A couple of weeks ago, I used this space to speculate about the possibility that director Ridley Scott’s forthcoming Prometheus may prove to be a kind of heady hybridizing of 2001: A Space Odyssey with Lovecraftian horror. Now comes the news that the Lovecraftian elements of Prometheus may be so close to certain key aspects of Guillermo del Toro’s long-planned and long-anticipated adaptation of Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness that they may have killed the project. And this comes straight from the mouth, or rather the keyboard, of the man himself.
By now, I probably don’t need to rehash the long and winding saga of del Toro’s plan, currently approaching two decades old, to bring Lovecraft’s Madness to life as a lavish, big-budget movie with all of the monsters, horror, and gore intact, since it seems to have entered the horror and science fiction wings of contemporary pop culture as a kind of living urban lore. One of the best accounts of the whole thing was published last year by The New Yorker in a feature article/essay/profile that presented del Toro as a genuine auteur and creative genius with a defining bent for the dark fantastic. The bulk of the piece hinges on his efforts to get Madness made. In case you haven’t seen it, here are key passages that convey both the nature of del Toro’s struggle through the Hollywood minefield and the nature of the movie he hoped to make:
It’s been a long time since I’ve so eagerly anticipated an upcoming film. Prometheus, which is slated for a June 8 release, feels to me like a cultural, psychological, and philosophical landmark even before I’ve seen it. And its profound resonance with two other cultural, psychological, and philosophical landmarks in the history of science fiction is become more clearly evident with each passing day and each newly released marketing item.
I love literary synchronicities, that tendency for oddly meaningful coincidences to occur in conjunction with books and authors. Everybody is familiar, for example, with the famous phenomenon of “just the right book,” in which a new book, author, article, or essay will spontaneously pop up in a person’s life and prove to be just the thing that he or she was looking for or needing to read at that exact moment.
So maybe it’s a fortuitous sign that a minor event of this kind accompanied my recent decision to finalize and publish, at long last, the following interview with Dracula expert Ian Holt, who, working with Bram Stoker’s great-grandnephew Dacre Stoker, co-authored Dracula: The Un-Dead, the official, Stoker-family-sanctioned sequel to Dracula published in 2009. It’s been many months since John DeNardo here at SF Signal gave me the welcome assignment/opportunity to interview Ian. It’s also been many months since I actually conducted the interview via an hour-long phone call. Soon after Ian and I spoke, I went on cyber-sabbatical, withdrawing from all of my online activities and going into hibernation for five months. So the recording just sat there untranscribed, with a truly fascinating conversation lying dormant (“sleeping the sleep of the undead,” as Charlie Brewster might say) in a digital coffin.
Each year when autumn arrives, I’m drawn by a kind of inner gravity to revisit the work of Ray Bradbury, and to recharge his fictional vision within me. This is always inextricably intertwined with the transcendent longing that I mentioned in my previous (just-published) column, Fantasy, Horror, and Infinite Longing.
There I talked about the sense of transcendent yearning that I’ve experienced intermittently since childhood, and that often comes to me as a companion to the autumn season. I speculated about its profound significance for both human consciousness and the fantasy and horror genres, and I talked about some of the authors — C.S. Lewis, H.P. Lovecraft, Colin Wilson — who have known it and focused directly on it in their work.
Here I focus on the fact that Bradbury is a master at both arousing and confirming this experience of heightened inner intensity. My first readings of The October Country, The Illustrated Man and Something Wicked This Way Comes as an early adolescent left a permanent mark on me, both intellectually and emotionally. More than just the sum of their parts, his books and stories conveyed to me then, and convey to me now, an entire vision of the world in which darkness and light both intensify to new heights and depths of vividness, and all the daily details of life assume a kind of mythic numinosity. Which is to say that his work exemplified then, and still exemplifies now, what I take to be the deep raison d’être of fantasy and horror.
It’s currently October, the spiritual heart of autumn, season of darkening skies and shivering shadows, when death and life, fantasy and reality, night and day, bleed briefly into each other to generate a sense of infinite vistas lying just beyond our ability to grasp. Or at least that’s how it unfolds in the Missouri Ozarks, my lifelong home until a couple of years ago. In 2008 my family and I relocated to Central Texas, and down here in my new native country, daytime temps are still climbing into the 80s. There’s nary a red or golden leaf in sight. The forecast for Halloween itself, the spiritual focal point of the whole month, calls for sunny skies and a high of 85. I don’t often quote Charles Schulz, but since he conceived of the Great Pumpkin, it seems appropriate under current circumstances: Rats.
Still, none of this means the season is failing to inspire its archetypal mood, a pungent emotional coloration composed of equal parts wistful longing, melancholy brooding, and shadowy fascination. And this has got me to reflecting seriously on the significance of this mood for the religion-spirituality-speculative fiction crossover arena that’s my focus here at Stained Glass Gothic. To cut to the chase: The archetypal mood that I and millions of other people have come to associate with autumn in general and October in particular touches on a peculiar emotional/spiritual upwelling that’s central to the concerns of fantasy and horror, and that I first began consciously experiencing as an early adolescent.
I assume it’s customary in a new column’s inaugural article for the writer to introduce himself. Or even if not, I’m making it a custom now.
I’m Matt Cardin, and I’ll be writing this column for SF Signal to focus on the religious, spiritual, and philosophical aspects of speculative fiction and film. To those who know me, this won’t come as a surprise.
Over the course of the past decade, I’ve written a lot about this subject, so much so that recently Mario Guslandi, in reviewing the recent anthology Dark Faith from Apex Books (which features my surreal horror story “Chimeras & Grotesqueries”), commented that I’m “becoming a kind of expert on the subject of the relationship between religion and horror.”
I take that kindly.
If you want to know where I’m coming from when it comes to such matters, you can read some of the interviews I’ve recently given: to Lovecraft News Network about my speculations on real-life cosmic horror; to TheoFantastique about my nondual spiritual reading of George Romero’s zombie movies; to TheoFantastique again about my reading of the biblical book of Isaiah as a cosmic horror story; to Dystopia Press about the general connections between “religion, spirituality, and horror.