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Non-Euclidian Geometry in Horror

When it comes to physical spaces, I call non-Euclidian geometry Nightmare Geometry. The more official term would be non-Euclidian geometry, which deals with 3D objects like spheres, but is often used to talk about this more outlandish design and architecture. Think M. C. Escher’s staircase. Physically, it’s just a series of stairs, but the angles are impossible. It’s strange and mesmerizing. Growing up, my stepmother had a print of this hanging in our house. I was fascinated by it. I couldn’t understand what was going on. It’s like the more you think about it, the less it makes sense.

As human beings, we are incredibly good at finding patterns and shapes in things. These are natural skills that allow us to see anything from a face in a piece of toast to designing symmetrical architecture. But what about the opposite? Can you sense when something is “off” with a shape or design? Maybe not directly, but your gut will tell you something is wrong. This can be used brilliantly in horror, giving the overall sense of wrongness even if you cannot understand why or what is going on.

It all has a dreamlike quality to it, or nightmarish, depending on the situation. And while this is used in mainstream (i.e. not horror) films like Inception, I wanted to take a look at the darker examples of it in movies, video games, and even a strange, but real, house.

The Backrooms

an endless series of hallways. the floor and walls are an off-yellow and bright lights dot the ceiling

What started as a Creepypasta on 4chan evolved and gained traction until eventually becoming a video game. The premise is that sometimes, you will slip out of reality and fall into the so-called Backrooms. “…where it’s nothing but the stink of old moist carpet, the madness of mono-yellow, the endless background noise of fluorescent lights at maximum hum-buzz, and approximately six hundred million square miles of randomly segmented empty rooms to be trapped in.” The idea of being trapped in this grimy apartment-like building forever is horrible enough, but the constant buzzing of the lights would drive me batty.

There is no end to the hallways. You turn a corner, and the room has completely changed layouts. That’s…not possible. You turn around and the way you came in is now gone.

Pie on a Plate Productions created a playable version of this hell that is freely available on Steam (with the option to pay a few dollars and support the developer.) The game mechanic of having to check your watch every 30 seconds to stay sane is a great touch.

Control

Jesse stands in a mining pit, the open sky full of stars and strange black monoliths

Control by Remedy Entertainment is absolutely gorgeous from start to finish, from the design to motion capture and reality-bending story. In Control, you head to the Federal Bureau of Control (FBC), a secret government agency that investigates and researches phenomena that defy the laws of reality. Some of these are called Objects of Power and warp the world around them. In one room you’ll find piles and piles of grandfather clocks. Or a refrigerator that you must maintain eye contact with at all times.

The FBC building itself is warped and nearly impossible to navigate. Thankfully the main character, Jesse, develops powers that help her deal with this, but I feel bad for the regular office clerks! Going out for a quick lunch is probably not the easiest task. It’s what I imagine working with X-Files would be like on a grander scale.

There’s a section of the game titled the Ashtray Maze. It resembles a hotel much like the Overlook from The ShiningHallways stretch and shrink, walls open and close behind you, the rooms themselves rotate and soon you’ll find yourself walking on the walls and ceilings. All while a kicking rock song plays. It’s excellent. Please play Control.

Winchester Mystery House

a woman and man stand in front of a spralling mansion

Now a popular tourist attraction (and reportedly terrible movie), the Winchester Mansion is known for its wild curiosities and lack of a master building plan. With more than 40 bedrooms, 47 fireplaces, and three elevators, it sounds like a nightmare to live in. For whatever reason, there was also only one working toilet. Good luck finding it at 3 AM!

The story goes that after her husband’s death, Sarah Winchester was told by a medium to continuously build herself a house, lest she be haunted by the countless ghosts of Winchester rifle victims. Whether this is true or the widow was simply relishing the most expensive hobby of all time, I’m not really sure. Either way, it resulted in a ridiculous house.

The mansion has inspired the Disney Haunted Mansion and has been featured in many ghost-hunting TV Shows and even an episode of American Horror Story.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child

a woman yells at two people in a distorted dream world

Remember that M.C Esher artwork I mentioned earlier? It directly makes an appearance in the fifth installment of A Nightmare on Elm StreetThe titular dream child, Jacob, has begun to gain Freddy-like powers and uses them to make imaginative dream worlds with dizzying perspectives. We’re lead on a chase through strange stairways and multiple angles and it’s a treat for the eyes. It’s quite a fun part of the film, and the rest is nothing to sneeze at either! They truly went all out with the dream sequences in this one.

Cube 2: Hypercube

3 people, two woman and a man, are trapped inside a giant cube. the space is brightly lit and there are geometrical shapes on all the walls. one woman sits up while the others lay on the ground unconscious.

The first Cube movie deals with very straightforward geometry of, well, cubes. The second one goes into reality-bending as the characters realize they are trapped in some sort of tesseract. Gravity doesn’t make sense, one room famously makes a couple age rapidly to later be found as mummies, and another shows a woman dying in an alternate reality. It’s not as good as the first Cube film, and the CGI is a bit dated looking now, but the visuals are interesting enough to keep you entertained for the run time.

Many, many stories use non-Euclidian geometry to help add an extra layer of strangeness and confusion to their narratives. Lovecraftian and Cosmic Horror is especially known for this. As many Old Gods or higher being in these stories are “beyond comprehension,” so should their structures. To behold something we have no reference point for, no way to relate to it or begin to understand, now that’s a truly horrifying thought.

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Written by Lor Gislason

Lor is a body horror enthusiast from Vancouver Island, Canada. Their first novella, INSIDE OUT, releases in Fall 2022 from D&T Publishing. Find them on twitter @lorelli_

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