“What’s the Frequency, Lovecraft?”: the Vibrational Horror of ‘YellowBrickRoad’ and ‘Banshee Chapter’

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I’m currently reading through the slush pile for RESONATOR: New Lovecraftian Tales From Beyond, up to my neck in stories of dread machines that tweak human perception just enough to allow other dimensions to be experienced. I mention this only to give you a sense of where my mind is at these days. Probably editing this book has tweaked me somewhat towards seeing what I’ve come to call “frequency” or “vibrational” horror in two recent movies that could, without too much conceptual massage, be seen as the grandchildren of Lovecraft’s tale From Beyond. The films in question are YellowBrickRoad (2010) and Banshee Chapter (2013), and both have as their central horror not physical monsters from this (or any other) world, monsters encountered by entering a physical space, but a kind of creeping psychedelic paranoia surrounding the idea that the monsters of other planes, coterminous with ours, are always here, in our space, waiting for us to see them. We need only adjust the frequency, and there they are, right over our shoulder, or already in our heads. Indeed, the second film I’ll be talking about, Banshee Chapter, makes specific in-media reference to Lovecraft’s story.  Both films are highly effective mash-ups of traditional narrative and found-footage techniques.

YellowBrickRoad (2010)
written and directed by Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton
starring Clark and Cassidy Freeman, Anessa Ramsey, Laura Heisler

Not unlike its precursor, The Blair Witch Project, much of the initial horror in YellowBrickRoad arises from the fear of losing oneself in a wild place: being alone, and hurt, in the woods, with people you have learned not to trust. Anyone who has spent an unwanted emergency night in the forest will feel this film on that level. (I have, and did.) The plot: an obsessed filmmaker and his wife (and a standard-issue crew of photographers, cartographers, wilderness guides, a psychologist, an intern, and one townie keen to join the expedition for reasons of her own) set out to solve a 70-year old mystery that had been covered up by the military and recently declassified. In 1940, the population of an entire New Hampshire town dressed in their best duds and started a walk along a trail that led into the northern woods. Most vanished from the face of the earth, others were found horribly mutilated, and one resident managed to return, but died insane and rambling about music that only he could hear.

It’s this aspect to the story that moves YellowBrickRoad into “frequency horror” for me: the evil the film crew encounters on the trail is intangible, ever-present but non-local, and insidious. When, three days into their expedition, the crew begins to hear old-timey dance hall music, it comes from everywhere, and nowhere. The intern reports that her GPS is on the fritz: the device reports them as being in Guam in the morning, Paris by noon, Barcelona by evening. Similarly, the cartographers (a brother and sister team) begin to experience difficulty keeping their coordinates coordinated: the numbers work going up the trail, but are radically skewed on the return. “The land is like liquid,” the brother states.

Not only the land, but also time and their own internal psychic experiences become malleable. Personality flaws and grudges are blown into high relief, and under the influence of the music, cracks begin to appear in their minds. Memories are no longer reliable or even accessible, simple cognitive tasks (as tracked by the team psychologist) become increasingly difficult, frustration and anger and confusion build and build until someone snaps and the killings begin.

But even that is not the central horror. For a lesser flick, it might be. Kill-crazy madman with a machete stalking innocents through the bush is a standard trope. But in YellowBrickRoad, that madman, and all of his companions, know that something is terribly wrong. And by the time they get him secured and are preparing to save themselves, it is already too late. Whatever it is that is affecting them on the trail (cosmic radiation? geomagnetic fluctuations? ghosts of the dead townspeople? God? It is never explained, which is wonderful, a good nod to Lovecraft, and to the scriptwriters credit) turns up the volume and they are plunged into as disruptive and terrifying an alteration of reality as I have ever witnessed on screen.

Essentially, the terror of YellowBrickRoad is auditory in nature. Sound is the evil thing in the woods: monstrously loud, deafening, shake-you-to-your-knees, make-your-ears-bleed sound. It leaves no room in their heads for anything other than the desire to escape that hellish noise. And it is hellish: a thrumming, discordant, spiking roar that on a decent sound system or coming through good headphones will make you wince and feel sick with vertigo. (Big kudos to the sound design people on this film.) Nothing can stand against this aural assault, which seems malevolent and calculating. Imagine the BWAAAAAM noise from the film Inception, jacked-up on steroids and angel dust, just waiting for you to almost get your bearings before jumping you from behind. It’s like that. To borrow from another Lovecraftian narrative, imagine the Colour Out of Space as a sonic entity. Sanity and reason, relationships and ethics, everything breaks and dissolves beneath it. The group splits, and splits again. The madman breaks free and escapes, and begins to hunt them all down. The ones he can’t catch suicide by various gruesome methods. It all ends in awful, destructive noise and madness and death.

Now, there is a meta- aspect to the film as well, one that plays into the ending, which many have found disappointing. The title is meant as a clue: it is said that the original townsfolk, disillusioned by the Second Great War and wishing to escape into the fantasy of the films they watched religiously in the towns theatre (The Wizard of Oz being a favourite) were called into the northern woods by the evil force that resides there. In one of the opening scenes, the declassified coordinates for the mysterious trailhead take the confused team to that very same theatre, where they meet the townie girl who leads them to the actual trailhead and accompanies them up the trail. By the end, we’re left with the team’s leader, the filmmaker, following his obsession to the “end of the trail” and abandoning everything and everyone he ever valued along the way, only to find himself walking into that same theatre again, where he is presented with a horrific Silver Screen vision of the end of all things. It’s a weird Ouroborous of an off-note, and as mentioned, one that many viewers of the film found unsatisfactory, but at the end of the day I think what we’re looking at in the final scenes of YellowBrickRoad is the internal experience of a man finally losing everything, including himself, to utter horror.

Banshee Chapter (2013)
directed by Blair Erickson
starring Ted Levine, Katia Winter, and Michael McMillian

The horror of Banshee Chapter is less vague in its origins, and targets its victims more specifically. In the film, beings from another dimension have influenced military scientists to synthesize a version of DMT (which, in case you don’t know, is in its normal state already the most powerful psychedelic known to man, and endogenously produced in trace amounts by our pineal glands), which is then used in covert MKUltra-style research, administered to unsuspecting hippies and radicals and the like, with disastrous effects. A modern researcher into these experiments manages to procure a sample of the drug, takes it, and disappears, leaving only disturbing footage of his drug trip and notes toward a book on the subject, notes that reference mysterious “numbers stations” and broadcast relays in the desert. Not long after his disappearance, a journalist friend of his, obsessed with learning what’s happened to him, begins to put the pieces together.

Her journey takes her to his so-called “friends in Colorado” who provided him with the experimental drug. The second act takes place in the house of a Hunter S. Thompson-esque character (played with scenery chewing gusto by Ted Levine) and if you’ve ever been so unfortunate as to experience chemically altered states in strange environments with hostile people, then these scenes will certainly resonate with you. (I have, and it did.) The paranoia ramps up considerably here, with double-crossings and betrayals and general drug-induced mind-fuckery weirdness, until the agenda of the other-dimensional beings becomes apparent: the DMT acts as a radio receiver for the beings from beyond, who then enter this reality and wear humans like suits. Again, the evil comes to us through a tweak in our perceptions, a change in the frequency of our being.

Much as with the creatures in Lovecraft’s From Beyond, seeing these beings means they can see you, and the third terrifying act is a mad and ultimately futile scramble in the desert to locate the secret government broadcasting station that allows the beings access to our world. The Thompson character even goes so far as to drop a complete synopsis of From Beyond on the journalist before a pivotal scene, which almost seems too meta to work, but it does, somehow. Banshee Chapter fulfils the early promise of Lovecraft’s story, and in the process treads some interesting ground rarely seen in current horror. Like YellowBrickRoad, there’s no way to actually escape this evil, since it is vibrational in nature… if you’ve ever been spooked by the idea that radio waves are in fact passing through you right now, loaded with music and information and god knows what else, then this film understands you. These things are everywhere, they are at your elbow even now… like the nameless protagonist in From Beyond, once you’ve seen them, you can’t unsee them. “It would help my shaky nerves if I could dismiss what I now have to think of the air and the sky about and above me.”

Personally, I’d like to see more treatments of this theme, as I think it’s a really effective way to “transmit” horror to the viewer. What are your favourite “frequency horror” films? Enjoy the trailers for YellowBrickRoad and Banshee Chapter  below, leave your thoughts in the comments, and if you’re feeling suitably inspired, consider submitting a story to our RESONATOR: New Lovecraftian Tales From Beyond anthology!

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Scott R Jones is the author of the short story collections Soft from All the Blood and The Ecdysiasts, as well as the non-fiction When the Stars Are Right: Towards An Authentic R’lyehian Spirituality. His poetry and prose have appeared in Innsmouth Magazine, Cthulhu Haiku II, Broken City Mag, and upcoming in both Summer of Lovecraft and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine.

What’s In YOUR Resonator?

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We’re down to that just-under-the-wire time for getting in a submission to the latest anthology from Martian Migraine Press, RESONATOR: New Lovecraftian Tales From Beyond. The open subs call ends November 15 2014, a little less than two months from now. As editor of the book, I’m very pleased to report that the slush pile is quite healthy! Robust, even, with plenty of great stories from a wide range of authors (some very well known, some new, all amazing) with unique styles and interpretations of Lovecraft’s seminal story, From Beyond, and the featured bizarre “resonator” technology first pioneered by the megalomaniac Crawford Tillinghast. All that being said, there are still some things we would love to see appear in this book, so take the following bulleted list as inspiration and get writing!

  • Don’t just make your piece about squishy monsters from beyond. In the original story, Lovecraft hinted at whole worlds available to the awakened pineal gland of those who fell beneath the Resonator’s malign, enlightening influence! The reader is given glimpses of strange architecture, unthinkable landscapes, uncanny angles. What’s the weather like over there? Sure, it’s a dimension of squishy monsters… but what other denizens exist in the beyond? Are there intricacies to the ecosystem that we haven’t been made aware of?
  • And speaking of denizens, and architecture, might it be possible that sentient beings exist in the beyond? Would they have certain arcane technologies of their own? What books do they read? Is there a “beyond” version of the Necronomicon? Are there versions of Alhazred there, and what blasphemies would they get up to? Or scientists, scholars? Perhaps they have ways of coming here? And if so, would we notice them when they do? What are their goals in accessing our plane of existence?
  • Back to monsters: falling prey to an extra-dimensional mollusc is bad, natch… but what other drives might these creatures have? Would they have other needs? To get all scriptural on you, consider: a mollusc cannot live on warm flesh alone (well, maybe they can!) and perhaps they might have other ways and means of interacting with humans when they encounter them. Is possession possible? Would there be benefits to hooking-up with a mollusc?
  • Indeed, what are the psychic costs of going beyond and surviving the experience? For that matter, what would the mental and spiritual pay-off be? People don’t just build and fire up a Resonator for shits and giggles! (Although, if you can give us a story about casual Resonator use ¬– talk about your “gateway drug” – we’d be stoked!) Are there physical alterations that occur once the body is pushed into other realms? We’re thinking here, obviously, of that nasty pineal stalk waving around like a perverted little worm in Stewart Gordon’s film version of the story…

I like big glands, and I cannot lie!

… but what other types of mutation or powers might occur or be granted by going beyond? Would Resonator use affect how a person thought, or moved, or had sex? Could the molecular structure of a person be changed? Might a sting from a beyond-jellyfish alter your genes?

  • Technology! We want to see classic Resonators, absolutely… but we’re also interested in new machines. How big is your Resonator? Lab or attic or cavern-sized? Bigger? Lots bigger? Or miniaturized? A pocket-Resonator? Smaller than that? Besides opening up human perception to alternate realities, what else might a Resonator be good for? Are there medical applications? The classic Resonator affects the pineal gland, so clearly there’s fun brain-science avenues to explore, but might there be other applications? What would the military do with Resonator tech? Could it be weaponized and what would such a weapon look like? What would Bill Gates (or someone Bill Gates-ish) do with it? My god! Imagine downloading a Resonator App from the Google Play store!
  • Don’t feel limited to a certain period in history, either. (Yes, the 1920s-30s, looking in your direction.) Break away from HPLs standard model and timeframes: we want to see Resonators and their mad users in every era.
  • Finally, the thing that I, personally, as editor, would love to see: MORE FEMALE AUTHORS. And more female perspectives. More LGBQT perspectives. The male beast (and I’m one of them, so I know whereof I speak) tends to dominate in tales of dark magic and strange tech and this is something I’d love to at least tweak towards the double-X end of the spectrum, if not to a great degree, at least a bit. So far, the percentage of female authors in the submissions is hovering round 2%. It may be too late in the game to change this, what with the deadline looming as it is, but I’d love to try. So, if you’re a lady who writes (or know one… or nine!), please please consider sending us your work.

Whatever your persuasion (as a writer, a human being, a non-human being) we’d love to read what you’ve got. If it’s good, we’d love to publish it in RESONATOR.

Submission guidelines and payment details are here.

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Scott R Jones is the author of the short story collections Soft from All the Blood and The Ecdysiasts, as well as the non-fiction When the Stars Are Right: Towards An Authentic R’lyehian Spirituality. His poetry and prose have appeared in Innsmouth Magazine, Cthulhu Haiku II, Broken City Mag, and upcoming in both Summer of Lovecraft and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine.

Happy Birthday, H P Lovecraft!

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Here at Martian Migraine Press HQ, one need only take a cursory glance at our catalogue to understand a very basic thing about us: we love Howard Phillips Lovecraft, warts and all. From our authors, who work with Lovecraftian themes in their poetry, fiction, and weirdly arousing erotica, to our cover artists and graphic designers, and yes, our discerning readership (who can smell a weak pastiche from a mile away, the smartypants!) it’s clear: to be affiliated with MMP, you gotta be Keeping It R’lyeh, in one form or another.

And if you consider yourself Lovecraftian in any way, then you know the Old Gentleman’s birthday is this week, on the 20th. Yes, had Howie lived longer, he’d still be dead by now! Because 124 years is a long time for any organism, let alone one who subsisted on beans, crackers, coffee, and ice cream. Oh, and lengthy correspondence, let’s not forget that. Christ n Cthulhu, HPL would have loved chatrooms, we’re thinking. Can you imagine him utterly destroying Reddit these days? Yes.

Which is all to say we, like you, are celebrating Lovecraft’s birthday, his contribution to the literature of the Weird, and his influence on our own authors and various projects (more on which in a post of the very near future!) by offering readers a present or four. OK. Exactly four presents.

If you’re an Amazon customer and own a Kindle (or have a Kindle app installed on any device – they’re nifty that way) then scoot on over to the Big A for the following MMP ebook deals!

R’LYEH SUTRA by skawt chonzzFREE AUGUST 19 & 20 (Amazon link HERE)
No less a Mythos luminary than Wilum H. Pugmire recommended this chapbook as “charming”, “delightful”, with “lovely poetic prose, all quite Lovecraftian”. Originally limited to a run of 50 chapbooks from Martian Migraine Press, R’LYEH SUTRA is now available as an electronic chapbook. Recalling Spicer and Burroughs, these are poems that explore the shifting, fractal edge of madness, that question the nature of identity, consciousness and language, and do it all with wry humour spliced with a species of alien sexuality. As the title implies, there is an obviously Lovecraftian occult inspiration to the work: in fact, the original, physical run of the book contained, in the form of an insert, a portion of a large hand-written document received in a brutal channeling session from an ultra-terrestrial entity, which chonzz experienced in the spring of 2011. Each copy is therefore utterly unique, a facet of a whole that perhaps should never be viewed in its entirety, and likely never will. This electronic edition seeks to replicate that reading experience with hidden links to previously unreleased segments of that occult document.

PRIESTESS (Blackstone Erotica Volume 1) by Justine Geoffrey
FREE AUGUST 19 & 20 (Amazon link HERE)
If you think that “Lovecraftian smut” can only be poorly written cheap rip-offs of standard hentai themes, then we couldn’t be more happy to educate you in just how weird and wonderful a truly loving approach to the sexuality that breeds between the lines of the Cthulhu Mythos can be. Justine Geoffrey’s BLACKSTONE Erotica series combines raw, character-driven eroticism with mind-melting horrors and a cheeky sensibility that draws from the best of the pulps, Hammer horror films, and of course Lovecraft and, in the case of the first BLACKSTONE book, the muscular energy of Robert Bloch’s classic Mythos tale The Black Stone. This collection brings together all four of the BLACKSTONE books in one massive volume! Follow a novice Priestess of the Black Stone as she calls up prehistoric sex-gods in the mountains of Eastern Europe, gathers power and partners in the glitzy dungeons of London’s BDSM scene, and mates with monsters in subterranean chambers of lust and horror! Priestess also contains excerpts from Blackstone Book 3, Yellow Sign Bound and Justine’s Orgy in the Valley of the Lust Larvae PLUS a special essay from the author on the weird-erotica writing experience.

CONQUEROR WOMB: Lusty Tales of Shub-Niggurath
Kindle Countdown Deal AUGUST 20 & 21 (Amazon link HERE)

(“What’s a Kindle Countdown Deal?” Starting at 8AM PST on Lovecraft’s birthday, the price for this book will be ONLY 99 CENTS. So get it then, because by 2PM another dollar gets tacked on. And so on, until the book is back at it’s regular price of $5.99 late on the 21st.) This anthology is easily the most popular MMP title of 2014! with Conqueror Womb: Lusty Tales of Shub-Niggurath, Martian Migraine Press and editors Justine Geoffrey and Scott R Jones bring you 18 pulpy tales of fertility and fear, hot sex and chilling sacrifice! Stories that squelch, tales that both titillate and terrify, from some of the best writers working in Lovecraftian horror and mind-bending erotica today: Wilum H. Pugmire, Molly Tanzer, Don Webb, Christine Morgan, Kenton Hall, Brian M. Sammons, Jacqueline Sweet, Copper Sloane Levy, Annabeth Leong, and Christopher Slatsky, along with fresh new voices. From nighted glades where frenzied orgiasts work unholy magic to slick urban dungeons of unbridled pleasure; from fertility clinics to fevered dance clubs; from the misty depths of the past to the unthinkable future, join us as we offer praise and abundance! Iä! Shub-Niggurath!

WHEN THE STARS ARE RIGHT: Towards An Authentic R’lyehian Spirituality
by Scott R Jones – REDUCED from $7.99 to $2.99 AUGUST 20 ONLY!
(Amazon link HERE)

Yes, the book you’ve been hearing about. The one Laird Barron says “gives Thomas Ligotti a run for his money in the Cosmic Horror Philosophy arms race.” The twisty little tome that Leeman Kessler of AskLovecraft.com calls “a crime scene!” The appalling text the mere mention of which caused the venerable S. T. Joshi to raise an incredulous eyebrow! The one that’s making Lovecraft spin wildly in his materialist-atheist grave on his birthday this year. Are you “Keeping It R’lyeh”? Sons of Cthulhu, Daughters of Dagon, you know there’s only one way to know for sure, and that’s picking up Jones’ groundbreaking work on R’lyehian mystical thought and getting down with the Deep Ones in ways you can’t even imagine! Not yet. Not until you’ve taken the Cthulhusattva Vow and entered the Black Gnosis. With a Foreweird from noted Gnostic author Jordan Stratford and beautiful illustrations by Michael Lee Macdonald. When The Stars Are Right is currently out-of-print, so this electronic version is the only way to acquire the book at the moment. And at $2.99, it’s a steal. BUT ONLY FOR ONE DAY.

Thanks for celebrating with us, Migraineers! (As ever, feel free to drop a review on any of these titles once you’ve put yourself back together after reading!) Happy Birthday, H. P. Lovecraft. Here’s to another 125 years of new and exciting interpretations of your horrors.

Martian Migraine Press: the Best Kind of Headache!
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