Cosmic Horror And The Philippines: Are They Incompatible?

I am a big lover of horror stories. Even as a young boy, I was always fascinated by stories of ghouls and goblins. During the Halloween season, I was both excited and fearful when the evening news featured some interesting horror stories. However, while I was, still am and probably always will be a fan of horror, my taste for horror stories is somewhat uncommon.

I’m going to point out that I’m not really all that fond of ghost stories although I did find the Poltergeist films rather entertaining. However, the usual stringy-haired ghosts featured in many Asian films like The Grudge or The Ring that so many Filipino filmmakers are trying to imitate simply doesn’t do it for me. If you really want my personal opinion, the horror stories we tend to churn out aren’t at all different from the dramas we make in that the ghosts or monsters we create have a lot in common with the jealous lovers or vengeful spouses found in many of our teleseryes. They just add some supernatural backstory (like some local superstition or gossip about a lurid murder) and a few odd effects here and there (like glowing eyes or frizzy hair) and voila! Instant Pinoy horror movie.

cosmic_horrorBut then, I would like to point out that I’m not a fan of this kind of horror. As a matter of fact, I find the usual ghost story not even remotely scary. If anything does scare, it’s the cosmic horror genre…

For those not in the know, “cosmic horror” is another genre of horror that ups the fear of the unknown or unknowable. The cosmic horror genre was popularized by American author H.P. Lovecraft and his Cthulhu Mythos which was mostly about humanity being at the mercy of ancient and unspeakable entities that were somewhere between advanced aliens and living gods. However, it was not really the monsters in the Cthulhu Mythos that frightened people, even though a lot of them could quite easily lay waste to humanity with a simple twitch of muscle, it was the implications of what they were. The more popular of them which includes the famous Octopus-headed Cthulhu (who can probably be considered the franchise mascot), the inconceivable Yog-Sothoth and the satanic Nyarlathotep (who believe it or not has a light-hearted parody anime) are nothing compared to what they mean on a larger scale.

Cosmic horror is essentially about nihilism and the fact that humanity and everything it values are meaningless in the long run. Yep, when Lovecraft first presented his ideas, they scared and fascinated quite a few people because his stories implied that not even the organized religion we like to cling to can save us from forces that we can’t even begin to understand. In all of Lovecraft’s stories, the insignificance of humanity is expounded to show readers that no matter what we do, it won’t really make much difference. We are and have always been at the feet of immensely powerful forces that could obliterate us in the blink of an eye and probably always will be. What’s worse is that these same entities that are destroying us aren’t even malicious or evil, they simply are. They regard us humans as nothing more than insects so when they’re committing genocide against us and destroying our cities, they’re simply doing something not at all different from the way a farmer might spray insecticide on his crops or a gardener digging up the soil for his garden.

Asides from the Cthulhu Mythos, if one wants to see more stories of cosmic horror, I can recommend the film Cabin in the Woods where people are brutally killed to entertain unspeakable entities, Event Horizon where astronauts encounter evil that is almost impossible to describe in their attempt to travel faster than the speed of light and The Vanishing of 7th Street where people simply disappear for no unknowable reasons. I was first exposed to the cosmic horror genre at a young age when I watched the Hasbro cartoon (same guys who made Transformers and G.I. JoeThe Inhumanoids. Of course my mom didn’t let me watch the rest of the series when she saw how disturbing it was, but I was fascinated by the creatures and their backstory. Even now as an adult, I still find it fascinating and often wonder if Michael Bay will also adapt into film although I would actually prefer Guillermo Del Toro to do it.

However, I will go on to note that cosmic horror isn’t at all popular in the Philippines for reasons I don’t exactly understand but I do have a few theories as to why:

We Refuse To Allow Our Faith To Be Questioned

The Cosmic Horror story has always quite a bit of controversy when it was first gaining popularity. Apparently, people don’t like the idea that something more powerful than their idea of God could actually exist. Because common Pinoys have always been known for their fanatical faith (and not intellectual and spiritual faith), I figured that cosmic horror simply couldn’t take off in the Philippines because of how people can’t accept the possibility that we are at the mercy of evil or that everything we’ve been led to believe might be a lie.

We Can’t Accept Our Insignificance

As it is with the idea of “Pinoy Pride”, people constantly shout the Philippines alleged “achievements” everywhere because they refuse to be considered “insignificant”. It’s like we constantly demand attention because we always want to be considered important even if we are an impoverished third-world country. Cosmic horror, by its nature expounds the insignificance of mankind. I suppose that Pinoys simply refuse to accept that they are unimportant and so the idea of inexplicable horrors besieging our world simply doesn’t jive. This despite the fact that the Philippines is indeed besieged by dangers a lot of us don’t fully understand like global economics, political terrorism and neuron-destroying propaganda.

We Don’t Like To Think

Well, the thing with cosmic horror is that it often requires you to think. Most of the time, you don’t even get to see the actual monster. Instead, it relies on your imagination to make up the image for you. Since Pinoy mainstream media isn’t exactly known for creativity, imagination or originality, I suppose this is one reason they don’t like cosmic horror stories. After all, it’s easier to make sense of a girl wearing a white dress with messy hair who’s attacking you because your dating her ex-boyfriend than a betentacled monstrosity from the depths of the ocean who simply sees you as a pest that needs to be killed.

P.S.

Just so you’ll know, one of the Cthulhu Mythos’ most prominent monsters include Hastur who is believed to be a half-brother to Cthulhu himself. Hastur is often called the “King in Yellow”, if that means anything to any of you. Hastur, many of his fellow horrors and those who worship them also make use of what is called the “Yellow Sign”. Now where did I hear that before…

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12 Comments on “Cosmic Horror And The Philippines: Are They Incompatible?”

  1. Filipino’s are not the only society that do not want to admit that what they have been told and believed since childhood are,for the most part, lies. From the few Filipino’s that I know really well, thinking is a strong suit.Like most human-beings, Filipino’s want their world to make sense to them and that their reasoning is sound is important to them, as it is for most people.Filipino’s are not so different from everyone else at the personal level.At the societal level, hey the country is a 3rd world shit-hole…..it just is. It should not be, but it is.Thieves being thieves and all, but that is another subject for another time.

  2. Cthulhu, the King of Yellow, maybe the Chief Yellowtard, (similarity is accidental, no offense intended)…anyway, I don’t love Horror Movies. I see them funny, instead. The unknown produces a lot of wild imagination. What we cannot understand, we create something out of them, that we can understand.
    When I was young; some relatives told me stories about: “dwende”,multo, capre, tikbalan, aswang, mananangal,sirena, santilmo, higante, etc…I was fearful of them, then. Now, I know that they are just a products of Earth Mind Consciousness or Wild imagination. They may, or may not exist. I don’t care…

    1. hindi na uso ang mga dwende, tikbalang, aswang, mananangal, etc. sa ating bansa. Uso na ngayon ang ghost employees, ghost projects, buwaya at mga Binay. Welcome to the modern day Philippine horror stories, people!

  3. What’s funny about Even Horizon is that many 40k fans see it as a spiritual prequel because of its Gothic style, and how the ship acts after it made its jump is not unlike a ship going through the warp without a Gellar field on.

    To be fair, the Cosmic Horror Story is known but not fully mainstream just yet. However, your points are still valid as it definitely applies to Pinoys.

  4. “Cosmic Horror And The Philippines: Are They Incompatible?”

    Living as a contemporary Filipino citizen is already a cosmic horror story in itself. With the way the monsters-disguised-as-humans run the entire show, there’s no need to “imagine” about insanity-inducing ancient eldritch abominations.

  5. “They just add some supernatural backstory (like some local superstition or gossip about a lurid murder) and a few odd effects here and there (like glowing eyes or frizzy hair) and voila! Instant Pinoy horror movie.”

    Iyan ang scary. Hehe. Have you watched Tokyo Ghoul? Did you notice how they (Japanese) turn our idea of “aswang” or flesh-eating monsters into more exciting characters in a story with intelligent plot?

    And here’s one artistic comics I would like to share to alleviate the horror in the way our popular Phil media plays with our folklore -> http://www.tabi-po.com/. You should also watch the indie film Yanggaw. I remember our horror movies are pretty badass from the 90’s and back (Hunted House, the first three Shake, Rattle and Roll movies, Anak ng Demonyo, Dear Diary (“Dear Killer”), Lovingly Yours, Helen (“Akin ang Walang Diyos”), Halimaw sa Banga). I think it has something to do with the way the artist act then (compare mo sa acting ng horror queen daw na si Kris Aquino) and the focus being on how the story will relate to the people to scare them and not how the visual effects and certain facial contour will do the scaring.

  6. Cosmic horror and the Philippines are not incompatible. The following was taken from the memoirs of a certain Howard A. Kano, a white American who traveled to the Philippines. A year into his travels, he disappeared. The only things found left of his presence there were a few pages from his memoirs. They seem to form a bestiary of the horrors he had encountered.

    The soulless zealot.
    These wretched horrors indulge in ghoulish displays of self mutilation and crucifixion in worship of a god that they claim is the source of all that is good. They claim that they are in line with their god’s principles of brotherly love, yet they lead lives of infidelity, dishonor, and corruption. If you glimpse one of these abominations, run. Run before they turn you into one of them.

    False ascended apparition.
    These lost souls roam the Philippine islands in a state of false ascension where they believe they are separate from, and superior to, everything and everyone around them. They are usually involved in the following behaviors.
    1. Cutting in line.
    2. Throwing refuse into the street so someone else can pick it up.
    3. Bring proud to simply be pinoy.

    Vehiculagarus.
    Monstrosities of flesh and machine melted together into an unholy and wretched being. These abominations roam the streets of the Philippines with reckless abandon. They care not for the safety of others. Indeed, it seems they care not even for their own safety. Beware. BEWARE! These hellish monsters are driven by a constant need to crash, maim, and kill.

  7. The basis of all true cosmic horror is violation of the order of nature, and the profoundest violations are always the least concrete and describable. But optimism dribbles away when horror repeats.

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