The Shells and Bones of Perished Shapes

The ocean is a terrible place, full of life still unknown to much of modern science and infinitely more alien than most writers can possibly imagine.

H.P. Lovecraft, art by Sean Phillips for Fatale #1

Most writers, that is, except for Howard Phillips Lovecraft, one of the twentieth century’s greatest American writers of weird fiction.

Having lived the majority of his short, unhappy life in the port city of Providence, Rhode Island, Lovecraft shows both a fear of and fascination with the sea in his works of short fiction. From the almost comical half fish / half frogs that dwell in Innsmouth to the fish God Dagon to the Kraken-like behemoth that is Cthulhu — a titan from beyond the stars (or perhaps another dimension)sleeping for an eternity at the bottom of the ocean — the monsters sprung from Lovecraft’s imagination are invariably wet and lumbering, gelatinous and oozing — all eyes and tentacles. Awful things deep in the blackest depths. Not only could Lovecraft describe these horrible imaginings, he could impart a palpable dread in language that is fatalistic, reducing mankind to an insignificant speck in the immense expanse of a cold and uncaring universe.

“Vast and lonely is the ocean, and even as all things came from it, so shall they return thereto… On the deep’s margin shall rest only a stagnant foam, gathering about the shells and bones of perished shapes that dwelt within the waters. Silent, flabby things will toss and roll along empty shores, their sluggish life extinct.” — H.P. Lovecraft, “The Night Ocean” (http://www NULL.hplovecraft NULL.com/writings/texts/fiction/no NULL.asp)

Biased as I may be and, like Lovecraft, perhaps even a bit of a thalassophobe with an irrational fear of the sea, you see, you, dear reader might say “ok… so other than the requisite few sharks that inevitably chew up a few international business travelers each summer (http://tampa NULL.cbslocal NULL.com/2012/05/21/shark-attacks-still-a-danger-for-east-coast-swimmers/), what is there really to be afraid of in the ocean? A jellyfish sting? A toe pinched by a burrowing hermit crab? Really.”

Well, Ladies and gentlemen. For your video-viewing pleasure, I give you the clam.

One of the most seemingly benign of sea creatures, the clam — or should I say a particular clam — has become an YouTube sensation this past month with a video now topping a million views in a matter of a week. Watch closely, and if the actions of this mollusk don’t unnerve you, causing your skin to crawl simply by its absolutely alien behavior, then perhaps I have read too much Lovecraft and am overreacting to what is perfectly natural and normal for mother nature.



 Now, before you go and Google the matter further, finding, as I did, an article from the UK’s Daily Mail explaining the creature’s skin-crawling behavior (http://www NULL.dailymail NULL.co NULL.uk/news/article-2172241/Tis-season-Clam-licking-salt-dinner-table-enormous-tongue-internet-sensation NULL.html), I will save you some time and explain that the appendage that suddenly darts out from the deceptively still and otherwise innocuous shell is NOT a tongue. That milky slab of glistening wet seeming muscle is, in actuality, a foot.

Turns out the clam has no head either, and usually has no eyes (scallops being an exception); but a clam does have kidneys, a heart, a mouth and, if you can wrap your head around this one (and if you can, that’s quite disgusting and surprisingly limber) an anus.

Miriam Goldstein, a graduate student of oceanography at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, tells the Daily Mail that the clam is not licking the salt but “probably trying to find a place to dig itself in” (mistaking the salt for sand).

Regardless, the video is more disturbing to me than any horror movie ever could be. A disembodied tongue — I mean, foot — lapping  and/or slapping at an unforgiving surface to no apparent avail — all the while leaving behind it a mucous-like trail — will haunt me for quite some time. No wonder I can’t eat sushi (especially when it’s clam served fresh and wriggling on a bed of rice).

One last thing. Chew on this…

An Arctica islandica clam, caught off the coast of Iceland in 2007, was declared the world’s longest-lived animal (http://news NULL.nationalgeographic NULL.com/news/2007/10/071029-oldest-clam NULL.html) by researchers from Bangor University in Wales; they believed Ming — a nickname given to the elderly mollusk to reflect its great age — to be 405 years old.

If you are not in the least bit disturbed by a centuries’ old glob of wiggling goo or the abrupt lunge of a tongue-like foot that struggles to propel what is effectively a rock, then you will never understand the sense of profound unease that comes from imagining what may lie beneath the sea nor will you be able to appreciate Lovecraft’s artistry in having us fear the mysteries of the deep.

Waiting for Argento: Blood, Boobs and DRACULA 3D

“Is it right to be obsessed with looking at terrible things and sharing them with other people?” — Dario Argento, Italian film director, producer and screenwriter

Dario Argento's Dracula 3D
Dario Argento’s Dracula 3D

Quoting Argento, I feel like some whore in a shower stall talking to herself as she cleans off the filth of her last embarrassing encounter. That is to say, I know that if/when Dario Argento’s DRACULA 3D (http://www NULL.dracula3dthemovie NULL.com/) will be released in the US, I will look. In fact, I really want to like what I see. I do. I swear.

But should I be sharing such an awful thing with other people? Especially when this long awaited film — screened and panned at Cannes and currently only being distributed in Europe — still has no U.S. release date!?!?!?

Famous for 1977’s Suspiria, and being cited as an inspiration for the work of directors like John Carpenter, Argento has made over twenty horror movies, each with a schlocky seventies european sensibility. He has amassed quite a fan-base around the world, and is given a degree of respect in Europe; but when his re-interpretation of Dracula in 3D was screened at Cannes last May (http://www NULL.filmschoolrejects NULL.com/reviews/cannes-review-dario-argento-dracula-3d-sgall NULL.php), the audience jeered and many left their seats.

Still, like his central character here — a Dracula that’s cunning and oddly appealing — Argento’s films have a certain charm. They are forever stuck in the hazy twilight of adolescent wonder for all things reputedly hip and cool simply because they are foreign — a benefit of the doubt certainly extended more easily in the days before the web and the globalization of media. But Argento’s appeal is limited, and his consistently bad movies, while often entertaining in their ineptitude, tend to receive more attention before people actually see them. He has our enthusiasm on credit because of an account only long ago in good standing.

Like the count himself, Argento seemed far more interesting the first, second or even the third or fourth time around — when he was novel, exotic, a stranger from a strange land.

Thomas Kretschmann as Dracula

Suspiria is a good example of how one of his films can be more than their silly premises (in this case “ballerina vs. witches”). With beautiful cinematography and an atmosphere of the surreal, Suspiria consistently finds it ways to top positions in lists of great horror films.

Still, 1977 was 35 years ago. And Argento has made no effort to adapt his skills or sensibilities to modern audiences.

I’ll expect terrible CGI and clumsy use of 3D. I’ll forgive  the poor acting (Rutger Hauer as Van Helsing is the only actor with even a slight chance of salvaging what is sure to be terrible dialogue). And I’ll look past what’s sure to be downright bizarre physical effects (a review from Cannes mentioned a a gigantic bug?). And why will I excuse all of this? Because I’m a sucker for bad foreign, bloody period semi-(or even not) faithful adaptations of Dracula (need I say more than Jess Franco’s El Conde Dracula with Christopher Lee?). They all can’t be Hammer’s brilliant Horror of Dracula (http://www NULL.imdb NULL.com/title/tt0051554/) (1958), Coppolla’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (http://www NULL.imdb NULL.com/title/tt0103874/) (1992), or even Lugosi in Todd Browning’s classic Universal fare (http://www NULL.imdb NULL.com/title/tt0021814/) (1931). But they are all worth a watch just once. Just to say I’ve seen every Dracula film (and I’m pretty sure I have).

Still, even I might have to draw the line when it comes to Argento doing Dracula. See for yourself…



Sure, the blood will be fun. And Argento filming his beautiful daughter, Asia, in all manner of stages of undress as Lucy will be oddly alluring and extremely off-putting at the same time, I’m sure.

But does Dracula 3D have enough of what makes a bad movie good to ever get this film to rise above the just plain terrible?

You be the judge. And so will I.

If it’s ever released here in the states, you can bet I’ll follow up. Good or bad, Dracula 3D is bound to be a guilty pleasure worth pursuing.