“Phantasmagore” (2021) by H. K. Lovejoy

She gently unrolled the parchment, staining its edges with her filthy hands, then did her best to recite the strange serpentine text with the same guttural intonation the witch was so fluent with. She remembered the book this passage had been transcribed from, and that stark silver word embossed on its greasy black cover: Eibon.
—H. K. Lovejoy, “Phantasmagore” in Beyond the Book of Eibon 192

Eibon

The Book of Eibon in The Beyond (1981)

In 1980, Italian filmmaker Lucio Fulci directed City of the Living Dead (Italian title: Paura nella città dei morti viventi), the first of what would become known as his “Gates of Hell Trilogy,” the other two films of which are The Beyond (1981, …E tu vivrai nel terrore! L’aldilà) and The House by the Cemetery (1981, Quella villa accanto al cimitero). The films share little continuity of plot or setting: all involve one of the doorways to hell opening, resulting in hauntings, baroque and gory deaths, and the undead, and all contain references to or elements of the Mythos—the eponymous “City of the Living Dead” is Dunwich, and the Book of Eibon appears to prophesy or predict some of the events of the films.

Even these references are very slight; Fulci wasn’t quite trying to bring Lovecraft or Clark Ashton Smith directly to the big screen, and the films do not reference each other and can be viewed standalone. What unites them is Fulci’s style: visceral, weird, almost poetic compositions of color and sound. He was fond of eye trauma and smoking acid dissolving faces, but largely avoided sexual exploitation or the mondo excesses of, say, Cannibal Holocaust (1980).

Fulci’s trilogy became cult favorites among the horror movie buff scene, and remain so even today with remastered re-releases and commentaries. They’ve also inspired some other media, notably a series of comic adaptations form Eibon Press, and fiction including The Final Gate (2021) by Wesley Southard and Lucas Mangum, and the anthology Beyond the Book of Eibon (2021) edited by Perry Ruhland and Astrid Rose for Death Wound Publishing. Unfortunately, the latter company appears defunct so if you missed the kickstarter, finding a copy might be quite difficult.

“Phantasmagore” by H. K. Lovejoy is the final story in Beyond the Book of Eibon. The tale is brief, and Lovejoy enjoys an elaborate and detailed style reminiscent of Smith or Lovecraft’s more ultraviolet prose:

Mounds of her honey hair fell in an exquisite latticework across her bare breasts and stomach, only to be gently reshuffled by her lover.
—H. K. Lovejoy, “Phantasmagore” in Beyond the Book of Eibon 193

In the context of Fulci’s trilogy, however, it works. It evokes something of his style, of the artistry of horror, the beautiful moments that then break into desolation and decay. As with the films, the story is set in their orbit but independent of their plots: a Dunwich affair leads to ghastly supernatural revenge via the Book of Eibon. Lovejoy isn’t afraid to go full Fulci when it comes to describing the culmination of the affair, doesn’t let the reader’s eye drift away from the page. Which is, again, quite fitting.

Her eyes had reduced to frothing pools of blood, allowing the brains, which had taken on a gelatinous state, to plunge through her sockets from the blind momentum of nightcrawlers.
—H. K. Lovejoy, “Phantasmagore” in Beyond the Book of Eibon 194

“How Lovecraftian (or Klarkash-Tonian) is ‘Phantasmagore’?” is an interesting question. Fulci’s films themselves borrow little from the Mythos, and have their own aesthetic entirely. There are few explanations in Fulci’s films, and it is up to the reader to theorize and interpret the images and events that appear on screen, to try and make sense of what are ultimately irrational happenings. Lovejoy’s story is more straightforward than Fulci’s films, and outside the context of the anthology in which it appears could easily be taken as a brief Mythos tale—there, after all, is Dunwich, there is the Book of Eibon. You don’t need the whole eldritch pantheon in every story.

At the opening of the film Manhattan Baby (1982), Fulci gives an apocryphal (and most likely invented) quote from Lovecraft:

Il mistero non è attorno alle cose, ma dentro le cose stesse.
Mystery is not around things, but within things themselves.

Ultimately, it is up to the reader to decide where “Phantasmagore” lies…whether it “counts” as a Mythos story, or a story set exclusively in the Gates of Hell narrative universe, or perhaps neither or both at the same time. The story exists as its own work, and can be enjoyed as such; any greater meaning has to be supplied by someone else.

H. K. Lovejoy’s other writing includes The Black in Between (2020), and she is also a funerary artist; her website is https://www.charnelnectar.com/


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard and Others and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos.

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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