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Fear of the dark. Fear of the deep, vast ocean. Fear of monstrous climactic events. Each of these is ultimately about something greater at its core: fear of the unknown. This fear is exactly the type of terror cosmic horror preys on. But what is cosmic horror? What are some cosmic horror movies, art, books, or games? And, how can an aficionado of the art form learn how to write cosmic horror?
Keep reading to find out how to define cosmic horror and what makes cosmic horror scary!
What is Cosmic Horror?
Cosmic horror is simple in the fact that it can be broken down by its own title: cosmic meaning “inconceivably vast” and horror meaning “an intense feeling of fear, shock, or disgust.” Cosmic is used to describe the type of horror: It means an intense fear of the inconceivable vastness.
To understand this niche sub-genre even more, it’s helpful to have a definition of the sublime. In art and literature, the sublime refers to grandiose events, unnatural and extraordinary, that induce fear by making people feel small, insignificant, and powerless. The sublime in literature relies on intense descriptions and imagery to induce this fear in readers, to mimic the sensation of viewing the sublime event for oneself, and to excite the reader through intense emotion.
It is through the use of the sublime that cosmic horror invokes fear in its audience. Cosmic horror books and movies exploit audiences’ fears of the unknown. For instance, if the narrator has a fear of darkness, they might find themself in a town-wide, mass power outage in the dead of night. The horror and fear know no bounds as the darkness stretches far beyond the reach of their outstretched arm.
Examples of Cosmic Horror Books
Cosmic horror books cast a wide net, covering a vast range of subjects and fears. Some hair-raising examples are:
- White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi
- What the Hell Did I Just Read by David Wong
- The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle
- The Fisherman by John Langan
Examples of Cosmic Horror Movies
After understanding more about the genre, you might find yourself thinking of movies you’ve recently seen, wondering if they are cosmic horror. Is The Lighthouse cosmic horror? Is Bird Box cosmic horror? Yes, these two modern films do fall in the sub-genre! Here are a few of the best cosmic horror movies:
- The Cabin in the Woods
- The Mist
Examples of Cosmic Horror TV Shows
If you’ve read this far and you’re a Netflix watcher, then the question “Is Stranger Things cosmic horror?” may have crossed your mind. The answer is, yes! Eleven’s ability to move things with her mind, the fear induced by the Upside Down—it all falls into the category of cosmic horror. Here are a few more examples:
- The OA
- True Detective
- Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
- The X-Files (some episodes more than others)
Cosmic Horror vs. Lovecraftian Horror
It’s impossible to talk about or even have cosmic horror without Lovecraftian horror. H.P. Lovecraft, the father of Lovecraftian horror, almost exclusively wrote cosmic horror books. Without his extensive literature, the common tropes found in cosmic horror today, such as the vast power of nature, paranoia, and helplessness, simply would not exist.
Cosmic horror, however, developed from Lovecraftian horror and concepts, meaning its qualifying traits are more flexible than those deemed Lovecraftian. Something is considered Lovecraftian if it is specifically based on or drawn from one of Lovecraft’s works. Cosmic horror, however, can refer to any art in which the protagonist is up against a threat far greater and more powerful than them or a fear-inducing unknown.
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