The Otherworldly Ambiance Of Landscapes

by Peter Engelmann,  August 5, 2021

If we do a supernatural story emphasizing places we either create such places or we took inspiration from what we call an eldrich location. Places that create “in the reader a profound sense of dread, and of contact with unknown spheres and powers” (H.P. Lovecraft) both exist in our mind and in our reality.

In movies and literature, we see the products of explorations of an uncanny world with hidden trapdoors and places where the veil between our world and another dimension becomes thin.

However if we look closer into this matter things appear more complex.

What makes a haunted landscape?

In the first moment, we might think of a typical scenery as the dark forest, the lonely mountain plateau, or barren, windswept landscapes like Dartmoor. However, it might be good to make some distinctions. There is a cultural tradition that we might consider the shadowy landscape for example with twisted trees as a haunted place. The gothic tradition and romanticism built the framework for a long time. Hammer films referred to this gothic tradition and we find references in films like “Sleepy Hollow”. They are spooky. Sometimes there is a ruin of a castle or the remnants of a cloister.

What about landscapes and places that trigger a real sense of dread? In the first place, this is not something we make up. It’s about places that really exist. And it is not automatically the enchanted forest or the wilderness. It’s about a weirdness, a sense of disenfranchisement that suddenly overwhelms us.

This can be anything: A place where high voltage power lines cross, a desert, a shore, a river bed, a tundra landscape or the outskirts of a town.

It’s also the type of place or eldritch location we find reflected in modern horror as in the writings of Algernon Blackwood, H.P. Lovecraft, and M.R. James. TV and films capture these weird landscapes too. Sometimes there isn’t necessarily so much strangeness at first sight. Whistle and I’ll Come to You is a BBC television drama and an adaptation of the short story of M.R. James. It has some memorable scenes with a sheer endless shore in East Anglia. Normally there is nothing sinister about a shore but here it’s wind, weather, and loneliness that creates the feeling of being lost. In the story and in the TV play it is a place where the hero is unprotected. It’s not only a bleak landscape it is the vast openness that establishes the supernatural cosmic terror in the story.

H.P Lovecraft and Algernon Blackwood’s stories are best known for their distinct rich sense of place. Both took inspiration from real places. Perhaps the most prominent example is Algernon Blackwood’s masterpiece “The Willows”. The story is set in some river wilderness of the Danube between Vienna and Budapest. The two heroes of the story get stranded there and experience some nearly indescribable cosmic horror. Blackwood himself did two trips with a Canadian canoe on the river Danube 1901. The journey inspired his most famous novella “The Willows”, a milestone of cosmic horror and fiction about the wonder of nature. There is both a sense of awe and terror here. It is both about horror and a deep and profound sense of wonder. Of course, the revelations are very scary but there is more:

An outstanding article about the sublime horror in nature.

Eugene Thacker wrote an brilliant article “How Algernon Blackwood Turned Nature Into Sublime Horror” about Blackwood’s novella The Willows from 1907 in Lithub. He mentions a couple of important things among them “the sense of a deep time”. Deep time is a concept undergoing different meanings referring to the unimaginable age of the Earth’s geology but having philosophical implications too. Some sceneries on earth trigger similar thoughts and emotions as when watching alien landscapes, i.e. pictures taken from a Mars rover.

One of the key points in Thacker’s article mentions a form of life embedded in nature but beyond our comprehension: “But what gives scenes like this their ambiance of otherworldliness is not that there are menacing monsters in the night, but rather that the entire environment—the mountains, sky, river, trees—are somehow alive, and alive in an impersonal but sublime way that far exceeds the taxonomies of the naturalist or the theories of the biologist. “

Let’s think about this – It means that in some moments certain places or locations challenge our very idea of reality. The world is not what it seems. In The Willows – as Thacker says – the narrator” seems even more uncertain of what “nature” is by the end of the story”. A “something makes its presence known”. I strongly recommend to read Eugene Thacker’s article which in my view is the best I ever read about the subject and The Willows.

Creating Otherworldly Landscapes

But how do we bring that experience to the reader or in the case of a movie to the moviegoers? Algernon Blackwood was a master in the use of language. A language which allowed the imagination of the reader to see what he has seen. He and other writers as M.R. James and the lesser known H.R. Wakefield understood that sense of place and how to let the story and the descriptions work together. Filmmakers however need to visualise, they need to give answers where literature can leave more room for the reader’s imagination.

Doing artwork and previzualisation or design concepts for The Forest Dark Feature Film I am currently exploring the potential of all our wonderful modern technology and see what rings true or not. So far the process is not so much different from the work of the writers. Getting that sense of otherworldly ambiguity means a lot of exploration. Visiting places, taking in the atmosphere and wait for different moods in landscapes is part of the research. Frankly, we never know how much the sense of place comes across on a screen when the movie was made. But keeping the great examples from literature as The Willows always in mind as a sort of beacon we know where we are heading.

In the end of his article about The Willows Thacker suggests that “Perhaps the natural is supernatural, and vice-versa” and the “weirdest” understanding might come from science – what nature is. That’s also what a camera is looking for when filming nature and putting it in the context of a movie: Trying to getting us closer to the enigma. Reveal what’s hidden in broad daylight. Get that sense of the double nature of landscape. Bring it to life as a character and – if we are very lucky – getting into a communication about the metaphysical implications with our readers and viewers.

The Memory Of The Forest

by Peter Engelmann,  June 25, 2021

The forest never forgets. The forest is like a storehouse of the past. Writers and filmmakers use the forest regularly as the place where the hero faces the past. Sometimes it’s the hero’s own past. Sometimes it is related to the location. Secrets and old legends get revealed in the darkness of the forest.

However the forest is more than a metaphor where someone gets confronted with his own past. In a very literal sense the forests of our Earth store information about the past. Scientists learn from old trees about historical events like climate change or the outbreak of a volcano. A tree’s annual rings are like a chronology of the past.

A forest is a place of constant change. During the summer the forest is full of life. In winter there is death. Nevertheless information never gets lost in the forest. The whole network of plant life saves information about the things which happened in the past.

There are not only traces of natural events like wildfires in the forest. In the forest sometimes things appear which had been buried for centuries. The relicts of battles of the past as the ancient battles of the Romans against the Barbarians in the German forest are still there. Archeologists visit the forest regularly.

Traces From The Past

Some say there is more to this. The ghosts of fallen soldiers of long forgotten battles still roaming the woods. In some nights the lonely souls of victims of crimes can be seen and heard. And of course there is the witch which was banned from the community hundreds of years ago. What if events and the traces of entities from the early days of Earth are also stored up here? Something which is still alive in a sense? The forest as a whole might be a storage medium for many things.

But people going into the forest and discovering their own past? That might work in a psychological sense if you are alone for a longer time memories might come up. What if you find something in the forest which is connected to your own past? Something which was lost and suddenly lies there in front of you. If this happens in a fictional story it sounds like the typical intervention of the writer.

It’s another story if the person has the same places visited before or has lived in a certain place. Then a trip into the forest can be an experience where memories which were suppressed for a long time come back. In these cases the forest might be sort a catalyst. Perhaps it works in the sense of synchronicity – something from the inner life gets materialised in the outside world.

Driftwood In The Forest

The forest is a place where things disappear and return. And here is the strange thing. Sometimes it’s like at a beach where the sea returns something which was swallowed for a long time. Now its flotsam. We know about incredibly strange missing 411 cases: Search and rescue diligently searching the same area several times and finding nothing. Then, sometimes many years later lost items or even a person resurfaces.

There might be even more to this if we think of the intermingling of dimensions or distorted timelines. We are used to think in linear timelines. Some experiences suggest that we could get into places where timelines are somehow distorted or different. Future and past is not what we think it is. Or lets say its something we should explore deeper.

Time

Of course there is a lot of speculation here. However it is interesting how many people which had a strange experience in the woods reports weird things about the perception of time too. Sometimes its missing time. Sometimes present and past intermingle. Memories can get lost or somebody remembers things and has no idea where that information did come from. If we remember the saying “the forest is what’s between the trees” it might open up many ideas. Maybe its some people who are wired to higher dimensions which have that kind of experience. They can connect to the subspace or alternate stream of reality. If there is sort of a subspace out there it might be something similar to our world wide web: a neural network where memories and information is stored.

Silent Hill Or Personal And Impersonal Higher Dimensions Of The Other World

Multiple dimensions are a common concept. They work for fiction in film, series and books as in games. The idea of a multiverse as seen in the legendary Sci-Fi movie Interstellar by Christopher Nolan is a serious concept in science too. The concept also works as one of the explanations for supernatural encounters, mysterious missing cases and the unexplained.

There are important distinctions here. We often hear of a fourth and fifth dimension. In a more scientific sense these dimensions represent mostly layers of a another reality with different physical qualities. For example there is the idea of an alternate universe where times runs backwards.

These different “qualities” of spacetime are mostly impersonal qualities. They are not individually related to a person or observer.

Higher dimensions as we know them in myth, in the history of men’s culture and in the collective conscious have a different quality. This applies both to fiction in literature or film and reports of supernatural encounters. It’s typical that the experience is a personal one. The experience is related to the psyche of the participant.

Silent Hill as a prominent model

The famous 90’ties computer game SILENT HILL is a perfect example. The outstanding concept of SILENT HILL led also to two movies. Director Christophe Gans turned it 2008 into a psychological horror movie.

Silent Hill is set in a dreamlike city where there is a constant shift between different layers of reality. There is a fog world and an other world. In the dangerous and malicious other world the heroine’s or the actors in the game sometimes face monsters which seem to stem from their own unconscious. The same creature is not for everyone a monster. It depends on the individual’s condition.

There are many writings about the mythology of Silent Hill. Some say it’s not necessarily a multiverse. However this is not the most important point here. The thing is that Silent Hills appeals to many people because the set of reality feels familiar. There is sort of duality here we all know. Everybody knows our real daytime world and the more dreamlike night world or the other world we experience in dreams. There is a duality between “light” and “chaos” too, which reminds us a bit of the gnostic view of the world. Max Derrat provided very good and fascinating insights about this in his videos about the mythology of Silent Hill.

Silent Hill is as my The Forest Dark Feature Film Project a place where the boundary between real daytime world and the dreamlike nighttime world collapses. The interesting thing is that ordinary reality can shift into another state without a person changing place. All happens in the same place.

This concept we see in Silent Hill but also in a variety of stories, books, films, series or witness accounts of sightings seem to apply to certain zones on our planet. It is a good explanation why any place is felt differently. It explains why some people might have a nightmarish experience in a forest or a mountain or an endless wilderness whereas other people just see a nice tourist spot.

Is there a personalised other world?

But how is that possible? How could it be possible that another dimension creates not only individual visions related to the personality, the fears and even the past of the person involved but becomes real in a mere physical sense. It is even a personal, individual alternate dimension. If this is a fictional story me might say this is a convenient concept for the writer to propel the individual’s journey forward and illustrate the deeper dimensions of a character. We see this particularly in many ghost house stories: The main character has to face his past to be free. However the same happens in many real witness accounts. In alien abduction stories people see symbols which are related to their personal history. It’s the same with people who went missing had had strange visions.

There are different theories how this is possible. One idea is that what witnesses see in sightings is not what’s really going on. It might be something which is too big for the human mind to comprehend. Perhaps our mind “translate” this into something which seems familiar. Or there is an intelligence at work we don’t yet understand, which “steals” our images and experiences and uses it for its own agenda. Some witnesses of UFO-sightings report things which sound like a sort of stage play.

Synchronicity

Another theory is that the psyche is itself kind of another dimension and can manifest in a material sense. These theories follow the writing of famous psychologist C. G. Jung. His ideas imply the existence of a higher dimension which is both inside the mind and outside the mind/body. He described so-called-synchronistic events. Synchronicity, in simple words, is a different idea about causality connecting the inner personal life with events on the outside in the material world. It’s not like magic belief, it is indeed an empirical system. C. G. Jung recorded many of this synchronistic events. This is the most revolutionary idea and makes us rethink our very concept of reality. Max Derrat gives us an interesting insight in the synchronicity theory in his videos about Silent Hill too.

Dimensions with a conscious or the Gods?

Another idea: What if fields, spaces, alternate dimension have a sort of consciousness. Some people believe we live in sort of a simulation (yes, the matrix mythology). If the world if we see it is a simulation who is the creator? There is indeed the assumption the universe itself is consciousness. Maybe everything we see around us is kind of of a higher living being.

A common idea of science-fiction is that alien entities can not only create alternate realities but “borrow” our images and put them together in a new way like the experience astronaut Bowman has in the end of 2001. Haven’t we lately become “reality-builders” ourselves? Modern game-engines like Unreal Engine create whole photo-realistic new worlds with some clicks. You can use a preset as a portal. Perhaps there is somebody out there who can do this on a higher level we can’t imagine even in our wildest dreams.

One day we might see ourselves in a position as the hero of the Truman Show when he realizes he was inside a staged reality all the time. If so, is there an audience watching us, too?

Peter Engelmann

Lovecraft Forest

by Peter Engelmann,  January 5, 2021

Storytellers and moviemakers exploring the nature of the unexplained, the real horror, the unnamable forces in a haunted forest will find the universe of H.P. Lovecraft as a fruitful and inspiring description of the unknown realm near our dimension. The American Horror and Science Fiction writer introduced the modern idea of cosmic horror. But does it also apply to so-called true stories?

We can cope with the forest demon, the hairy monster, or the sinister backwood person as a sort of invented story, fairy tale, or a true crime story. However, if we listen to witness reports, the rich lore of many regions, and the terrifying accounts of people who disappeared and returned after days, we sense a deeper reality behind these encounters.

It seems that there are entities and other dimensions beyond our comprehension lurking in the shadows. The reports of fairies, mysterious lights, and abductions might be an effort of the mind to keep sane and to carry on because we wouldn’t dare to think about what’s really out there. Some stories and movies do the same but others try to achieve more and take the story to a greater scope. That’s also what the Forest Dark Feature Film Project does. It’s what many writers do. Getting to the point where the audience feels that there is some truth in a story that might sound fantastic.

Is it even possible? The master of modern horror H.P. Lovecraft created a whole universe filled with terrifying encounters with the Great Old Ones and other entities. The words he uses trigger our imagination, the painfully detailed description of unparalleled horrors and the reports of unspeakable events create a special mood.




The Whisperer in Darkness

There is one story in particular which concerns the forest as a place haunted by beings from outer space or another dimension. In The Whisperer In Darkness Lovecraft takes us to the mysteries of the ominous hills in Vermont. The narrator receives letters and pictures from a man, Henry Akeley, who seems close to a nervous breakdown because of some horrors coming from the woods. It doesn’t take too long and the narrator himself is on the brink of madness.

The interesting thing about this story from H.P. Lovecraft is that partly it is written like an article in a scientific journal. The introduction is expanded speculation about the ancient roots of creatures described in modern sightings. There are strong parallels with modern texts about aliens accompanying mankind from the very beginning. It is a lot about scientific speculation and later on it is not only what happens deep in the woods in these Vermont Hills but also about the nature of true tales in Vermont.

The Whisperer In The Dark introduces the Lovecraft Forest. The horror in these woods is not only about some sort of alien race, worshipping of ancient deities like Shub-Niggurath but also weird artifacts as a black stone or strange anomalies. There is mention of a Lord Of The Forest and a transcript of a recording of strange rituals in the forest implies sinister gatherings and invocations:

“(A BUZZING IMITATION OF HUMAN SPEECH)
Iä! Shub-Niggurath! The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young!

We don’t learn who or what Shub-Niggurath and the Black Goat of the Woods exactly are but the story works like a jigsaw puzzle. In the end, we sense the whole picture.

Names, descriptions and the story may sound bizarre. It is a weird tale. However, in many aspects, Lovecraft was ahead of his time. The idea of phenomena and alien entities which somehow defies our laws of nature makes more and more sense if we look into modern theories in physics, quantum mechanics, and astrophysics. A visitor entering our dimension and coming from a higher dimension might match some of Lovecraft’s ideas.

Wait a moment. Of course, there is also a straight sci-fi tale here with the Mi-Go alien race and the twist at the end of the story. But what’s interesting here are the choices between the beats in the storyline. It’s what is happening, how it is happening, and the description.

Furthermore Lovecraft uses a special technique of storytelling which creates tension and allows him to slowly reveal what’s going on. The narrator receives letters by Henry Akeley. Later we are not direct witness of a ritual in the forest but the recording is mentioned. This is not only a writing technique its a very smart way to picture something which is not some sort of singular object but like a combination of phenomena. He gives us bits and pieces and we need to draw further conclusions.

Real mysterious forests

In regions where there are a lot of sightings reported or other supernatural phenomena occur it is often not about a single event. Most of the time it is a complex mix of history, strange events, weird behavior of inhabitants, cases of high strangeness, mysterious disappearances, crime, secret rituals in the forest, and communities with secrets on the surface. In 2018 documentarist and musician Jarrod Tyler visited Washington State and the Snoqualmie region where the legendary Twin Peaks series was shot. He interviewed several people and unraveled the real mysteries of the region in a very good and very impressive road documentary Road To Twin Peaks: A North Bend Story. The real stories he heard and the links to an “energy in the forest” do sound even more strange as some of David Lynch’s inventions. Twin Peaks does now feel even more “real” in a special sense. It has a feel of that Lovecraft forest, a place which is somehow different from our normal dimension. In the end Jarred Tyler raises the question: “Was the North Bend mystery created by the TV show or was the Twin Peaks mystery created by North Bend?”

The same question applies to H.P. Lovecraft’s weird tales as The Whisperer In Darkness: How much inspiration got Lovecraft from these remote hills in New England and did his story influence modern stories, reports of sightings, and Ufo-lore? 

We don’t know. But what we see is a theme that runs like a unifying thread through stories, movies, and folklore. And it is something we find not only in these hills in Vermont:

“The dense, unvisited woods on those inaccessible slopes seemed to harbour alien and incredible things, and I felt that the very outline of the hills themselves held some strange and aeon-forgotten meaning, as if they were vast hieroglyphs left by a rumoured titan race whose glories live only in rare, deep dreams” (H.P. Lovecraft, The Whisperer in Darkness).

This is what the Lovecraft Forest is and if we inspect the haunted forests of this world we might come across these mysteries.