Please note that this is the first in a series of posts on this subject; I’ve been watching a lot of ghost hunting television and am still forming some of my ideas of the phenomenon presented in those shows. While my rational mind has one opinion of the whole thing, I have to give my subconscious time to chew on the subject and spit out some inspiration. In the meantime, let’s discuss my idea of what should constitute a good haunting, as well as some influences. Believe me, this is timely, as I’m in the planning stages for a novel that centers around haunting and ghost hunting – something that I hope to make into an ongoing series. Let’s dig into the spookiness and see where we end up today. There’s a lot more to come, trust me.
It’s hard for me to say exactly where my fascination with horror – more specifically, that of the supernatural bent – began. I’m inclined to say Poltergeist. At the very least, I remember two scenes from Poltergeist grabbing my imagination and refusing to let go. One was the infamous scene in which one of the paranormal researchers peels all the skin from his face. You know, this one (caution, still pretty gross all these years later):
The second was the scene where they go into the “other world” to retrieve Carol Ann, and the strange portal between the upstairs closet and the wall downstairs. They also see that freaky spirit. I had trouble finding good video of this scene, but if you’ve seen the movie, you know what I’m talking about. Just talking about these scenes I can understand some of how it’s informed my own view of good horror. It’s not always about the gross-out scare, though that can be fun (as in the face peeling scene). It’s about the unknown, and nothing is more strange and unknown than what happens in that rescue scene. It’s the same thing with Ghostbusters, where the door to Gozer’s dimension appears from the destroyed building. Another portal to a hostile world, where unknown, hostile beasts await.
Which brings us to what I mentioned in my last post: H.P. Lovecraft. Stephen King came first for me, of course, though I’ve always found it difficult to feel scared of a book. Perhaps it’s how removed you feel from the medium; I’m not sure. Books are always more about a creeping sense of dread, and King could deliver that in spades. Some of the scenes in Pet Sematary are especially brutal, and the concept of the spirit somehow poisoning the ground of the cemetery stuck with me the most. In fact, the concept influenced one of my earliest poems, titled The Wendigo. I’m sure it’s still kicking around somewhere, but it’s about a guy who got caught in a blizzard, died, and is resurrected by the Wendigo.
Barker gave me that dread, too; the Damnation Game and the Books of Blood delivered on the same promise, but both referenced H.P. Lovecraft quite a bit in interviews. Keep in mind, this was pre-Internet, so I had no idea of Lovecraft before that, save for the few times that my uncle talked about the tabletop role-playing game Call of Cthulhu. Intrigued, I sought out a small book of Lovecraft stories from the library.
Absolute revelation. To be sure, I could tell even then that he wasn’t a great writer, or even a good writer. He rarely set a scene or even described the scene and wrote things that could more charitably be described as essays rather than stories proper…and yet the ideas. Those amazing ideas. I saw where King and Barker got their ideas of monsters from other worlds and the source of that fascinating portal in Poltergeist as well as Gozer’s gate (and Ghostbusters in general).
Unlike them, I didn’t see an opportunity to write a better story with the ideas that Lovecraft wrote. But I did internalize them, clearly, because the fingerprints are all over the Among the Dead Trilogy and Room 3. But I’m not here necessarily to talk about the ideas themselves. I want to talk some about the man.
Why? Because his life is something of an inspiration for a character in the story that I’m formulating. A character, and a haunted house.
Let’s get it out of the way up front – yes, he was a virulent racist, and a shut-in. I don’t in any way find the man to be admirable on a personal level. But his seclusion from society, and especially his years in New York trying to make it and living within a failing marriage, interest me. I’ve always been interested in those who seclude themselves from society to such an unhealthy degree that the mind warps. I mean, for instance, what went on in Ed Gein’s head during his darkest years? What was that isolated life like? Those same questions as applied to Lovecraft’s dark time in New York, especially once his wife had left for Cleveland and his racism strengthened.
These questions inform the basis of my story. I haven’t decided if I’ll reference Lovecraft himself and include him in the story, or simply an analogue, but in the story he will have gotten caught up with a cult – the same cult that he will later write about in oblique terms in his own works. His nature drives him out of the cult before they complete their goals, but those goals align with the nightmares that the historical figure of Lovecraft suffered and lead the place to become haunted, and if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that such a haunting has its touchstone in the rescue scene in Poltergeist, as well as the Wendigo in Pet Sematary. I’m not being deliberately coy; I don’t know exactly the shape of the haunting yet. I just know that it echoes down through the decades to our modern ghost-hunting team, who may need to rely on Lovecraft’s works to survive an increasingly hostile haunting.