6 Cults Shrouded in Mysticism and the Culture They’ve Inspired

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Lifestyle

Throughout the centuries there have been numerous groups–typically labeled as cults–that are surrounded by an unwavering belief in the paranormal or supernatural connections between worlds. These cults have ranged from entirely peaceful to large and lethal movements that claimed lives as they grew in size. Cults like the Manson Family and Johnstown were unquestionably some of the most deadly movements that have popped up throughout modern times. Although it’s fair to say that these particular cults weren’t actually led by true followers of any particular paranormal or supernatural belief system, they had followers willing to die or even kill for one person’s twisted views, religious beliefs, or teachings. We decided to take a look at some of the most famous paranormal and supernatural societies that helped to inspire and ultimately birthed many mystical and paranormal beliefs that still exist today.

Theosophical Society

Blavatsky and Olcott

Madame Helena Blavatsky was a Russian occultist, medium, and philosopher who co-founded the Theosophical Society in 1875. She published her first doctrine, Isis Unveiled in 1877 which outlined the Theosophical world-view which closely associated Hermeticism and Neoplatonism. There are now various branches of theosophical beliefs, though they all hold certain common characteristics. There was a deeper spiritual reality and direct contact with transcending human consciousness; this is known as a mystical experience.

They also emphasize esoteric doctrine, which leads to small factions within the larger name of the society. Theosophists maintain a healthy fascination with the supernatural or extraordinary occurrences to achieve higher psychic and spiritual powers. Finally, theosophy displays a preference of monism, which is the view that reality is constituted of one principle, such as mind or spirit. The Theosophists Society strives to combine all forms of religious, spiritual, and inner teaching of sacred texts; to provide the deepest form of self-connection with the “divine wisdom”.

Order of the Solar Temple

The Solar Temple was founded in Geneva in 1984, tracing its roots back to a break-away group of Knights Templar. This secret society’s leader, Joseph Di Mambro, brainwashed his followers into believing he was a reincarnation of one of the Knights Templar. His daughter was believed to be the “Cosmic Child” that would lead them to a planet near the Sirius star after their deaths. The Solar Temple began doing a mixture of rituals, making altars, as well as conducting occultist acts, and ceremonial sexual acts on its members. Their focus was on the worldwide catastrophe in the form of an apocalyptic event in the mid-1990s. This is what led to famous strings of murder-suicides that spanned a few years; this resulted in the loss of 74 members, the order is best known for this world-wide action.

Heaven’s Gate

Heaven’s Gate focused its beliefs on making it back into the Kingdom of Heaven from their Earth-bound soul deposits. They believe Jesus was the first “prepped vehicle” chosen to lead their followers to the next level and into the Kingdom of Heaven. Now, some 2000 years later their leaders still uphold the task of leading the order in the name of the “father’s’’ original task by combining cosmic beings and Christian ideologies. In 1997 Marshall Applewhite and 38 of his followers believed the Hale-Bopp Comet was the key to leaving Earth and the beginning of their cosmic journey into space and on to their next level of existence. The group committed mass suicide in attempts to free their souls and join their fellow cosmic beings; this led to the cult being front and center of worldwide media for quite a while.

Bohemian Grove

This San Francisco based gentlemen’s club is known for its all-male membership club made up of the most prominent men in the world. Ranging from business leaders, artists, musicians, government officials, and even former presidents; there is no shortage of powerful men within this group. The Grove is particularly famous for holding the Manhattan Project planning meeting in September 1942, as well as being a pop-culture parody–thanks to Richard Nixon. Though on the surface the Grove looks to be another “normal” high society club, many reports have brought out a darker looking side to this group. Allegedly they partake in worshiping a large stone owl called Moloch, burning bodies, Satanic practices, and sacrificing virgins. Throughout the 140 years that the Grove has been operating, their societal values have remained incredibly secretive.

Order of Thelema

Aleister Crowley in 1902

Founded by famous English occultist, ceremonial magician, poet, and novelist Aleister Crowley formed in the twentieth century. It is a complicated set of magical, mystical, and spiritual beliefs that can range from atheistic to polytheistic views. Thelema is based out of the Book of the Law, which led Crowley to label himself as a prophet and encourage followers to ascend to higher states of existence to unite themselves with one’s ultimate purpose in life. Followers of the Order of Thelema practice large ranges of magick and mysticism, as their concepts are rooted in occultism; there is no shortage of rituals, spirits, and paranormal experiences here. Aspects of Thelema and Crowley’s other writings gave birth to the development of Wicca, Modern Paganism, Chaos Magick, some variations of Satanism and Scientology.

Cult of Cthulhu and Necronomicon

This particular cult was brought on by the creations of H.P. Lovecraft; originally only a fictional work that featured various cults that worshipped Cthulhu, the destroyer of humanity, and bringing of an era of chaos. Over the years this fictional work has inspired the creation of real cults that combined Lovecraft’s mythology with other beliefs such as Occultist dark arts and Satanism. Most of these groups use Lovecraft’s Necronomicon as a means by which they derived their beliefs and structured their cults. These beliefs combined with the dark arts caused these groups to take on a violent slant, as well as the ritualistic use of magic from Satanic teachings. This has accumulated into the establishment of a little known, yet mightily feared reputation. Lovecraft’s works have inspired many aspects to horror culture of literature, well as horror movies, and is said to be the father of cosmic horror. The cults that use his writings to influence their belief systems are still around today and doing their best to grow in numbers as they prepare for the end of days.

Though these cults or orders are just a few in the long list of paranormal or mystic beliefs, there are hundreds of groups that can fall into this category. Most of them are still practicing their beliefs to this day in one form or another, but surprisingly not all of them are to be feared as criminal or dangerous. One thing they all share is the belief that there is another world across the veil from our own and it can be connected with. Within that connection, they believe we are able to heighten our inner connection to the higher powers we may follow or believe in.

The need to connect to these higher powers in life not only helped masses of people to find a community to belong in, but it also helped to shape government as we know it today and business communities as well. These groups also influenced hundreds of books, movies, TV shows, and a large amount of horror culture to become what it is today–such as American Horror Story: Cult. There is an endless list of examples that can be used to highlight these groups and their beliefs being used to wow us on the big screen and have elicited jaw-dropping horror within each of us. Without the belief in the paranormal and mystical world, horror would simply be stuck in the slasher and gore realm.

7 Times the Necronomicon Appeared in Cinema

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Featured Horror Books Horror Mystery and Lore Scary Movies and Series

What is the Necronomicon, you may ask? It’s an ancient tome that sprung from the nightmarish imagination of H.P. Lovecraft, which he encouraged his peers to use in their literature as well–subsequently, it has become a book that symbolizes evil in horror culture. It continues on now, as an icon of what can come from the supernatural and occult influences of, what could be, an unknown origin of our universe.

So now we get to enjoy a plethora of movies that all have something to do with the Necronomicon–to be clear, this isn’t an exhaustive list of where the Necronomicon appears within pop-culture, but these are some of the most memorable!

The Dunwich Horror (1970)

The Dunwich Horror (1970)

This movie never got rave reviews, but it did add to the pop-culture relevance to the history of the Necronomicon. Despite its blatant 1970s style, it has a sort of creepy charm to it. This particular mystery is taken from Lovecraft’s novel by the same name in which Wilbur Whateley, a seemingly harmless young man, coerces a female virgin from a California University to be the vessel for the spawn of the devil. It’s worth a watch, even if it’s just to learn more about what the Necronomicon can do when it’s in the hands of someone who wants to destroy the world.

The Evil Dead Collection

The Evil Dead Franchise

Yeah, we know, the Evil Dead franchise constitutes four movies, a series, as well as a handful of crossover movies, comic books, and more–but we’re going to count it as one for the sake of this list. As far as the Necronomicon is concerned, it is pretty much contained in the four feature films, as well as the television series. This supernatural horror film franchise was the brainchild of Sam Raimi and revolves around the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, which is referenced as an ancient Sumerian text that systematically targets and possesses its victims. Initially, a group of teenagers who are staying in a cabin overnight, in The Evil Dead (1981); the franchise devolves into a sort of comedic horror hybrid, which suits fans just fine.

The Evil Dead Franchise IMDB Listing

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)

The ninth chapter of the Friday the 13th franchise, where we get yet another dose of our favorite supernatural psycho, Jason Voorhees. We see Jason return from the dead in order to possesses the body of a medical coroner–so we realize that even after his death, we can never escape the fate of Camp Crystal Lake. This movie is one of several interesting crossovers that appears with Raimi’s Evil Dead Franchise–as the Necronomicon and the Kandarian dagger appear within the movie, very briefly. Here’s the thing though and Adam Marcus confirmed it later on–Jason Vorhees is now a deadite, after his mother made a deal with the devil to bring her son back.

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday IMDB Listing

Necronomicon: Book of the Dead (1993)

Necronomicon: Book of the Dead (1994)

This film is a collection of three terrifying Lovecraft stories brought together as an anthology. In the Cold revolves around a scientist who cannot tolerate warm temperatures. The Drowned tells the story of a man who inherits a dilapidated mansion from his uncle. Whispers concerns two police officers who have to deal with a particular resident of a horrifying subterranean community.

Necronomicon: Book of the Dead IMDB Listing

Out of Mind: The Stories of H.P. Lovecraft (1998)

Out of Mind: The Stories of H.P. Lovecraft (1998)

This particular movie never made it to the big screen; in fact, the low budget and actors made this a less refined, yet interesting take on Lovecraft’s original creations. We follow the story of a young man who inherits a book–the Necronomicon–from an estranged uncle, and against his better judgment begins to investigate the content of the book quite intently. After reading from the book, he begins to be haunted by disturbing dreams that are reminiscent of the Lovecraft universe, this leads him to become interested in the writings of the father of cosmic horror himself.

Out of Mind: The Stories of H.P. Lovecraft IMDB Listing

The Theatre Bizarre (2011)

The Theatre Bizarre (2011)

This anthology of horror features a myriad of inexplicable and terrifying stories; part spiraling insanity, part supernatural exploration, Enola Penny is obsessed with what is thought to be a long-abandoned theatre. Acting upon her impulsive curiosity, she sneaks in one night and what she finds in that dilapidated auditorium is a show she could have never expected. This show features six different stories and while it might not be a huge part of the story, there is one entitled “Mother of Toads” which is based loosely on a story by Clark Ashton Smith, a colleague of Lovecraft’s. Smith’s stories regularly featured the Necronomicon and this one was no exception.

The Theatre Bizarre IMDB Listing

Color Out of Space (2019) Movie Poster

Color Out of Space (2019)

Loosely based on the short story by Lovecraft, Color Out of Space is possibly the most successful movie to come out of the body of work of H.P. Lovecraft. This isn’t of course due to a flaw in his stories, so much as an inability to capture the cosmic horror sub-genre for which Lovecraft is responsible. This doesn’t follow the short story that Lovecraft wrote specifically, so it can’t be judged based on those merits, but it does capture the essence of Lovecraft’s cosmic horror. This movie focuses on a secluded farm that is struck by a strange meteorite, the consequences of which are quite disastrous for the family who lives there with the potential of it reaching the rest of the world.

Color Out of Space IMDB Listing

A Gothic, Cosmic, and Psychological Lifetime of Horror: The 16 Greatest Short Stories from Robert Bloch

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Robert Bloch wrote literature that ranged from the psychologically terrifying to the downright “weird” horror; his inspiration stemmed both from watching his first scary film on his own as a child—and his subsequent nightmares—and his admiration for the stylistic horror of H.P. Lovecraft. His stories, however, are and always will be uniquely Robert Bloch, a genius in psychological horror with a splash of the supernatural. His deep interest in serial killers brought back anti-heroes like Norman Bates and Jack the Ripper.

“The Shambler From The Stars” (1935)

This particular short story first appeared in the September issue of Weird Tales, in 1935—later on, it was included as a part of his first published book, The Opener of the Way (1945). It was one of the many works that bore the influence of H.P. Lovecraft and can be considered part of the genre of cosmic horror. More than just another author following the footsteps of Lovecraft, Bloch still included elements of Lovecraftian influence, such as the inclusion of The Necronomicon, and The Book of Eibon. Deliciously self-indulgent, Bloch’s story is about a writer of weird fiction obsessed with learning all things occult when he looks to find the aforementioned esoteric tomes of forbidden knowledge. As we all know when it comes to Eldritch cosmic horror, this writer inevitably summons something disastrous.

“The Secret in the Tomb” (1935)

Another instance of cosmic horror in the early days of Bloch’s writing career, it has been compared directly to the stylistic literature of the father of cosmic horror himself—to the point that, if the author of this had been unknown, it would have been assumed to have been a product of Lovecraft. This dark, dank tale of eldritch horror and dread is lurking, just beyond sight, and awaiting the arrival of the last descendant of a long line of sorcerers.

“The Mannikin” (1937)

Another Weird Tales original, published in the April edition in 1937, we get a tale of a strange reclusive and a disfigured, hunchbacked man named Simon, whom the locals all despise. As a short story, of course, it doesn’t take long to find that this cosmic horror is based all around the diabolical hump on Simon’s back—just wait until you find out what the hump really is.

“The Sorcerer’s Jewel” (1939)

This is a story that Bloch originally published under the pen name Tarleton Fiske in Strange Stories Magazine, in 1939; in this story we see a similarity to “A Shambler in the Stars” when we follow a photographer who takes incredibly bizarre photos as his life’s passion. While he doesn’t believe in the occult, his assistant happens to be a devotee of a peculiar occult practice and everything changes when the photographer is brought an ancient jewel.

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“Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper” (1943)

Over the years, Robert Bloch’s short story “Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper” has been adapted to various mediums following its publication—the story is about a man from Chicago who is approached by a gentleman from England who tells him that he’s looking for Jack the Ripper. This, of course, is strange on its own as the infamous serial killer should have died years before. The Englishman believes that Jack the Ripper has become immortal through occult means and that his serial murders are actually ritual sacrifices that restore his youth. The man from Chicago is enlisted to help to bring the Ripper to light.

“Satan’s Phonograph” (1946)

A slow burn for a short story, this haunting tale follows the narrator down memory lane as he tells the reader about the ingenious, but wildly mad piano teacher that helped him to reach Carnegie Hall—but when the pupil returns from his tours across Europe with his new wife in tow, he finds that his old teacher had been institutionalized—when his insane old teacher shows up in his house with a seemingly innocent phonograph and his wild theories, the narrator believes his teacher is simply delusional.

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“Sweets To The Sweet” (1947)

Bloch spins the thread of a sinister six-year-old girl, following the narrative of the housekeeper as she speaks to her former boss’s brother, who happens to be a lawyer. The housekeeper encourages the lawyer to look into what she believes to be a brutally abusive situation between father and daughter. She tells the brother about all of the signs of alcoholism and beatings, while the child is accused of witchcraft. When the lawyer finally goes to investigate what is happening in his brother’s home, he finds out that the truth may be more disturbing than he expects.

“Floral Tribute” (1949)

An eerie tale of a young boy being raised by his grandmother brings her fresh flowers home every day—it’s not until the inhabitants of the local cemetery come to speak with the grandmother that she finds out that he has been taking them from the graves of the nearby graveyard, where he plays among the tombstones.

“The Shadow From The Steeple” (1950)

Yet another story based in the Lovecraft universe, Bloch starts the story off with the friend of a character Lovecraft had killed in his short story “The Haunter in the Dark” whom Lovecraft had modeled after Bloch himself. A convoluted and dark fictional tale based on Lovecraft and his circle of writers, we get to see the authors appearing as characters of their own making. As another story within the Cthulhu Mythos, we see how involved Bloch was still within the Lovefcraft style even at this point in his career.

“Head Man” (1950)

An interesting spin on Nazi Germany’s obsession with the occult and paranormal, a SS executioner puts everything on the line to keep possession of the heads of a man and woman who had been charged with witchcraft and executed as a result.

“The Hungry House” (1951)

A tale that will once again make you fear your own reflection in a mirror; “The Hungry House” takes place after a couple moves into their new home. As they try to get comfortable in their new house they begin to see spooky inexplicable reflections around the house and dismiss it as being an overactive imagination. It’s not until the husband finds the locked closet in the attic that they realize something is incredibly wrong with their house—in it are all of the mirrors that the previous owners had removed from the walls of the house.

“Notebook Found in an Abandoned House” (1951)

This story is told from a notebook found in an abandoned house, which was written by a twelve-year-old boy by the name of Willy Osborne who is trapped within the house by the sinister beasts, or “them ones,” that stalk him from within the woods and swamps that surround the house. “Them ones,” that Willy is scared might come and get him are monstrous, Lovecraftian elder creatures who used to be take sacrifices to be appeased.

“The Light-House” (1953)

This particular short story took special influence from a story that Edgar Allan Poe began before his death in 1849, but was never able to finish; in 1953 Bloch took this unfinished short story, finished it, polished it up, and then had it published. As such, it is considered a posthumous collaboration. It follows the pursuits of a nobleman who takes a job as a lighthouse keeper, so he may write in solitude. His loneliness gets the better of him in this weird and satisfyingly dark tale, when he tries to psychically summon a companion.

“House of the Hatchet” (1955)

A couple with a relationship on the rocks decides to take their a second honeymoon on the road—on their trip they end up stopping at a haunted tourist attraction, where the story goes that a husband had killed his wife with a hatchet in one of the rooms. When they decided to take a tour of this haunted house, the husband begins to feel a heavy dark presence in the room where the murder was said to have occurred…

“Terror In Cut Throat Cove” (1958)

Considered a horror adventure tale, “Terror In Cut Throat Cove” follows the tale of an American writer who is approached by a treasure-hunting duo; they end up recruiting him to help them locate this long-lost legendary ship that sunk with a massive fortune aboard because the writer has an undeniable fondness for the girlfriend of the treasure hunter. A crazy adventure ensues until they find the ship and one of the divers returns from the ship’s wreckage without his head.

“The Animal Fair” (1971)

This story of a drifter who ends up in the small town of Medley, Oklahoma while the carnival is in town—where he enters the a tent that houses a gorilla who happens to be the main attraction—not to mention seriously abused by his trainer. This horrifying weird tale ends in a shocking twist and is well worth the read.

Works Cited:

Cowan, Matt. “FIFTEEN HORROR TALES BY ROBERT BLOCH.” Horror Delve, 4 Apr. 2016, horrordelve.com/2016/04/04/robert-bloch/.

HorrorBabble. “The Shambler from the Stars” by Robert Bloch. Youtube/”The Shambler from the Stars” by Robert Bloch, HorrorBabble, 12 Mar. 2018, youtu.be/0Q6xA0f9SNk.

HorrorBabble. “The Secret in the Tomb” by Robert Bloch. Youtube/”The Secret in the Tomb” by Robert Bloch, HorrorBabble, 20 Aug. 2018, youtu.be/vodqchPxgCoyoutu.be/vodqchPxgCo.

Thomas, G. W. “The Early Robert Bloch.” Dark Worlds Quarterly, 6 Aug. 2020, darkworldsquarterly.gwthomas.org/the-early-robert-bloch/.

A Lovecraftian Life and Death

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Lifestyle

Known as the Father of Cosmic Horror, H.P. Lovecraft only lived for forty-six short years. What he was able to accomplish in his lifetime, however, was enough to change the tides of an entire genre.

A Visionary from an Early Age

Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born in the late summer of 1890, to Sarah Susan Phillips Lovecraft and Winfield Scott Lovecraft, in Providence, Rhode Island. As a child of three, his father suffered from a nervous breakdown and was sent to Butler Hospital, where he remained in residence for five years until his death in the summer of 1898. Unaware of his father’s mental condition, Lovecraft was told that his father was paralyzed and comatose, but surviving medical records show that his father actually died of paresis—a form of neurosyphilis.

Following the death of his father, Lovecraft was brought up by his mother, two aunts, and grandfather—who had him reciting poetry at two, reading at three, and writing at six or seven years of age, having recognized his advanced intelligence. By the age of five, he had proven his penchant for the creative, fantastical, and mythological, eventually using these influences to inspire his own literary works. His oldest surviving work came when he was a young boy of seven, having paraphrased the Odyssey into rhyming verse in his 1897, “The Poem of Ulysses.” His grandfather played a large role in Lovecraft’s strange gothic sense of fantasy, encouraging him to pursue his weird flights of fantasy into the realm of horror.

Due to numerous childhood afflictions, including some instances of psychological troubles, Lovecraft’s attendance at school was never consistent—he spent much of his youth studying independently, favoring chemistry and astronomy over all else. As far as works of fiction, Edgar Allan Poe served as the inspiration for much of Lovecraft’s dark and imaginative creations. Despite his diminished ability to socialize, he was still able to create and maintain a number of significant friendships with his peers when he attended Hope High School, through his self-published hectograph journals. These journals, The Scientific Gazette (1899–1907) and The Rhode Island Journal of Astronomy (1903–07) garnered him his peer’s encouragement to write outside of his home. Unfortunately, in 1908 Lovecraft suffered from a nervous breakdown and never received his diploma. His inability to graduate high school and be admitted into Brown University would be a source of great shame to Lovecraft later in life

This breakdown led Lovecraft to become somewhat of a hermit for several years—exacerbated by the death of his grandfather and their consequential financial ruin—he would stay up late studying, reading, and writing poetry, then sleeping late into the day. Even though he managed to publish articles on astronomy in several newspapers, Lovecraft went through a difficult time after losing his childhood home, as well as the compulsive love-hate relationship he had with his mother, so he regularly contemplated suicide.

From Isolation to Notoriety

Emerging from his need for isolation in 1913, like an internet troll emerges when they see something online that drives them absolutely crazy, Lovecraft wrote an entire letter in verse to Fred Jackson as an affront. He joined the United Amateur Press Association in 1914, which is where his amateur journalism career began, leading him to launch his self-published magazine The Conservative in 1915. It would be safe to say that these opportunities launched Lovecraft’s entire career out from within the pit of his own self-pity.

H.P. Lovecraft (1915)
H.P. Lovecraft (1915)

“In 1914, when the kindly hand of amateurdom was first extended to me, I was as close to the state of vegetation as any animal well can be… With the advent of the United I obtained a renewal to live; a renewed sense of existence as other than a superfluous weight; and found a sphere in which I could feel that my efforts were not wholly futile. For the first time I could imagine that my clumsy gropings after art were a little more than faint cries lost in the unlistening world.”

Howard Phillips Lovecraft

It only took two more years of his life before he once again delved into his fictional worlds—in the summer of 1917, Lovecraft easily produced “The Tomb,” as well as “Dagon,” which were two shorter stories that he owed to his passion for fiction. The dark edgy tales of Edgar Allan Poe and fantasy tales of Irish author Lord Dunsany, which inspired some of his earlier fiction pieces.

I will tell only of the lone tomb in the darkest of the hillside thickets; the deserted tomb of the Hydes, an old and exalted family whose last direct descendant had been laid within its black recesses many decades before my birth.

The Tomb”, June 1917 by Howard Phillips Lovecraft

It was around this time that his mother’s own mental and physical deterioration began to really affect her and after her own nervous breakdown in 1919, she was admitted to Butler Hospital—the same hospital Lovecraft’s father had been committed to and subsequently died in. Only two years later a failed operation caused the death of his mother and in spite of his devastation, Lovecraft recovered enough to meet his future wife a few weeks later. In 1923, the horror magazine Weird Tales paid Lovecraft for his stories, which was his first paid gig as a writer. When he married Sonia Greene in 1924, they moved to New York for two years, but the marriage soon failed and Lovecraft returned to Rhode Island where he began working on his most renowned stories. Just two years after splitting up with his wife, “The Call of Cthulhu,” came out in the Weird Tales magazine, which was the first piece that really helped make a name for Lovecraft as an author of otherworldly horror.

The Death of a Legendary Horror Writer

I am essentially a recluse who will have very little to do with people wherever he may be. I think that most people only make me nervous – that only by accident, and in extremely small quantities, would I ever be likely to come across people who wouldn’t.

Howard Phillips Lovecraft, 1926
Tombstone of H.P. Lovecraft
Tombstone of H.P. Lovecraft

The last decade of his life was spent creating what is now known as his classics, having found a niche for himself as an author of weird horror fiction, and prolific writer-of-letters. The last few years of his life, in particular, were incredibly strenuous for Lovecraft, beginning with the death of one of his aunts in 1932, from there his writing became largely too complex to sell to a normal reader. At this part of his career, he began to attempt a career solely editing, as well as ghostwriting stories, poetry, and non-fiction—no longer even trying to sell his own original creations. The suicide of a close friend brought him depression, but it was ultimately his own incurable illness that would bring Lovecraft’s final days. In the winter of 1936, Lovecraft’s intestinal cancer caused him pain that increased on a daily basis and eventually he had taken himself to the hospital where he died five days later, on March 15, 1937.

Like many other underappreciated artists of his age, Lovecraft has gained a far greater following after death than he ever saw during his lifetime. He’s been the inspiration for writers Peter Straub, Stephen King, as well as Neil Gaiman—to name a few.

Lovecraft has yet to be surpassed as the twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale.

Stephen King

At The Mountains of Madness – Illustrated

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Francois Baranger’s illustrated version of HP Lovecraft’s At The Mountains of Madness, blown up to double its impact, rings out in the ears as if echoing from the highest snowy peak. This is only Volume 1 and for someone like me who has never indulged in this particular tale, it’s quite the cliffhanger. The line could easily be self-referencial of much of Lovecraft’s work, in that a lot of the ‘cosmic-horror’ that he coined and regularly explored relies heavily on the imagination of the reader. As I mentioned in a previous article on visualizing cosmic-horror in film, adding any form of physical imagery to Lovecraft’s work often poses the risk of detracting from its intended effect. That is, thankfully, not the case here. 

Imagination could conceive almost anything in connexion with this place.

H.P. Lovecraft – At The Mountains of Madness

The first thing to notice is the size of the At The Mountains of Madness Illustrated book, released by Free League Publishing. A hardback at 26x36cm, displaying the beautiful and atmospheric artwork of Baranger, has an obvious air of quality; a first glance bringing hopes that it only echoes the scale and majesty held within. It might be considered impractical by those wanting to read anywhere other than a desk, but the thing holds an intrinsic weight that makes your perusal all the richer. A foreword by Maxime Chattam compares the tale to the icy horrors of The Thing (1982) which, again for a first time reader, was rather exciting. 

Before reading I was asked by a friend, “Does he picture the monstrosities at the camp?” Of course I had no idea to which monstrosities he was referring, though it was a question I kept coming back to while wading through the heavy descriptions of the first few pages. Well-placed illustrations aid the flow of the story greatly, as well as some resizing of sentences for emphasis that helps bring home the point of many of Lovecraft’s ramblings without feeling cartoonish. Much of the artwork acts as flavouring, in the way sound effects and music would to an audiobook, and by the time the aforementioned monstrosities are encountered, and pictured vividly, it feels like a true horror payoff within an already interesting story of exploration. The things look incredible and prove Barangers skill and imagination to be far above that of simple docking ships and icy wastes, though these introductory scenes are inarguably stunning. 

Mountains of Madness art featuring people looking at alien bodies under tarps in the snow

While I can’t compare to the simple text-only format of this particular story, I can somewhat to other stories in Lovecraft’s oeuvre, and here the imagery is a refreshing and welcome addition. While I fully believe that the power of Lovecraft’s monsters exists in our inability to comprehend them on a physical level, seeing the big slimy nasties in this case puts us much closer to the mentality of the poor souls at the dig site. 

Baranger’s art expertly treads a tightrope between detail and atmosphere, displaying a degree of realism that should by rights be impossible to achieve alongside the sense of wonder permeating each piece. The more you look, the more layers reveal themselves within portraits of sunset-drenched mountaintops, views of meetings through frosted cabin windows and some sparse yet effectively-placed gore including the harrowing scene of a man’s bust-open chest. These aren’t simple accompaniments but integral parts in this telling of Lovecraft’s tale, inserted with intent to aid the reader’s immersion but also to stand as their own pieces, rich and textured. 

At The Mountains of Madness – Illustrated Book Cover

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At The Mountains of Madness Illustrated Cosmic Horror Book Cover

The story itself is fantastic. A classic, even by Lovecraft’s standards. His style can be long-winded and hard to fall into for some, though this works for his longer pieces such as this one. The themes of exploration and the wonder it conjures were perfect to set up the icy horrors in the mountains; as the many details of the expedition are reeled off one can’t help but feel the excitement of it all. The overload of information, once pushed through, leads on to discoveries vivid and startling, made all the more realistic by their precursing pages. Lovecraft has the ability, mainly through his grounded and earthly first acts, to make readers begin to question just what, if any, horror (as we now know it) will be about to occur. This makes the subsequent deaths, tentacled abominations and nightmarish icy wastes that much more impactful and unexpected. All of this is helped greatly by purposeful and well-thought-out text formatting, mainly being some upsized sentences which add a great deal of weight to occurrences and help break up some of HP’s longer esoteric rants. 

A lot of the issues with visualizing Lovecraft’s elder beings are in no way as apparent here as within the realms of film and television. This particular undertaking allows the story itself, beholder of all of the real power here, to remain the focal point while all additions serve as flavor and make the whole ordeal that much more vivid and evocative. The mind still builds on these images, just as it would visualize on a story while reading. I absolutely must know what happens next in this tale, though I will wait to purchase the second volume of this version rather than find the classic story in a collection I own. That should say it all. 

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