CC: The Haunter In The Dark and Pickman’s Muse

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Friday, October 4, 2013

CC: The Haunter In The Dark and Pickman’s Muse

"The Haunter of the Dark" is a horror short story written by H. P. Lovecraft in November 1935, and published in the December 1936 edition of Weird Tales (Vol. 28, No. 5, p. 538–53).  It is part of the Cthulhu Mythos, and it is a sequel to "The Shambler from the Stars", by Robert Bloch.  Bloch later wrote a third story in the sequence, "The Shadow from the Steeple", in 1950.  The epigraph to the story is the second stanza of Lovecraft's 1917 poem "Nemesis".

The Shambler from the Stars (1935)

A star vampire (or Shambler from the Stars) is a monster in the Cthulhu Mythos.  The being first appeared in Robert Bloch's short story "The Shambler from the Stars", which was originally published in the September 1935 issue of Weird Tales.
It was red and dripping; an immensity of pulsing, moving jelly; a scarlet blob with myriad tentacular trunks that waved and waved.  There were suckers on the tips of the appendages, and these were opening and closing with a ghoulish lust....  The thing was bloated and obscene; a headless, faceless, eyeless bulk with the ravenous maw and titanic talons of a star-born monster. The human blood on which it had fed revealed the hitherto invisible outlines of the feaster.
—Robert Bloch, "The Shambler from the Stars"
The star vampire dwells in outer space and is characterized by its ravenous appetite for blood.  The creature uses its enormous talons to capture its prey, grappling and crushing the unfortunate and then draining the victim's blood through its tubular suckers.  It is normally invisible, but following a sanguine repast, the star vampire becomes temporarily visible from the undigested blood it has absorbed.

The monster is always accompanied by a sardonic, preternatural titter which heralds its imminent arrival and marks its presence, even when it is invisible.  After it has fed, the star vampire quickly departs, the eerie, ghastly laughter following in its wake.  The occult book De Vermis Mysteriis (or Mysteries of the Worm) contains a spell for summoning the creature, though doing so is often dangerous as the thirsty star vampire is likely to feast on its caller.

The unnamed narrator, a horror-fiction writer, desires to write a new kind of horror.  Searching out mentors, he writes to "thinkers and dreamers", especially "a mystic dreamer in New England", who recommends a variety of forbidden books.  After a long search, the narrator discovers the De Vermis Mysteriis written by the strange
medieval wizard Ludvig Prinn just before his execution for witchcraft.  Taking this volume to meet the "mystic dreamer" in Providence, the narrator and the dreamer conjure up a hideous inter-dimensional being, who promptly rips off the dreamer's head and drinks his blood.  The narrator sets the dreamer's house on fire and flees.  One day, he muses, he too will be unable to resist the lure of De Vermis Mysteriis himself.

The Haunter of the Dark (1936)

Lovecraft wrote this tale as a sequel and reply to "The Shambler from the Stars" by Robert Bloch, in which Bloch kills the Lovecraft-inspired character.  Lovecraft returned the favor in this tale, killing off Robert Harrison Blake (aka Robert Bloch).  Bloch later wrote a third story, "The Shadow from the Steeple" (1950), to create a trilogy.

In Blake's final notes, he refers to "Roderick Usher", an allusion to Edgar Allan Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher", which Lovecraft described in "Supernatural Horror in Literature" as featuring "an abnormally linked trinity of entities...a brother, his twin sister, and their incredibly ancient house all sharing a single soul and meeting one common dissolution at the same moment."  An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia suggests that this interpretation is the key to understanding the ending of "The Haunter of the Dark": "[W]e are to believe that the entity in the church--the Haunter of the Dark, described as an avatar of Nyarlathotep--has possessed Blake's mind but, at the moment of doing so, is struck by lightning and killed, and Blake dies as well."
The story takes place in Providence, Rhode Island and revolves around the Church of Starry Wisdom.  The cult uses an ancient artifact known as the "Shining Trapezohedron" to summon a terrible being from the depths of time and space.

The Shining Trapezohedron was discovered in Egyptian ruins, in a box of alien construction, by Professor Enoch Bowen before he returned to Providence, Rhode Island in 1844.  Members of the Church of Starry Wisdom in Providence would awaken the Haunter of the Dark, an avatar of Nyarlathotep, by gazing into the glowing crystal. Summoned from the black gulfs of chaos, this being could show other worlds, other galaxies, and the secrets of arcane and paradoxical knowledge; but he demanded monstrous sacrifices, hinted at by disfigured skeletons that were later found in the church.  The Haunter of the Dark was banished by light and could not cross a lighted area.

The Shining Trapezohedron is a window on all space and time.  Described as a "crazily angled stone", it is unlikely to be a true trapezohedron because of the Old Ones' penchant for bizarre non-Euclidean angles.  It was created on dark Yuggoth and brought to Earth by the Old Ones, where it was placed in its box aeons before the first human beings appeared.  After the passing of the Old Ones, during the final stages of the lower Triassic period, the trapezohedron was salvaged from the ruins of their cyclopean cities by the serpent people of Valusia.  Eventually, after the bloody extermination of the serpent people at the hands of the advancing pre-human hordes of Lomar, the device found its way into the possession of the primitive men of Lemuria, Atlantis and in later cycles the Pharaoh Nephren Ka of Egypt until at last it was unearthed and brought to New England.

After the death of Robert Blake, who came to grief after discovering the Shining Trapezohedron and deciphering texts about it from ancient evil cults, the artifact was removed from the black windowless steeple where it was found by a Dr. Dexter and thrown into the deepest channel of Narragansett Bay.  It was expected to remain there, under the eternal light of the stars, forever; yet, Robert Bloch's sequel, "The Shadow from the Steeple", proved that Nyarlathotep had cheated Dexter, forcing him to peer into the stone and throw the stone into the bay, where the eternal darkness of the depths gave the Haunter the power to remain perpetually free; it used this power to merge with Dr. Dexter and make him one of the world's leading nuclear scientists-in charge of atomic investigation for warfare.

Nyarlathotep appears in this story as the "three-lobed burning eye", a huge bat-winged creature, with a burning tri-lobed eye appearing unseen from the Trapezohedron.  Blake realizes the horror can only travel in the dark.  When a storm and power blackout envelop the city, he scribbles down his findings, concluding the story with his terrified record of what he can only glimpse of the approaching beast.  "I see it-- coming here-- hell-wind-- titan-blur-- black wings-- Yog-Sothoth save me-- the three-lobed burning eye..."

Pickman's Muse (2010)

  • Genre: Horror - Sci-Fi – Thriller
  • Directed: Robert Cappelletto
  • Produced:
    • Robert Cappelletto 
    • Eddie Morillon
  • Written:
    • H.P. Lovecraft (Novel “The Haunter In The Dark”)
    • Robert Cappelletto (Screenplay)
  • Starring: Barret Walz, Maurice McNicholas, Tom Lodewyck, Joyce Porter
  • Music: Willy Greer
  • Cinematography: Robert Cappelletto
  • Editing: Robert Cappelletto
  • Studio: Audio Visual Action
  • Distributed: Audio Visual Action
  • Rated: NR
  • Release Date: 1 August 2010
  • Running Time: 77 minutes
  • Country: United States
  • Language: English
“Pickman’s Muse” is a 2010 independent horror movie based on the stories “The Haunter of the Dark” and “Pickman’s Model” by author H.P. Lovecraft, which does justice to neither tale.

In the film, Robert Pickman is a marginally successful artist known for his New England landscape and lighthouse paintings; however, despite enthusiastic requests from his dealer for more of the same, Robert is growing weary of his subject matter and is becoming restless for new inspiration.  His dealer then encourages him to take a few weeks off to go on a vision quest of sorts to find some inspiring new sights to paint, but what Pickman finds instead is the Church of the Starry Wisdom which houses a transmitter of dark dreams from Stygian realms which fill his head with unspeakable horror and geometrical madness which quickly fill up the canvases of his studio.  Wisely, the filmmakers chose to not show what exactly is depicted on Pickman’s canvases, for what may be horrifying to some most likely would just seem hokey to the average horror fan nowadays.

Pickman is hounded by voices that tell him what to paint and even though his new work horrifies even him, whenever the dark voices threaten to take away his new found “sight” he quickly yields because he cannot live without being able to “see” these ghastly visions; but the voices demand compensation for their “gift” to Robert and try to get him to give them a delivery boy who brings him some art supplies, which he refuses to do, so they take away his access to their world.  He quickly regrets his hastiness and runs back to the Church of the Starry Wisdom to beg for a second chance.  While groveling at the altar of the church, asking the voices to show him what he should do, he sees his answer in an old medication bottle, which once belonged to the artist Goodie Hines whose work Pickman’s keeps getting compared to.  Hines apparently was also a patient of Pickman’s physician, Dr. Ambrose Dexter, so he pays the man a visit at the local asylum where he is being kept these days.

Unfortunately, Hines doesn’t have any advice for him so Pickman kidnaps Dr. Dexter who was tailing him and also nabs his landlady’s niece both of whom he ties up in his studio.  The young woman, fearing for her life keeps screaming so Pickman tells her she needs to shut up.  She then asks him what he is going to do to her and her shows her one of his paintings (also actor’s P.O.V., so we can only guess what horrifying thing is represented on the canvas) and she screams louder.  At this point Dr. Dexter tries to break free, so Pickman goes at him with a box-cutter, as he is trying to penetrate Dexter’s glasses with his blade, he is foiled by Dr. Dexter’s friend, Richard who arrives just in time to save the day.  Pickman is then taken to the same asylum that Hines is in where he is visited at night by the voices who literally take away his sight for good for failing to come through on his second chance.

There are other minor subplots going on in this 1.25 hr film, like Dr Dexter’s investigation into the Church of the Starry Wisdom and the landlady who initially puts Pickman on a pedestal until she catches a glimpse of his new artwork, then she tries to have him evicted, but none of them are germane to the plot.

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