Sexuality in Supernatural Horror

Plush CthulhuAs Hallowe’en approaches it seems as good a time as any to write this… although I will warn you, it could be construed by some to be a fairly adult topic.

I’ve been chewing over this topic, on and off, for over nine months and for one reason or another I’ve procrastinated and put off writing about my thoughts on the subject.

I think the reason for my procrastination is the sensitive nature of sexuality as a discussion point.

Sexuality is, by its very nature, a very personal topic.

Normally I’m more than happy to put my neck on the line when discussing something as trivial as personal politics; I’m certainly not precious about offending people with my views on more grass roots politics but as personal as it is, sexuality is not something that I class as political.

If somebody thinks poorly of me because of my political opinions then I couldn’t care less; if somebody thinks poorly of me because they think I’m judging their sexual preference then I’m more concerned.

I would be deeply offended if somebody judged me for my heterosexuality and equally offended if somebody assumed I was judging them for their own sexual preference.

With that caveat in mind, I’d like to raise the subject of Sexuality in Supernatural Horror.

Towards the beginning of the year I purchased a multi-region cinema system. This opened up a whole range of films that I had been unable to view since adopting my Xbox as my primary means of watching DVDs.

I set about watching a wealth of low budget, region 1 encoded, Lovecraft related movies.

I should take a moment to explain that I do have a “thing” for the depiction of the supernatural in horror – regardless of the medium.  I have seen some truly awe inspiring movies and read hundreds of novels and short stories that others might pass of as cheap, pulpy, tat.

One of the films that struck me – by title, blurb and cover – as being  must see was the 2007 release of a film titled Cthulhu.

The blurb reads

A Seattle history professor, drawn back to his estranged family on the Oregon coast to execute his late mother’s estate, is reaquainted with his best friend from childhood, with whom he has a long-awaited tryst. Caught in an accelerating series of events, he discovers aspects of his father’s New Age cult which take on a dangerous and apocalyptic significance.

CthulhuThe cover shows a shaven-headed figure staring off into the distant ocean at dusk.  A very atmospheric shot.

The overall plot of Cthulhu has a definite “Shadow Over Innsmouth” feel to it and is executed wonderfully.

The scenes towards the end of the film are probably the best I have seen in a Lovecraftian movie; striking, moving and disturbing – everything you would want from this kind of movie.

It is at this point in my review I should raise the inclusion of sexuality, not because I feel a personal need to do so but because it plays such an important role in the film itself.

The films lead character happens to be homosexual.  The film opens with him talking with his partner, just an ordinary day in the life of a couple.  There is comfort given over the loss of a loved one and the disappointment of a couple about to spend a brief time apart.

This is striking in contemporary cinema because it is such a break from the norm and so used am I to the portrayal of heterosexual relationships in movies that I have to admit, I was – I don’t know – surprised? Is that the right term? – somewhat surprised, despite the trailers that had preceded the film.

The production company, Here! films, appear to be a company producing predominantly LBGT focussed movies – and very well made ones if Cthulhu is anything to go by.

The lead’s sexuality then goes unmentioned for most of the film.

There is an obvious rift between the lead and his Father, some of which being down to an objection by the Father to his son’s sexual preference.

There are also a couple of scenes of intimacy, both in flashback and modern time, between the lead and a former lover who is still resident in his home town.

Finally there is quite a disturbing scene involving where the lead is forced into a sexual encounter with  a woman.

By that point in the film, the initial “surprise” had given way to immersion in the story; the lead’s sexuality had become just another facet of the lead that I understood to be just that, a facet of the lead.  It is a credit to the film makers that they could evoke such disturbance in the mind of a heterosexual male, empathising with the plight of the on-screen homosexual male.

As you can probably tell, the film had quite an effect on me; enough that I am still able to evoke the atmosphere of the film and write about it now, nine months on.

After watching the film, my initial reaction was one of shock; a similar kind of shock to that which I encountered after watching Trainspotting for the first time.

I guess this is most likely down to the cultural difference and the fact that, no matter how open minded I believe I am, I just wasn’t prepared for such a frank depiction of male of homosexuality.

As such, I’m glad I watched the movie.

Once the initial culture shock had worn off, I found myself questioning the overall relevance of sexuality to the genre of supernatural horror.

The old Hammer movies would often include scantily clad maidens and reveal the odd piece of female nudity here and there but that is what British horror cinema was like back then.  I think there was even a hammer movie with a slightly sapphic theme… was it Twins of Evil? I’d have to search out the disc and watch it again.

My point is, the female nudity of Hammer was less about sexuality and more about exploitation and cheap thrills.

In fact, any sexuality hinted at in films I have seen to date have been attempts by the writer to pigeon-hole characters to stereotypes in the mind of the viewer.  Regardless of whether that character is hetero or homo.

The reason that I was so surprised by Cthulhu was simply because the film was depicted from the point of view of  a gay man.  Any other film I have seen has always been depicted from the point of view of a straight man or woman.

Had it been a standard hollywood blcokbuster, the film would have been almost identical – only depicted from the point of view of a straight man.  Scenes would have been cut that caused the viewer to see through the eyes of the gay lead.

There would have been no flashback to a scene of mutual masturbation with a childhood friend and Tori Spelling would have probably just flirted with the lead rather than pressing her suit in such a forceful manner.

All that being said, I come back to a question of relevance in supernatural horror.

If sexuality had played no part whatsoever, or at least as little a significant part as it does in any mainstream movie, I think Cthulhu would have been just as good a rendition of a Lovecraftian story.

Granted, it probably wouldn’t have inspired me to write about it outside of a “Top 5 Lovecraftian Movies I’ve Seen This Year” themed blog but the movie would stand well either with or without references to sexuality.

DagonIt is a shame that some viewers might be put off watching Cthulhu because of it’s homosexual content but I’m a strong believer in freedom of thought as well as freedom of speech.  There are equally good films along a similar theme; the excellent film Dagon for instance – which, interestingly enough, also contains scenes of female nudity.

I’ve written far more than I thought I would on the subject and I truly hope I haven’t offended anyone with what I have written.

I’m still on the look out for good Lovecraftian movies, regardless of any other themes or sub-themes they carry outside of supernatural horror.

Yog Sothoth

Yog Sothoth - The Key and The GateA good friend of mine posed a question this morning:

Q. Do you think Yogg-Sothoth was an Old One or an Elder God?

My initial response was to cite my belief that the two terms are, not necessarily, mutually exclusive.

Yog SothothI’ve always considered Yog Sothoth to be something more than the likes of Cthulhu and Azazthoth – in the same way that Nyarlathotep is something less. After all, Yog Sothoth is the Lurker on the Threshold – this eldritch entity that inhabits the Bits Between the Bits.

Cthulhu is nothing more than an aeons dead dreamer who struggles to get up in a morning and Azathoth is merely an, albeit cosmic, interstellar ball of blind rage.

A brief google shows that most followers of the Cthulhu Mythos seem to view Yog Sothoth as an Elder God or at least an “Outer” God… Nyarlathotep and Azathoth are also deemed to be Outer Gods; Azathoth is even placed alongside Yog Sothoth. So I accept that my initial reaction was incorrect.

One good thing to come out of this brief study is that my assumptions surrounding Tsathoggua (probably my favourite Cthulhu Cycle Deity) are correct. To my mind, Tsathoggua is the definitive Old One. Good old St. Toad.