Growing Up in Lovecraft Country

Horror, true gut-wrenching and soul-crushing horror, is the absolute absence of hope and safety. As I mused in a previous article, about the unnatural ambiance of synthetic horror, this often takes the form of the unknown and unfamiliar. However, and perhaps somewhat ironically, it’s often when we feel at our safest that we’re actually at our most vulnerable and therefore more susceptible to the horrific consequences of our follies. After all, there’s a reason as to why the most successful experiences in horror are those which tend to cut the closest to home.

That is partly why, to this day, the opening sequence to Tales from the Darkside continues to haunt me; the idyllic countryside of dirt roads, covered bridges, rivers, and woods reminds me so much of where I grew up. It was my first taste, at a very young age, that something so beautiful and serene in the light could turn so sinister and menacing at night. Combine those haunting visuals with that mental anguish, then pepper in a creepy narration with equally freaky music, and you’ve got the recipe for something which scarred me for life as a child growing up in New England. I never again looked at the world the same…


Acid Gambit is an act of whom I’ve always wanted to feature on here but never got around to doing so until now, which is entirely on me, but now seems the most apt time to finally do so due in part to the fact that they released a cover/remix of the theme song for Tales from the Darkside on Neo-LA’s “Grave Wave” compilation.

 

Simply put: I love this track and play it constantly, even when it’s not Halloween, because it’s not just a great song in its own right but, for me, it really captures those vibes which I still feel to this day for the show in question. To that further extent, Acid Gambit‘s music as a whole also captures for me the feelings I once got watching another show which I became obsessed with growing up: The X-Files.

 

I can’t quite overstate just how much The X-Files changed my life growing up as it made me aware of and got me interested in aliens, the paranormal, cryptozoology and, like Tales from the Darkside, it’s theme song will forever instill within me a sense of nostalgic creepiness. Therefore, with Acid Gambit‘s bent towards songs which also invoke that otherworldly feeling, their music is the perfect soundtrack in the search for the truth. It’s a crime I haven’t mentioned them up until now.


New England is literally, and literarily, known as “Lovecraft Country” after H.P. Lovecraft, the influential horror writer, who not only lived in the area but loosely based a lot of his work on the same area too. Needless to say, other than a sense of familiarity and convenience, there’s a reason why he took inspiration from New England: it’s a creepy place with a messed up history. There are many examples to make but I think the most obvious is the city of Salem due mostly to its history of hysteria over witchcraft, and the subsequent trials, which are still being felt to this day; albeit mostly in the form of a Halloween tourist trap.

However for my money, and as far as H.P. Lovecraft is concerned, the one fixture which will forever hold a place in my macabre memory is the Danvers State Hospital; which is believed by literary historians to have served as inspiration for the infamous Arkham sanatorium from H.P. Lovecraft‘s “The Thing on the Doorstep“. H.P. Lovecraft‘s Arkham sanatorium, in turn, is the inspiration for Arkham Asylum which some probably know quite well from all things Batman.

By the time I was old enough and aware of its existence, the hospital had been closed for some time, laid empty and in complete disrepair; it was also supposedly haunted. It was, therefore, a bit of a local legend and one of those cliche places which people would often dare others to enter, despite it being guarded by a security detail, of which I myself once very briefly ventured inside.


One of my favorite horror movies, which I feel not enough people are either aware of or fully appreciate, is Session 9. Filmed in Danvers State Hospital and around the town itself, Session 9 is really more of a psychological thriller than a straight-up horror movie in the traditional sense but it keeps you guessing regardless up until the end. I don’t want to say the ending is nothing more than a simple “twist,” as I feel that’s become a bit of a tarnished word in recent years, but it is one of those endings which will make you want to watch the movie again after it’s over the first time in order to really get the full picture of what you just experienced.

The only other person of whom I’ve ever come across that enjoys this film as much as I do is Hexenkraft. I’ve covered their music before on the site but, beyond a simple review, I have never really explicitly explained what their music truly means to me in a brutal sense. Much like Session 9, at one moment Hexenkraft‘s music can be atmospheric and foreboding, messing with your head, right before it starts ramming a hammer down upon it the next. To bring it all around full-circle, Hexenkraft is also apart of a metal band, known as Cosmic Atrophy, which is very H.P. Lovecraft inspired and most certainly worth your time and attention.

 


Today, Danvers State Hospital is a shell of its former self and has since been renovated into a condominium complex with only one of the original structures still standing. It is, in many ways, a prime example of ironic urban renewal. Although, that’s what I mean about the weirdness of New England; there are little remnants and reminders scattered about with bright and happy facelifts which are meant to hide its dark history of tragedy, but they forever linger.

It’s very much as H.P. Lovecraft himself once wrote…

West of Arkham the hills rise wild, and there are valleys with deep woods that no axe has ever cut. There are dark narrow glens where the trees slope fantastically, and where thin brooklets trickle without ever having caught the glint of sunlight. On the gentler slopes there are farms, ancient and rocky, with squat, moss-coated cottages brooding eternally over old New England secrets in the lee of great ledges; but these are all vacant now, the wide chimneys crumbling and the shingled sides bulging perilously beneath low gambrel roofs.

– “The Colour out of Space”, March 1927

I still drive by the Danvers State Hospital on my way to work every day, so there’s always something there to remind me, but the buildings which have changed and really hurt me in a personal and self-indulgent kind of way are the ones around town that used to be video rental stores. Every Friday night, when I was younger, my mother would take me to one of these local shops wherein I would be allowed to rent one video game and one movie for the weekend.

Not to sound pretentious, but back then video rental stores were my church and the movies of which I rented were my scriptures. Much of who I am today, and what I enjoy watching, can be traced back to those days of my youth when I would pick up a random movie (sometimes based solely off the box art) and then watching, and often times rewatching, them over the course of those weekends.

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One of many old graveyards within the city of Salem, surrounded by buildings as old and new.

That was truly the beginning of my love and appreciation for horror, cult movies, the strange and curiosities of life which would eventually lead to an equal fascination with prime time television series like Beyond Bizarre and Unsolved Mysteries to only then escalate and include late-night viewings of USA’s Up All Night and TNT’s MonsterVision among plenty others of their ilk at that time.

I know that there is an eternal debate over which molds us more as humans in terms of nature vs. nurture, to which I’m not entirely sure which has impacted me the most. New England is a weird place to live, for many reasons, but I also wouldn’t have turned out to be who I am today if it weren’t for the fact that my parents actually somehow allowed me to watch all this shit at an early age.

Therefore, in an oddly fitting way, I guess it’s a little bit of both in the end.


Burial Grid, who released their debut album last year (of which I reviewed), is a kindred spirit of mine. Besides also being a New England native, Burial Grid understands life and just how mysterious and tragic it can be. Their debut album, “Where We Go,” was a collection of songs which were all based on real world “strange but true” missing persons cases and unsolved murders. Half the fun of the album, at least for me, was researching all the inspirations behind the songs while the songs were playing; it was like the soundtrack to an eldritch detective story.

 

Later this month, on March 22nd, Burial Grid will be releasing their next album entitled “My Body Dissolves as I Watch and Dissolve” which, according to Burial Grid themselves, is a “cinematic, emotionally complex dissertation on what our brains and bodies may experience during the process by which we break down.” I was also told it’ll be followed by a cassette release from Peace & Rhythm Records in late spring with sporadic live shows in the northeast throughout the year.

 

You can pre-purchase the album right now, at a considerable discount to boot, with one song already being currently available as a little teaser. Full disclosure: I was graciously given an advanced copy of the full album and, let me tell you, if you’re like me and can appreciate a well-crafted album of experimental weirdness than you’re in for a treat. As I said to Burial Grid shortly after listening to the album, “this scratches all the right itches for me.” I’m hoping you’ll feel the same.