(Warning: You may not have seen enough Hentai to know where this is going. Reader discretion advised... but you're gonna keep reading.)
Let's be honest here, we all love The Walking Dead, but like vampires before them, zombies are getting just a little played out.
Don't get me wrong. There are always going to be great films in every genre, but when they threaten to sparkle, like in the zombie teen romance Warm Bodies, or fight celebrities like Brad Pitt, Arnold Schwarzenegger, or Will Smith, you can't help but feel that the trope that so strong it defaults to meta, has played itself to death. However, there is another movement within horror.
Of course, anyone who has even a passing interest in scary stories will be familiar with the idea of the tentacled nameless terror, and while not a new idea (some would argue that it's older than humanity itself) it may be the one that has taken the longest to be accepted into the mainstream of pop culture. Perhaps the reason for this is that it's hard to pin it down with one simple word like Zombie, Vampire, or Werewolf. There is the phrase "Lovecraftian" but the actual works of H.P. Lovecraft, while heavily influential, are not the beginning, nexus, or end of these ideas and their progression, nor do they always imply simple monsters with boneless appendages. On the other end of things is the stigma that tentacles carry with them due to their extreme sexualization in Japanese cartoons, known as Hentai.
The fact remains that over the years, the permutation of this particular unnameable namesake has continued to "infect" film, television, video games, and overall fandom, to a point where it may finally be hitting the limelight.
Ironically, this single zeitgeist has many arms, and while one could fill whole volumes with information on the subject, let's take a look at a few samples of what has transpired thus far and what its future holds:
The American pulp author H.P. Lovecraft is most famously known for his fictional creation, the "elder god" Cthulhu, a giant, humanoid with a head resembling an octopus, so old and cosmically incomprehensible, that to be in his presence meant instant inescapable madness. Many of Lovecraft's other creations bore similar resemblances, accompanied by star shaped heads, leathery wings, and a generally unpleasant smell, but what really distinguishes him is the idea that they are all so intrinsically alien and extra-dimensional that to encounter them will break down the walls of geometry and reality itself. You'd be completely powerless in their presence and ultimately consumed, literally or by madness.
Although these themes had been previously addressed by H.P.'s predecessors and influences, with stories like Edgar Allan Poe's Fall of the House of Usher and even more prominently in Arthur Machen's The Great God Pan, again and again we see the term "Lovecraftian" used when visiting stories such as...
Stephen King's The Mist.
John Carpenter's tale of meta psychoses, In The Mouth of Madness.
and Stuart Gordon's From Beyond.
Even though just this one author's ideas continue to be extended directly from their source, it is as much other creator's contributions what fuel the mythos' evolution and propelled them into their blooming niche within popular culture today.
"It's very very difficult to achieve that tone in film. I'm not sure anyone had. I tried very hard on Alien to do that... Alien was strongly influenced tone wise of Lovecraft, and one of the things that proved it is that you can't adapt Lovecraft without an extremely strong visual style. It has to be very very stylized and very particular. What you need is a cinematic equivalent of Lovecraft's prose, that's the problem, that's very hard to achieve."
Dan O'Bannon, Co-Creator of Alien
So, it came to be that in film a sub-genre was birthed, known as the alien infection. Much like a zombie bite or scratch, once you have it, you're doomed, but frankly (forgive me for saying) in a far more interesting and far less explored way.
After the original Alien with groundbreaking creature designs by artist H.R. Giger, the tone was set, yet we got surprisingly few decent attempts at seeing where these ideas could take us.
Of course, there is the classic adaptation of the book Who Goes There, by John W. Campbell, that we all know as the 1982 version of The Thing...
...and the horror-comedy Slither...
...and gratefully a cool little comic book movie called Hellboy...
...but aside from that, all was quiet on the tentacle/Lovecraft inspired front.
What's Happening Now?
Now, we're still neck-deep in zombies. Hey, why not, right? I mean they're relatively cheap to create, easy to write, and they sell. I've had a lot of good times with zombies and I don't mind if they pop up in a film here and there, but honestly I think we could all do with a change of tune.
Fortunately, we're staring to see some film makers that feel the same way. Whether it be Guillermo Del Toro, with his long awaited Hellboy III, the Cthulhu overtones in his giant monsters for Pacific Rim, or his expressed desire to direct Lovecraft's Into The Mountains Of Madness; Ridley Scott with Prometheus and the upcoming Prometheus II, or smaller films like Yellow Brick Road...
...or (full disclosure) my own film The Quantum Terror.
...the madness, if not always the tentacles, is gathering. Science has shown us this in nature and in quantum theory. It only seems right that the artists and storytellers be given the chance to bring it all into the mainstream. Of course, at some point it will become so much so that it will slide into its own meta. In some instances it already has, but in those cases it actually adds to the horror.
Special thanks to the people at the Lovecraft Eternal Facebook group, for their input and other film suggestions, which include: Grabbers, Absentia, Deep Rising, Cabin in the Woods, Re-Animator, Beyond the Black Rainbow, John Dies at the End, and so many more that I can't list.