Editor’s Note: If you’ll remember our fated Miskatonic University expedition to Wondercon, you might also recall that one of the flayed corpses we found belonged to one Aaron Vanek, Grand High Master of the HP Lovecraft Film Festival in San Pedro (also on Facebook). I’m not sure how he did it, but he survived his injuries and managed to crawl all the way down the 110 to SP and continue his HP-curating activities. He then invited us to attend the festival. I, not wanting to go anywhere near anything HP-related after hearing about Dorje’s experiences (he’s doing fine, btw), decided to send someone else. David Nestor did some work for us on A Horror Story Art Show, and I thought “Good writer, professional habits, expendable – why not send Nestor?” And sure enough, the fool agreed. Here’s his report.
The Shadow Over Innsmouth San Pedro
Cosmic horror is a term as nebulous as its monsters, more frightening than demons and serial killers (but less terrifying than fatherhood according to Bundle of Nerves, one of the many belly-laugh inducing short films about a pair of cops fighting off a tentacled creature). Yet, in the words of author and co-director of the festival, Cody Goodfellow, it’s a thing that brings people together. The genre says: you’re insignificant and that will be your end. Traditional horror is about an aberration entering the normal world, disrupting the status quo. Cosmic horror makes straight horror look like comfort food. In cosmic horror what we think of as normal is the aberration. Evil isn’t what’s going to get you, it’s the nothingness.
According to the cosmic horror panel (including Joseph S. Pulver, Nathan Carson, Scott Connors, Ross E. Lockhart, Cody Goodfellow, Leslie S. Klinger, S. P. Miskowski, Kat Rocha, and Mike Davis) that’s what makes how we treat each other and the communities we build all the more important. It’s all that we have. The authors all built upon this idea, adding in their specific nuances and spins, but ultimately that was the core message.
I’ve been to dozens of talks, panels, and discussions lead by authors, but that panel was one of the best by far. It’s available for a time on livestream and you should watch it right now. This brilliant, but way too short (I would have watched those people talk for hours), chat was what set the tone for my day. I felt closer to my fellow fans, indulging in the atmosphere of mutual love for something.
After the panel I was able to meet Leeman Kessler, who is an HP Lovecraft impersonator with a YouTube show where he answers viewer questions in character. Leeman hosted the livestream available to backers of the event’s kickstarter. He was approachable, as were all the guests of the event, and a great guy. I managed to sneak in a question during our short encounter about what it was like playing Lovecraft, him being the man that he was. And Leeman readily admitted the shortcomings of Lovecraft’s moral character, which seemed a theme throughout the festival—no one hesitated to denounce the author’s white supremacist views.
The festival’s commitment to inclusivity was obvious in everything from the code of conduct to a reference by Joseph Pulver that diversity was the future of cosmic horror. Not to mention Club Pangaea, an LGBT-focused cabaret, being the headliner with their Dunwich Horror Picture show.
Genuine: that’s the word that kept popping into my head throughout the day. Everyone there had a deep interest in this weird little niche, from the most diehard fans sporting fezzes and Cthulhu shirts, to the merchants, to the initiates like myself. That’s something I find missing from many larger events, which have become so commercialized that they are less about the subject of the event and more about the event itself—a hype machine for the hype machine.
After the cosmic horror panel I stuck around for a portion of the artists’ panel, which was really cool as well. It’s always a treat to hear people talk about doing what they love and the art was just amazing. I’ll let the images speak for themselves.
By Lee Joyner
Next came the short films, which were for the most part amazing. I could rave about them for pages, and you really should check them all out. There were a few major standouts for me. Zerch was my personal favorite. The titular character Zerch asks his boyfriend Cano to drown him, citing an unspecified impending death as his reason, wanting to control his demise. It’s intimate and dark, (spoiler warning!) but takes a hard turn into cosmic horror. Once dead, the true Zerch, an amorphous man-o-war like creature comes forth from his body and violently enters Cano. An amazing execution of the body snatcher trope.
Winning both the audience choice award and judges award, Pickman’s Model was a stop motion adaptation of the HP Lovecraft story with the same title. It was beautifully done, the various characters made to look like wooden puppets straight out of a Tim Burton fever dream. I can’t imagine the painstaking effort it took to make such a short.
The only real downside, if it can even be thought of as such, was that there was little down time to just hang out and browse the Mall of Cthulhu (which wasn’t huge). It was a tight event if you wanted to see everything and still check out all the cool stuff. So, I had to make the hard decision and miss a few of the shorts.
During another brief intermission I was able to attend a tour of the Warner Grand Theater. The festival couldn’t have been held at a more perfect location. Its art deco style provided a spot-on atmosphere. My favorite part of the tour was Aaron Vanek (our tour guide and co-director of the festival) telling us of a late night encounter with a ghost. Aaron is a self-avowed atheist and skeptic, but a few years ago when he was making sure everyone had left the theater after the festival, he called out asking “anyone still here?” and received a female disembodied “No!” in return. It’s fitting to have a horror festival at a haunted location.
While the cosmic horror panel was the highbrow gem of the day, the Dunwich Horror Picture Show was the perfect foil. Riffing on the Rocky Horror Picture Show live events that were popular in the 70s, the Dunwich version is just as raunchy and gut-busting. The host and main character HP Loveshaft, looking like someone in a clearance bin goat-person costume covered in googly eyes, masterfully primed the audience by telling us to yell back at the screen whenever they mispronounced Dunwich as Dun-witch instead of Dun-itch. At first only a portion of the audience partook in this heckling, but as the show went on and the ridiculousness escalated, the whole theater was joining in.
Ending the night was the infamous secret screening, which consisted of a live show and a few more short films. The most disturbing thing I had seen all day at the festival was the movie Fuck Buddies, available on Vimeo. Warning: it is extremely sexually graphic and disturbing. Starting out as a bit of an adult romantic comedy, but spiraling into a terrifying piece of weird horror.
The event didn’t end until nearly 2:00 am and I was wiped. It was a day I won’t forget, and I plan on making it to every one they have in the years to come. I highly encourage everyone to at least check out the kickstarter and livestream next year. Backing art you care about is vital, and these people are doing an amazing job. A special thanks to Aaron Vanek for helping me procure a parking pass instead of having to deal with the true incomprehensible horror that is LA parking.