Friday, May 5, 2023

Lighthouse Horror as a Subgenre

First, some appropriate music to set the tone:


As I originally mentioned in an earlier post today, seeing the trailer for Torture Star/Marevo Collective's upcoming (May 18th!) new game No One Lives Under the Lighthouse, I felt compelled to talk a bit more about Lighthouse Horror as a burgeoning Subgenre. Yeah, I know it's pretty easy to get carried away with subgenres, but I feel like this is becoming as legitimate a 'thing' and there's a wealth of great entries that people interested should know about. 

First: What a spectacular setting, right?  I mean, an abandoned lighthouse island with rocky crags and descending spiral staircases lends itself so well to Horror that I just feel this is made to be. No or limited electricity, an ever-present "man vs. nature" throughline, pervading darkness and let's not forget the isolation - Oh! the isolation! Such tasty morsels for a Horror story to lean into. 

Lighthouse Horror is interesting because there's a fairly small and finite number of permutations to get the ball rolling. Either someone is being shipped out to a lighthouse because the operator has gone missing/mad/died, or the characters are rotating in for their shift and something horrific transpires. The isolation is a large part of the Horror, and keeping this in mind, the setting is perhaps optimum for slow-burn formulas, especially where the characters' psychological state becomes increasingly unmoored, slowly sinking them into madness. 

Being that the entire purpose of the lighthouse as a structure is to keep away the darkness and act as a beacon to those traveling through it, the subgenre is also ready-made for metaphors, and Lovecraftian sea monsters slot into these tales nicely as well, whether you consider them metaphors or not.

The argument for adding Lighthouse Horror as a subgenre begins, as far as I can tell, in 2017. That's the year Cold Skin by Xavier Gens came out. This takes a Lovecraftian route with its use of a lighthouse location to tell a Horror tale, and it fits like a glove! 

From there, of course, Robert Eggers's The Lighthouse came out just two years later in 2019. This takes the more psychological route with the location, although there are folks that argue there are some Lovecraftian moments sprinkled throughout, just in a decidedly more subtle. The "Can I Play With Madness" themes of this film prove pretty aggressive by the end, and as I've said on this page before, I can't think of a better example of the admittedly overused logline, "A slow descent into Madness."

More recently, Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino kicked off their Bone Orchard Mythos with The Passage, a graphic novel that takes place entirely on a lighthouse island and contains some genuinely haunting images. There are overarching monstrous themes in the Boneyard Mythos - which is still developing in subsequent series - and while I'd say the aspirations are Lovecraft-level, this is 100% Lemire and Sorrentino's own thing, which is refreshing. There are some images in The Passage that rank as the most effective I've seen in a Horror Graphic Novel since Pornsak Pichetshote's Infidel and some very smart uses of a drone to deliver them.

What route will No One Lives Under the Lighthouse take? With first-person games a perfect vehicle to elicit very real paranoic responses from their players, this might be the closest some get to a real lighthouse Horror experience ourselves (let's hope so!) 

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