Well, I can tell you one thing: Lovecraft would never have written this! But whether he would have been capable of it, or would have approved it, these questions are quite distinct. And yet it is a Lovecraftian tale; it belongs in this anthology.
—Robert M. Price, foreord to “Necrophallus” in Night Voices, Night Journeys 237
“Necrophallus” (2005) by Makino Osamu (牧野修) is a story in Night Voices, Night Journeys, the first volume in the Lairs of the Hidden Gods series from Kurodahan Press, edited by Asamatsu Ken (朝松健). It is the English-language translation of the 2002 story 屍の懐剣 (Shikabane no Nekorufaruso); the translator was Chun Jin.
The name of the story is warning and enticement at once. Necro, death. Phallus, the male sexual organ. Like the Necronomicon, it is a name to conjure with and be repelled by. Readers who see the title and keep reading have committed themselves to the act. Sex and death have always been intimately linked in horror; sex is taboo and transgression, excitement and anticipation. The building blocks of any good horror story. Lovecraft understood this, used it in his fiction—not in any explicit depiction, but by intimation and action; “The Loved Dead” by C. M. Eddy, Jr. and H. P. Lovecraft is a tale of necrophilia told from the necrophile’s point of view.
Lovecraft, of course, never lived to learn about Ed Gein, or to see the rise of the slasher film, splatterpunk fiction, torture porn. There was sadism and masochism in the pulps—even in the early Cthulhu Mythos! Robert E. Howard’s bloody flagellation scene in “The Black Stone” was a taste of what was to come in the weird terror pulps; the garish magazines which promised torture, mutilation, strange and terrible surgeries, gruesome injuries…and sex. Naked women, heaving bosoms, strange violations; always implicit in the pulps, because the could not publish the explicit.
Not Lovecraft’s scene.
Makino Osamu, however, brings the splatterpunk mentality to the Cthulhu Mythos. Filmgoers might point to similarities with Audition (オーディション, Ōdishon, 1999), but while there are definite cinematic flourishes to “Necrophallus,” the narrative itself doesn’t hit the same beats. The narrator is a hunter for the limits of human experience; psychologically damaged, sadistic but not in the sense of cruelty but in some profound sociopathic sense. What he meets, when the eponymous Necrophallus appears, is something beyond the limits of mere human sadism.
Which is really the success of “Necrophallus”: to have that moment of Lovecraftian realization, of the smallness of human endeavor, embedded in and expressed through the worldview of a violent, gory psychosexual narrative. There’s no humor to leaven the horror, as is the case in Edward Lee’s “Hardcore Lovecraft” line; no refuge in outrageousness. And, for that matter, not really much in the way of titillation or moral. The protagonist is a monster; if the reader feels any sympathy for them at the end, it is only because they are a human monster, whose appetites have led them into the clutches of something so much worse.
Like most such extreme horror, when taken out of context and without having gone through the narrative the imagery can approach the ridiculous…but then the surreality of the scene is the point. The idea of having arrived at some new state through the bloody and painful process is akin to birth, and once through the other side the narrator is transformed and ready for the final revelations.
Chī-chan rubs its dangling tentacles against my own. They make a sound like someone slurping their spaghetti. Not to compare with being dismembered by the Necrophallus, but such mingling of entrails also holds something like the remnants of pleasure.
—Makino Osamu, “Necrophallus” in Night Voices, Night Journeys 253
Unlike “She Flows” by Takeuchi Yoshikazu (竹内義和), “Necrophallus” has the minimum of explicit Mythos connections; Yuggoth is invoked by name, while At the Mountains of Madness and Miskatonic University are hinted at. It could be cataloged in the next edition of the Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia, stats could be provided for the Necrophallus in some module of the Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game without anyone blinking an eye.
It doesn’t really need that, however. The story could have stood on its own without that, being Lovecraftian without being explicitly Mythos. Which is probably the real testament to what Makino Osamu has achieved. Whether or not you like the story, with its sexually explicit scenes and bloody body horror, “Necrophallus” has successfully adapted elements of Lovecraft’s style of culminating revelations to a very different mode of fiction. That in itself is an achievement.