In all of his stories, not one of H. P. Lovecraft’s characters ever pissed themselves in fright. No character soiled their britches as Great Cthulhu stumbled through the waves, or noisily vomited up a half-digested lunch on seeing the swiftly-decomposing remains of Wilbur Whateley. You might run across a reference to a man whose face has been bitten away, but never a dirty diaper; a suggestive smear of blood, but never a drop of menses. A character might be described as moving through filth, but you never get the actual description of the turds, or the rotting carcasses buzzing with flies, or the sudden desperate need for a restroom.
Weird fiction may be horrifying, but it is rarely disgusting. Fear and disgust are basic emotions that can both arise from transgressions, and can be quite intimately linked: a dead body may engender fear and disgust, a prude might find a Satanic orgy both horrifying and revolting. During the heyday of Weird Tales, there was a limit one could go in explicit description, and while later decades grew more lax in terms of actual censorship, many practical limitations remain. Nudity is still more acceptable in horror films than actual feces; a character might be shot a hundred times or bisected by a saw blade, but they probably won’t be drowned in a toilet full of urine.
Even in weird and horror fiction, there are many norms and mores…and transgressing these can result in quite powerful works of art and literature. Terrible, in their own way, but powerful.
This is the psychology of the exploitation films, underground comix, heavy metal and all of its many musical sub-genres and modes with their cover art, and of Splatterpunk fiction and its literary descendants Extreme Horror and Bizarro fiction. For writers and artists who embrace the transgression beyond mere fright, there are strange, vast opportunities to go beyond what any normal writer—even the normal Lovecraftian writer—has gone before.
Of course, it isn’t necessarily pleasant to read or write, but that’s the point. The visceral response, the new emotional sensation that you can’t get anymore. After reading “Innsmouth” or “Cthulhu” for the fiftieth or a hundredth time, do you really still feel the same dread? Or have you gotten used to it? Cthulhu, for many, has become a familiar horror. There are plushies. You can go buy dice and pillows, Cthulhu panties and sex toys. While a Lovecraft reader might be horrified at the mere existence of such merch, Cthulhu itself is far less a figure of terror to most. Cthulhu has become…cuddly.
That isn’t always the case, of course. Some Lovecraftian fiction is more transgressive than others, even in these jaded later days. “Necrophallus” by Makino Osamu (牧野修) is explicitly more visceral than the average Mythos tale; Insania Tenebris (2020) by Raúlo Cáceres pushes Mythos art to an explicit extreme; “The Vulviflora of Vuutsavek” (2008) by Charlotte Alchemilla Smythe is sexually explicit without letting go of the essential element of horror—yet none of these works really embrace disgust as equal to horror. None of them push that element of transgression.
For Lovecraftian works like that, you generally need to look for such works as Edward Lee’s “Hardcore Lovecraft” line including The Innswich Horror, The Haunter of the Threshold, Going Monstering, Trolley No. 1842, and The Dunwich Romance. These are all stories that put the horror and disgust under a microscope, that don’t pan away or keep the nastier bits of the action off the page or buried under a metaphor, as Lovecraft did. In a more avant-garde vein, you might look at Jordan Krall’s bizarro classic Squid Pulp Blues, pedal-to-the-metal Tentacle Death Trip, and the surreal collection Nightmares from a Lovecraftian Mind, or Kevin Strange’s McHumans.
Many of these works are now out of print and rare. Extreme fiction tends to have a limited audience, and self-publishing and small presses have been the norm; once it was Arkham House that published what the big publishers wouldn’t, but now the bleeding, gore-stained edge of extreme Lovecraftian fiction is mostly occupied in self-publishing…and there are some delightfully disgusting treats out on the fringes of known literature.
“Adolf Lovecraft” was the pseudonym for a bizarro writer who self-published three ebooks: Cthulhu Scat Hangover (2014), The Innsmouth Porno VHS (2014), and Cthulhu Bomb (In A Whore’s Guts (2016). While never destined for any best-of anthologies and largely ignored by critics, these are works that are exactly what they set out to be: nasty deep dredges where the balance is less on Lovecraftian horror than Lovecraftian disgust.
Cthulhu Scat Hangover contains two stories: “The Brown Eye From Beyond” and “Cthulhu Scat Hangover.” Both of these stories deal with very similar themes and visuals, and barely amount to more than a scene each; they may or may not have been inspired by a similar scene in chapter four of “The Apocalypse Donkey” in Squid Pulp Blues…
The wet sounds of shit-hitting-cement got louder. The tentacles got closer and before they wrapped around his leg, JImbo thought he saw the hypnotic and crystalline eyes of a squid. He blinked, thinking it was his imagination but when he looked again, they were still there.
—Jordan Krall, Squid Pulp Blues 146
…or perhaps not; independent invention has happened before and will again.
While some of the images are striking, the prose is rather straightforward, with an almost business-like low-budget horror movie earnestness than any effort to wax loquacious. Adolf Lovecraft does not try to ape Lovecraft’s loquaciousness and occasional ultraviolet prose.
The pain was indescribable as Angela from accounts slowly forced her entire fist into his sphincter. He was screaming gibberish, completely helpless, and she too was shouting something equally nonsensical—”Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn!” or some such bollocks—as her wrist, then her forearm, strekaed with gore and faeces, disappeared past Donny’s torn, haemorrhaging anus.
—Adolf Lovecraft, “Cthulhu Scat Hangover”
The stories also have no wider Mythos to tie into; aside from the name and familiar incantation, we aren’t left with any idea of why Angela from accounts is doing this, exactly. We don’t see the cult, if there is one, we get one perspective of a life with all of its petty bullshit hopes, ambitions, fears, and insecurities, and then he dies on a toilet after shitting out a tentacled horror.
It isn’t even played for laughs.
The Innsmouth Porno VHS also consists of two short works: the eponymous “Innsmouth Porno VHS” and “Brown Shower Apocalypse.” The latter has more in common with the contents of “Cthulhu Scat Hangover” than the others, and again there’s that sense of familiarity of theme, if nothing else, with Krall’s Squid Pulp Blues: the looming apocalypse, the terrible mundane sordidness of human relationships, sexual paraphilia, and the use of drugs and alcohol to cope. While it isn’t wholesome to any degree, “Brown Shower Apocalypse” isn’t written as a story to cater to or condemn those who have a sexual desire for a woman to shit on their chest like that infamous scene in Ilsa, She-Wolf of the S.S. As kinks go, it’s disgusting but not horrorific…except, perhaps in this story where it blends from one into the other at the end.
“The Innsmouth Porno VHS” is a different approach: no scat, for one thing. For another, it engages in a bit of intriguing worldbuilding:
Mike and I, in our early 20s, had been born into a world in which the Innsmouth Condition already existed. The Innsmouth kids had been born about a decade earlier. It wasn’t exactly commonplace to us—I’d only ever seen a couple of people with it in my life, and that had been in large cities—but it definitely was part of the world.
—Adolf Lovecraft, “The Innsmouth Porno VHS”
Imagine a world where developing fishy attributes was like Thalidomide babies. Pornography is already intensely driven by genre and tags; the desire for new and different sees users browse by both specific sexual acts and kinks and types of performers. Race, sex and gender, hair color, body types, body modifications like tattoos and piercings are all fair game. It wouldn’t be that strange to imagine what adults with Innsmouth Condition might end up doing in front of the camera…
It is about as far from cosmic horror as you can get. If Joe Koch is correct that body horror is the opposite end of the spectrum from cosmic horror (A Transmusculine Horror Writers Looks At Lovecraft), then “The Innsmouth Porno VHS” might suggest that the spectrum has another axis, and that body disgust is the opposite end of the spectrum from cosmic disgust. The idea recalls Arthur Machen’s dialogue on sorcery and sanctity, the idea that there are transgressions of the mundane world that are more repellent than mere theft or murder, the kind of revulsion against reality hinted at in some weird tales:
And for three hundred years I have done his bidding, from this marble couch, blackening my soul with cosmic sins, and staining my wisdom with crimes, because I had no other choice.
—Robert E. Howard, “The Tower of the Elephant”
A tentacled entity sliding out of a broken rectum covered in shit into a toilet might evoke mingled disgust and horror, but there is nothing of the cosmic in a videotaped orgy featuring two women with birth defects. Weird, certainly; outside the mundane categories on your pornographic website of choice, but the physicality of a hardcore sex tape, with spitting, rough sex, and dirty talk spoken from mouths ill-adapted to human speech trends more toward disgust than horror…although there is still that strange fascination that accompanies anything unusual, bizarre, and taboo.
As the name implies, “The Innsmouth Porno VHS” is sexually explicit, but the real focus is on the mental or spiritual corruption of the protagonist. The eponymous VHS awakens something in him, and Adolf Lovecraft deftly captures that sense of utter fascination, of something beguiling in its wrongness, the shivering sensation of watching something you weren’t meant to see…trying to capture, in a sense, that liminal state of watching pornography for the first time, except with less explicit fear of being caught and more explicit visceral attraction mixed with disgust.
The orgy, gangbang, fish fry, whatever it was, began to wind down.
—Adolf Lovecraft, “The Innsmouth Porno VHS”
The difference between this story and the others in Adolf Lovecraft’s small corpus is that the dirtiness and disgust are on the inside. The other stories are gross-outs, violent, nasty, and viscerally disgusting in the acts they describe, and the point-of-view characters don’t survive to develop new kinks or learn any moral lesson. In “The Innsmouth Porno VHS” however, there’s something more…not in the sense of a greater extreme of physical disgust, but maybe in the sense of cosmic disgust. It isn’t just about jerking off to a new fetish for Innsmouth girls, it’s what that new and unnatural libido leads him to do…and that is, in many ways, more disgusting than all the scat-filled references in the other stories combined.
Cthulhu Bomb (In A Whore’s Guts) is an omnibus anthology of Adolf Lovecraft’s work, including all four stories from the previous two collections along with several new ones. The same themes are at play, but the stories don’t build on one another, there is no larger picture to grasp. Many of the same ideas, spinning out in variations, fucked-up situations that are brutal but never beautiful, that degrade but don’t enlighten.
Disgusting stories aren’t for everyone; it is a different kind of transgression, meant to invoke a different response, and while disgust and fear are closely related, the effects they have on mind and body can be very different. For those who think they have delved into the depths of cosmic horror…there may be some things out there that you aren’t ready for yet, and may never be. There are stranger and more terrible things than Adolf Lovecraft out there.
Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard and Others and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos.
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