and horrific than he imagines...

It was adapted twice with 1994's The Lurking Fear and 1997's Bleeders.

This story contains examples of:

  • Beneath the Earth: The descendants of the Martenses have dug tunnels that radiate out from the mansion, and which serve as dwelling places and routes of travel for the feral descendants.
  • Cannibal Clan: The monsters terrorizing the town turn out to be descendants of a cannibalistic family who have devolved into subhuman creatures by generations of inbreeding and living underground.
  • Haunted House: The Martenses' house. Subverted when it turns out not to be ghosts that are causing all this trouble.
  • Hillbilly Horrors: It turns out that the "monsters" are the cannibalistic descendants of a single family so heavily inbred they have all but turned into goblins.
  • Human Subspecies: The monsters are a clan of subterranean, carnivorous, apelike sub-humans descended from a bygone aristocratic family after generations of inbreeding.
  • Inbred and Evil: The Martenses were an isolationist, once-prominent family which retreated underground and began marrying their own once their reputation got too ugly. Their descendants inbred to the point of devolving into a Cannibal Clan of apelike monstrosities.
  • It's the Only Way to Be Sure: The protagonist hires a team to dynamite the Martense mansion, a significant portion of the surrounding forest, and any caves or tunnels they can find. He still worries that it won't be enough.
  • Lightning Reveal: When the protagonist stays overnight in the Martense mansion, a flash of lightning reveals the shadow of a grotesque, inhuman being in the room with him.
  • Lovecraft Country: Scary happenings in the Catskills.
  • Killer Gorilla: The last Martenses are described as distinctly apelike.
  • Monstrous Cannibalism: The protagonist witnesses one of the beasts turning on and devouring a weaker compatriot, something that seems to be standard practice for the monsters.
  • More Predators Than Prey: The monsters number in the dozens, if not hundreds, while their abode is rather isolated and the number of people who fall victim to them is small. However, it's hinted that they have no problem with preying on each other...
  • The Morlocks: The monsters are a particularly animalistic version of this subterranean trope, as they are carnivorous, devolved, apelike humans. However, it wasn't social class and evolution that turned them into this, but rather generations of inbreeding.
  • Our Ghouls Are Creepier: The monsters lie somewhere between this trope and The Morlocks. Specifically, they fall into the "Mutant Ghoul" category, being the degenerate Cannibal Clan descendants of an inbred backwoods family that retreated underground. Contrast with the actual, referred-to-as-such ghouls that appear in Lovecraft's other stories like Pickman's Model and The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.
  • Perspective Flip: The Dark Adventure Radio Theatre version centers around two policemen sent to investigate the mysterious deaths while the writer, here identified as a tabloid reporter named Callum, is a secondary character treated by them as a potential suspect.
  • Red Right Hand: The Martenses were characterized by having heterochromia, one blue and one brown. Their inbred cannibal descendants have this feature too, which is what clues the protagonist in to their identity.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: The Martense family somehow manages to degenerate into inhuman beasts in less than 150 years. Even the oldest European colonies only dated back about 400 years by H. P. Lovecraft's time, and the oldest English colonies only about 300 years, hardly enough time for anything in particular to happen, much less the kind of scale he was talking about. Perhaps there's something to all that curse talk after all?
  • Shared Unusual Trait: The horribly inbred Martense clan all have this as a distinguishing mark. They have brown-and-blue eyes, apparently. This is the tip-off that the swarm of apelike sub-humans haunting the area actually consists of their offspring.
  • Villainous Incest: The aristocratic Martenses eventually began practicing incest among themselves. See Inbred and Evil above for the results.