Squirm: Drew Struzan versus Gustav Klimt

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This poster by Drew Struzan turned up in my RSS feed courtesy of 70s Sci-Fi Art. So Struzan did the US poster for Squirm, thought I, …who knew? Wait a minute…are those Klimt figures?! Closer scrutiny confirmed that, yes, Struzan does indeed appear to have swiped a handful of figures from Gustav Klimt as victims for the carnivorous worms. Squirm (1976) for those who haven’t seen it, is described by The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film as:

Pretty bad film about electrified earthworms in Georgia that have teeth and make noises like horses. It does have an amazing scene with long worms burrowing through a man’s face. Whole rooms are filled with what looks like thick spaghetti. Don Scardino is the studious young hero. The ads claimed there were “250,000 real worms” in the film. From the director of Blue Sunshine.

Michael Weldon’s book has a very lenient attitude towards this kind of nonsense so for a film to be labelled as bad is always a warning. Having seen Squirm, I agree with Weldon’s appraisal. There were a lot of animals attacking humans in the cinema of the 1970s, thanks in part to the success of Jaws, so a story about worms on the rampage is merely another addition to the trashy pile. (The Japanese poster even managed to emulate the famous Jaws poster.) Squirm is especially ridiculous when the humble earthworm is so resistant to being any kind of menace unless its size is dramatically increased, as in Dune or Tremors, the latter being a much better horror film with its own Jaws-like poster.

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Jurisprudence (1907) by Gustav Klimt.

Struzan’s figures are based on those in Jurisprudence, one of the paintings that Gustav Klimt worked on from 1900 to 1907 for the ceiling of the Great Hall at the University of Vienna. There were three pictures—the others represented Philosophy and Medicine—but all were deemed too pornographic for public display. The paintings were subsequently destroyed in 1945 by retreating Nazi troops after having been seized from their Jewish owners and moved with other loot to the Schloss Immendorf.

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Klimt’s Jurisprudence is the strangest of all his works, with three Furies presiding over the cowed figure of a man ensnared by evil, represented here by an octopus. Philippe Jullian in Dreamers of Decadence declares Klimt’s symbolic cephalopod to be “unique in European Art”. I alluded to the Furies, and thereby surreptitiously alluded to those tentacles of evil, when I put a Klimt-like figure into my adaptation The Call of Cthulhu in 1988.

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Cosmic music and cosmic horror

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Track titles by Tangerine Dream (again) if they were stories or chapters in a book of weird fiction:

– Alpha Centauri
– Ultima Thule
– Origin Of Supernatural Probabilities
– Mysterious Semblance At The Strand Of Nightmares
– Sorcerer
– Abyss
– Stratosfear
– Choronzon
– Remote Viewing
– Hyperborea

Clark Ashton Smith’s tales of the northern continent of Hyperborea were Cthulhu Mythos fantasies with a sardonic CAS twist. The connection with Tangerine Dream is most likely coincidental, the name being one that Smith borrowed rather than invented, but I enjoy the intersection all the same. The title of TD’s first single, Ultima Thule, refers to another remote northern realm. If you’re reaching for associations, as I invariably am, then it’s also worth mentioning Haunted Island by an affiliated group, Agitation Free. The last track on their 2nd album features a partial recitation of Dream-Land by Edgar Allan Poe that includes the words “from some ultimate dim Thule”; the keyboard player in Agitation Free was Michael Hoenig who was briefly a member of Tangerine Dream in 1975. As for Choronzon, this was a demon that Aleister Crowley claimed to have tangled with in the Algerian desert in 1909. The malevolent and chaotic nature of the entity, together with its unavoidably Lovecraftian epithet of “the Dweller in the Abyss”, places it close to the Mythos god of “nuclear chaos”, Azathoth, although the music that bears the Dweller’s name doesn’t convey any of these qualities. Tangerine Dream’s Choronzon is an uptempo piece of electro-pop that Virgin optimistically released as a single in 1981. For a group with a long history of eccentric title choices this maybe isn’t so surprising.

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Tangerine Dream feature on another cosmic-horror music list that I suggested as soundtracks for The Haunter of the Dark in 1999. (The Lustmord somehow lost a couple of words from its title.) Most of these are drone works, and several were released after I’d drawn most of the pages, but I was listening to Zeit and Rubycon during many late-night work sessions, the latter especially while drawing The Call of Cthulhu. Discovering weird fiction and spacey electronica simultaneously caused the two things to become inextricably connected, and besides which there wasn’t much else to be found in the music world of the late 1970s that complemented such stories to the same degree. Rubycon offered satisfying associations, from the liquid green of the cover art (Cthulhu always suggests the colour green), to the predominantly sinister, minor-key music within. When the sequencers in Rubycon: Part 2 give way to the sounds of waves breaking on a shoreline this only reinforces the suitability of the album as a Cthulhoid soundtrack.

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The dedication from Alpha Centauri as printed in the Virgin double-disc reissue with the Atem album. It’s never been clear whether the “space” referred to is a noun or a verb.

If you’re looking for cosmic-horror soundtracks today then you’re spoiled for choice, there are numerous examples, from the general—the occulted universe of Dark Ambience—to the very specific. I enjoy the drones, obviously, but the Berlin School still has something to offer so long as the key remains a minor one and the titles avoid New Age vapidity. See this mix for further examples.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Tangerine Dream in concert
Drone month
Pilots Of Purple Twilight
Synapse: The Electronic Music Magazine, 1976–1979
A mix for Halloween: Analogue Spectres
Edgar Froese, 1944–2015
Synthesizing
Tangerine Dream in Poland
Hodgsonian vibrations
White Noise: Electric Storms, Radiophonics and the Delian Mode

Weekend links 543

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Adolph Sutro’s Cliff House in a Storm (c. 1900) by Tsunekichi Imai.

• Good to see a profile of Wendy Carlos, and to hear that she’s still working even though all her albums (to which she owns the rights) have been unavailable for the past two decades. I’d be wary of praising Switched-On Bach too much to avoid giving new listeners a wrong impression. The album was a breakthrough in 1968 but was quickly improved upon by The Well-Tempered Synthesizer (1969) and Switched-On Bach II (1973). And my two favourites, A Clockwork Orange – The Complete Original Score (1972) and the double-disc ambient album, Sonic Seasonings (1972), are superior to both.

• “[Sandy Pearlman] told me that one of the main inspirations was HP Lovecraft. I said, ‘Oh, which of his books?’ He said, ‘You know, the Cthulhu Mythos stories or At The Mountains Of Madness, any of those.'” Albert Bouchard, formerly of Blue Öyster Cult, talks to Edwin Pouncey about BÖC’s occult-themed concept album, Imaginos (1988), and his affiliated opus, Re Imaginos.

• More electronica: Jo Hutton talks to Caroline Catz, director of the “experimental documentary” Delia Derbyshire: The Myths and Legendary Tapes.

• At the V&A blog Clive Hicks-Jenkins talks to Rebecca Law about his award-winning illustrations for Hansel and Gretel: A Nightmare in Eight Scenes.

• New music: Archaeopteryx is a new album by Monolake; What’s Goin’ On is a further preview of the forthcoming Cabaret Voltaire album, Shadow Of Fear.

Celebrating A Voyage to Arcturus: details of two online events to mark the centenary year of David Lindsay’s novel.

• “Streaming platforms aren’t helping musicians – and things are only getting worse,” says Evet Jean.

• At Spoon & Tamago: the cyberpunk, Showa retro aesthetic of anime Akudama Drive.

• At A Year In The Country: a deep dive into the world of Bagpuss.

Sinister Sounds of the Solar System by NASA on SoundCloud.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Shirley Clarke Day.

Mary Lattimore‘s favourite albums.

• Solaris, Part I: Bach (1972) by Edward Artemiev | Bach Is Dead (1978) by The Residents | Switch On Bach (1981) by Moderne

The Cthulhu Mythos in the pulps

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The Nameless City: First published in The Wolverine, November 1921. Reprinted in Weird Tales, November 1928. Illustration by Joseph Doolin.

This would have been “The Cthulhu Mythos in Weird Tales” if some of HP Lovecraft’s more substantial stories hadn’t been published elsewhere. To prevent sprawl I’ve limited the list to Lovecraft’s own stories even though the Mythos takes in the work of contemporaries such as Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, Frank Belknap Long, Zealia Bishop, August Derleth and others. I like seeing the first appearance in print of familiar tales, and I like seeing their accompanying illustrations even if the drawings are inferior pieces, which they often were for the first decade of Weird Tales. These are the short-story equivalent of first editions, and in the case of The Call of Cthulhu you get to see the first printing anywhere of that mysterious name.

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The Hound: Weird Tales, February 1924. Illustration by William Fred Heitman.

This issue is also notable for a story by Burton Peter Thom which shares a title with a Mythos-derived song by Metallica, The Thing That Should Not Be.

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The Festival: Weird Tales, January 1925. Illustration by Andrew Brosnatch.

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The Colour Out of Space: Amazing Stories, September 1927. Illustration by JM de Aragon.

Lovecraft didn’t think that Weird Tales would appreciate this one even though it’s more horror than science fiction so he sent it to Amazing Stories instead.

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The Call of Cthulhu: Weird Tales, February 1928. Illustration by Hugh Rankin.

It’s doubtful that Rankin, Senf and co. would have been up to the task of depicting Great Cthulhu or the non-Euclidean nightmare of R’lyeh, but this hardly excuses editor Farnsworth Wright’s decision to give the cover to Elliott O’Donnell’s ridiculous ghost table.

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Drone month

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October is drone month. July is often drone month as well, if the heat rises to a degree that I can’t bear to listen to anything more taxing than Main, On Land, or the Paul Schütze recordings that feature thunderstorms. But October owns the drone because it also owns Halloween, as I noted in this Halloween playlist. The first entry there, Zeit by Tangerine Dream, is such a perennial favourite that it’s one of the few albums I can imagine writing about for the 33 1/3 books. But this year Zeit has been competing for haunted airtime with the Cthulhu album from Cryo Chamber, a label devoted to the darker end of the ambient spectrum, where choral throngs in colossal chambers are scoured by the katabatic winds that howl through vast subterranean chasms while Thrones of Darkness brood with Amorphous Abominations in the Illimitable Void etc etc. The Cthulhu album is the first in a series of Lovecraft-themed collaborations by Cryo Chamber artists, with each release taking a Cthulhu Mythos god as its subject. I still find this one to be the best of the series so far, not least because the character of Lovecraft’s tentacled monstrosity is more clearly defined than the other gods which lends more definition to the musical illustration. There are no separate tracks on these albums, all the pieces are mixes that cover the sides of one or more compact discs, blending the contributions of the different artists into a single work. The Cthulhu drones are suitably sub-oceanic, like Eric Holm’s Barotrauma with added cosmic horror, a suite of restless stirrings from the Thing that lies dreaming at Point Nemo. Towards the end the Thing awakens to wreak havoc upon the upstart human world, but not before we’ve heard a mutant voice daring to speak aloud the invocation from The Call of Cthulhu.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Hodgsonian vibrations