One of the interesting parts of reading through H. P. Lovecraft’s stories in chronological order is that you never know what you’re likely to get. One story will be great and then there will be several that are not as good. Medusa’s Coil is a story that I had heard was not good, yet when I began to read it I was actually enjoying it. The story has a B movie feel to it through a fair amount of the story, but I don’t mind that, in fact I like a good B horror movie. The problem is that the end goes so far off the rails that it makes you wonder if it was done intentionally.
The story begins with a man driving a roadster down a lonely country road. He is trying to find a town in Missouri, Cape Gerardo, which I have been to. This adds something to the story though not enough to overcome the end. Anyway, he finds an old run down home and goes into it to ask for directions, but the directions that the old man in the house gives him are complex and it is getting dark so he asks instead if he can stay there.
The man is surprised because no one would want to stay there, but agrees and begins to tell him the story of his son, who married a woman who among other odd things had coiled strange hair that seemed to move on its own when you were not looking at it. That is right, the story of Medusa’s Coil actually has a character in it who might be Medusa.
The story continues telling a lot of history of the man and the house, but also of a good friend of his sons who is an artist. The artist comes and eventually asks to paint the woman, but won’t let anyone see the paining. He spends months and while he is there the boy she is married to leaves.
This leads into the B movie horror aspects of the story, which are spoilers so if you don’t want them you might want to stop.
So the son returns without warning, sends away the servants, sees the picture goes insane and kills his wife and cuts off her hair. Except that the hair seems to be alive and crawls up the stairs to where the artist is and attacks him. The old man then arrives to see the two dead people and his son insists he burn the paining and the bodies.
Instead, the man buries the bodies and looks at the paining. This is clearly a mistake, but it seems that the hair is actually alive in the painting as well and the man knows that burying it had not stopped it.
The story then cuts back to the present time as the old man asks the visitor if he would like to see the paining. Naturally the man says yes and they go up to it. When the man sees it he is so upset that he pulls out a gun(which had never been mentioned in the story until now) and shoots the painting. This destroys the painting and seems to free the woman and hair.
They flee from the house knocking over a candle as they go and the house begins to burn as the man runs away. This is when you get to the second of the escalating levels of absurdity, moving up from the hair that is crawling across the floor attacking people. The man jumps in his car and rushes down the road talks to a man and discovers that… the house burnt down five years ago.
I have no idea why this was necessary and you may assume that this is as absurd as the story could possibly get, but you still have the greatest horror, at least to H.P. Lovecraft. This one is so completely stupid that you have to read the story because if you understand how awful the final point is and are prepared then it actually has the potential to reach the so bad its hilarious level of writing.
If you can get over the idea of the main villain of this story being hair or if you simply enjoy the absurdity of this then this is a story that is actually fun to read, but if you’re offended by something that someone who has been dead for most of a century wrote then this is a good story to avoid.