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A Labor of Lovecraft: Cthulhu-Inspired Monsters Are On the Rise

The ancient, gargantuan Karathen and the swarming, ravenous Trench serve as obstacles for Jason Momoa's hero in Aquaman, representing chaos and unknown dangers. Arthur Curry didn't know whether he was worthy of wielding the legendary trident of King Atlan, he simply knew he had to. The Karathen and the Trench embodied that challenge. Any narrative similarities between the Karathen and Cthulhu can mostly be attributed to the superficial.

Wan has made it clear where his inspirations came from, with references to Lovecraft and his stories scattered throughout Aquaman. Not only do those elements result in an epic battle, they also provide a worthwhile challenge for the hero that provides audiences with a sense of familiarity and fear.

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The monsters in Bird Box implement Lovecraftian elements differently, but no less obviously. Starring Sandra Bullock, the film depicts its unseen creatures as supernatural, in one way or another, with an ability to drive insane anyone who sets eyes upon them. It's the same effect triggered in Lovecraft's stories by Cthulhu and all the Great Old Ones. We don't know what the creatures in the film look like, we only have the sketches by the character Gary to go on, and that's enough. The most terrifying thing about a Lovecraftian monster isn't their ghastly appearance, but instead their unimaginable power. Bird Box places that front and center. That's why, no matter what the narrative failings may be, the monsters are consistently praised as the most memorable part of  the film.

Although Lovecraft himself generally failed to make use of this, one of the perks of a Lovecraftian monster, as revealed by Bird Box, is the that it allows for a lot of character development, which is where many horror films tend to fail.

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If we go even further back, the last Cthulhu-like monster we saw in mainstream media was the Mind Flayer in the second season of Stranger Things. The towering creature resides in the shadow dimension known as the Upside Down, and is the source of constant mental and physical torment for Will Byers. The Netflix drama keeps the Mind Flayer a complete mystery; we're never told what it really is, what it wants or how it came into existence. It simply exists.

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Many of the Great Old Ones in the Cthulhu mythos reside beyond human reach, outside of space and time. Each possesses a different monstrous form and telepathically affects humans in a different way. The Mind Flayer would undoubtedly be right at home among their ranks.

The use of Cthulhu-inspired elements enriches the narratives of the stories that use them, and it's because they continue to appeal to all kinds of audiences, not just people who are particularly fond of horror-movie monsters. The reason for this is that the monsters created by Lovecraft were, at their core, built around a fear of the unknown. That's something everyone feels on some level, whether it takes the form of a childhood dread of the dark, or a much deeper and more serious anxiety, and it makes us feel insignificant, helpless.

Society has evolved a lot since the days of Lovecraft. Views have shifted, and where many were once looked for pure entertainment in genre stories, modern audiences tend to be more concerned with what and how films and television dramas reflect the real world. It makes the Cthulhu mythos a prime source of inspiration for writers and producers, because, when implemented correctly, they demand that the stories explore the human condition in all its fragility and mystery.

Lovecraft may not have liked it, but these monsters could go so far as to unify audiences of all types in their common fear. It may not be a bona fide trend right yet, but we hope to Shub-Niggurath that it will be.

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