H.P. Lovecraft was a racist, sexist asshole. He was also hugely influential to the genre of horror. His fiction lives on and will live on in the form of cosmic horror. So much so, that any example of cosmic horror is often dubbed “Lovecraftian” regardless of how close and visceral the viewpoint of the character is. When the horror is in the realm of the unknown and the unknowable, Lovecraft’s name is easy to invoke. And for good reason.
But cosmic horror does exist beyond Lovecraft and strictly Lovecraftian fiction. Take, for example, the movie The Endless. The movie features two brothers who escaped a cult, but then decide to go back. As soon as they approach the camp they escaped, things start getting curioser and curioser.
It’s not necessarily aliens.
Lovecraft started out with Old Ones. The ones who were here before humanity, the ones whose very countenance drives them mad. Kind of like the Christian God, now that I think about it. But unlike the Christian God, Cthulhu and the lesser Old Ones do not care to use a Metatron. The very inability of the characters to know the nature of the Old Ones is a huge source of the horror.
And that not knowing is also at the heart of The Endless. The threat may be aliens, but it just as well might not. Whoever it is, however, controls much more than just the regular things horrific beings control. Bloody Mary can famously come out of mirrors when you call her name, but she still has to be able to touch you to kill you. Not so with cosmic horror. Whatever the ultimate villain in The Endless, for example, can control time. It keeps people trapped in endless loops of varying lengths, each loop separated from the others. Everyone who’s inside a loop when it resets permanently becomes a part of the loop. It’s not a part of this movie (apparently, this is the sequel of a hard-to-find Resolution), but somehow everyone seems to find out what they’re in the middle of. And then, if you’re stuck, it becomes a matter of deciding how you want to die; by your own hand, or at the hands of whatever controls the loops. People keep trying to solve the loop, but nobody gets there.
The horror of the unknown
And that’s the point of cosmic horror. There’s nothing that you can fight against, nothing you can defeat. Even with supernatural beings, there’s always light, there’s always salt, there’s always silver and iron. But when you cannot even comprehend what the thing is that’s about to hurt you, and possibly not even understand what’s happening. And even if you do understand, you might not be able to do anything about it. In The Endless, there’s one man – from like Victorian England on a safari, for some unknown reason – whose loop lasts only seconds. He can’t ever do anything. Every person he has ever known is long dead. His way of life, gone. And he dies, painfully by the sound, every few seconds. He never dreams, he never changes. And he always knows he’s about to die. But not why, or whose fault it is. We want that culprit. It’s what a lot of ghost stories hinge on.
Look to the sky, way up on high, there in the night, stars now are right.