But whatever you dub it, it’s not my father’s Lovecraft circle of white cis men anymore. Women, people of color and LBGTQ writers are reshaping and stretching the borders of the weird.
—Anya Martin, Q&A: Atlanta writer Anya Martin on her debut horror collection “Sleeping with the Monster” (8 Nov 2018)
The success of the film Reanimator (1985), based on H. P. Lovecraft’s short story “Herbert West—Reanimator,” led rather shortly to the production of another Lovecraft film adaptation, with the same director (Stuart Gordon), producer (Brian Yuzna), and leads (Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton). From Beyond (1986) burned through the plot of Lovecraft’s story in the pre-title shots, and from the bare bones of the tale the filmmakers created a memorable, fast-paced horror film built on sensuality and practical effects, solid performances and evocative, memorable images. In some foreign markets, it was released as Resonator.
Anya Martin’s “Resonator Superstar!” is a story inspired not directly by Lovecraft, but from the adaptation of Lovecraft. While the literary DNA of Lovecraft’s original seven page story is there, the imagery and themes of the story are derived more from the film than the source text. Where many pastiches, sequels, and homages call back directly to Lovecraft’s, the different path of influence and inspiration have their stamp on Martin’s story. The most important difference is that “Resonator Superstar!” stands on its own: but it also allows readers to reflect back on what does and does not come from Lovecraft’s story, and why.
Thanks to director Stuart Gordon’s gloriously over-the-top film adaptation of From Beyond, it’s difficult to get away from pairing sex and the Resonator…and why would we want to? s there anything a Freudian in horror filmdom as the sight of Jeffery Combs’ pineal stalk thrashing around between his eyebrows? We think not!
—Scott R. Jones, “Magic Circles, Noxious Machines” in Resonator: New Lovecraftian Tales FROM BEYOND 3
Lovecraft’s “From Beyond” is essentially asexual, though some readers might find a buried homoerotic reading in two men in a small space, experiencing together a heightened, unnatural sensitivity. The lack of female characters on Lovecraft’s part was typical, and probably deliberate: romance is a human element, ultimately mundane, and Lovecraft was focusing on the weird element, the strange world beyond the normal senses of most human beings.
From Beyond grounds this focus back into the human realm, with a focus on sensuality and sexual stimulation: Tillinghast’s BDSM practices are recast as explorations into the limit of human experience, which the resonator device aims to bring him past. The cast is expanded to allow the interplay and interaction of more complex human relationships, especially as they each begin to feel the effects of the resonator.
Martin’s “Resonator Superstar!” starts where From Beyond leaves off: protagonist DiDi and her beau Curt offer a completely contrasting relationship than the nameless protagonist and Tillinghast in Lovecraft’s original tale, and the attitude and plots of the stories likewise diverge from that very basic difference. Curt is portrayed as intelligent, egotistical, controlling; DiDi as enamored, more self-conscious, sympathetic. Their relationship is explicitly sexual yet undefined (“the usual dance of we’re-fucking-but-are-we-a-couple-or-not”), and readers can read in their own warning signs from Curt’s treatment and behavior. The third, shadowy figure in the relationship is the object of Curt’s obsession.
DiDi’s inherent insecurity in the relationship is confirmed by an outside interloper: Hester Tillinghast, a living link to Curt’s obscure research into Andy Warhol, the Velvet Underground, and the resonator. Lovecraft had toyed with lover’s triangles in some of his ghost writing, but it is hard to imagine him writing a lover into “From Beyond”—much less to have them catch their partner in flagrante delicto—blazing with the full ultraviolet imagery of From Beyond…and DiDi trapped as, in an echo of the film, the resonator activates itself once again.
The key difference between Lovecraft’s story and Martin’s is not so much the phallic extension of the pineal glands or the well-researched background on Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground, but the different focus and development of the plot and characters. Lovecraft’s plot impulse is spare and straightforward, one man hating another; Martin’s plot is dealing with more complicated relationships, emotions, and more people. Lovecraft’s narrator, faced with a need to act, shoots the resonator; Martin’s DiDi, striving to save her lover, shuts off the resonator program. They accomplish much the same actions, but their reasons for doing so are very different…as are, ultimately, the results.
The film From Beyond took three steps beyond Lovecraft’s narrative out of necessity: there really wasn’t enough raw material in the original short story to sustain a full-length feature film. “Resonator Superstar!” references From Beyond by choice: the story can stand on its own, even if the reader has never seen the film or read Lovecraft’s original tale. Readers who have experienced both will have a better appreciation for what’s going on in Martin’s work, but the story is sufficiently removed from the original context of Lovecraft’s tale that it isn’t necessary in the same way that reading “The Shadow over Innsmouth” is critical to appreciate “The Doom That Came to Innsmouth” (1999) by Brian McNaughton & “The Litany of Earth” (2014) by Ruthanna Emrys or “A Coven in Essex County” (2016) by J. M. Yales.
What is surprising about “Resonator Superstar!” is not that it takes more direct inspiration from From Beyond than “From Beyond,” but that this inspiration should be discernible in both imagery and theme. Because most of Lovecraft’s fiction is in the public domain, it is relatively accessible and available to refer back to it directly, or even remix it as in “Kanye West—Reanimator” (2015) by Joshua Chaplinsky & “Herburt East: Refuckinator” (2012) by Lula Lisbon. The callback to the film adaptations are comparatively rare in Lovecraftian fiction because relatively few of Lovecraft’s film adaptations have achieved the kind of success to warrant their images sticking in the popular consciousness—although as a counterpoint to that, Chaplinksy’s book obviously takes as its inspiration the iconic Reanimator film poster for its cover art.
“Resonator Superstar!” first appeared in Resonator: New Lovecraftian Tales FROM BEYOND (2015) and reprinted in Anya Martin’s collection Sleeping with the Monster (2018). Martin’s other Lovecraftian fiction includes “The Prince of Lyghes” (2015), and “Old Tsah-Hov” (2015); she also touches on H. P. Lovecraft in the essay “The H Word: The Weird at the World’s End” (2017) for Nightmare Magazine.
Bobby Derie is the author of Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014)