Turning to New York, we have a nearly endless selection to dig into, but we’ll focus on some inspirational imagery. When imagining Prohibition-era East Coast life, we can’t help but draw from the HBO series Boardwalk Empire simply for the incredible costume and set-work alone. While primarily set in Atlantic City, the show includes a good deal of underbelly New York action. The gritty New York gangster film released in 1939, The Roaring Twenties, begins in the trenches of the Great War and offers some classic genre imagery in black and white, as well as incisive social commentary. For fans of such films, this is an absolute classic and features the last paired casting of Bogart and Cagney. When considering the grand social events of the Carlyles, you can turn to any iteration of the Great Gatsby depending upon your preference. We’ll always prefer Redford over DiCaprio, but the 2013 Baz Luhrmann version shines in its visually stunning depictions of society opulence.
For black-and-white New York-based horror, consider the 1942 film, Cat People, as suggested in the campaign book, where a newly-married Serbian fashion artist believes that she belongs to a line of titular cat people, who turn into panthers when aroused to passion. Atmospheric melodramatic, psychological horror ensues. Many regard this work as an early Horror classic that took the genre to new levels and is well worth a view. The sequel and 1982 remake should probably be avoided unless you really dig cat horror. Like the late, great Roger Ebert.
Although not a period-specific contribution, you can also draw a bit of pulp inspiration from the eighth Bond film, Live and Let Die. Released in 1973, this flick features voodoo priests and a Harlem under-belly, and some decent Yaphet Kotto as the feature Bond villain. To contemporary first-time viewers, this won’t have aged well, and it’s best to consider this lesser-ranked Bond movie as an attempt to shoe-horn 007 into the then-popular Blaxploitation genre of the Seventies.
If you have an interest in deeper historical and literary immersion, both new and classic works offer further glimpses into this incredible New York era. During our latest run, we spent some time learning about Harlem through several non-fiction works, including Isabel Wilkerson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Warmth of Other Suns (her latest Caste is also great reading, though not directly game-related). Rudolph Fisher’s The Conjure Mans Dies, originally published in 1932 and re-released in early 2021, may be the first mystery novel written by an African-American and features a Harlem murder investigation filled with occult themes and brilliant investigational work by protagonist Dr. Archer (credit to Simstim for this suggestion). Set in 1924, Victor LaValle’s incredible novella, The Ballad of Black Tom, follows the story of a small-time hustler, Tommy Tester, whose musician persona brings him into contact with Robert Suydam and his dark plans in service of the Old Ones. This book provides an amazing reimagining of The Horror at Red Hook from the perspective of a street-wise Harlemite, and could potentially be tied into your own campaign, if so inspired. We also highly recommend the ENnie-winning Call of Cthulhu sourcebook, Harlem Unbound, by Chris Spivey, which also offers up a trove of inspirational recommendations. This incredible companion can offer plenty of information and material to expand this corner of your campaign.
What other inspirational works do you recommend for the New York Chapter? What film genre did the New York chapter most resemble in your campaign?
2 thoughts on “Chapter Inspiration – NYC”
“The Conjure Man Dies” by Rudolph Fisher. A detective novel written and set in 1930s Harlem. Features a strong occult element plus Dr Archer would make a great CoC Investigator.
Thanks, what a fantastic recommendation! Just re-released this year. Thanks for bringing this one to our attention. We’re definitely going to have to update the post to include this one.