Director: Richard Stanley
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Some Alpacas, Tommy Chong, Joely Richardson, Madeleine Arthur, Elliott Knight, Brendan Meyer, Julian Hillard, Josh C Waller. USA. 1h 51m
Richard Stanley has made a succinct but highly notable list of horror movies over the last 37 years, my personal top favourite is Hardware AKA Mark 13 (1990), a film I associate with so closely I have my own MARK 13 tattooed as part of my sci fi leg piece, Dust Devil (1992) and Island of Dr Monroe (1996) received mixed reviews but retains a solid cult fan base for their unique approach to horror. Somewhere within all of his back catalogue there includes crazy hallucinogenic colour bursts, unknown hidden horrors and strong powerful characters who are usually lost in the heat of the earth.
There was a huge buzz when it was announced that Stanley was involved in the first major film reworking on HP Lovecraft’s Colour out of Space, with some of the backup crew from Panos Cosmatos’s Mandy (2018), what could possibly go wrong? In all fairness I was concerned that the Cageisms would take over the narrative and overacting might derail the action, but Stanley managed to produced a totally breathtaking vibrant film that both stays true to the story while adding in a touch of the avant-garde it’s a truly through proving science fiction experience with lots of horrors and with promises that this is going to be the first of his Dunwich Trilogy it has a lot to live up to.
The basic outline of both the 1927 Book and the movie is of a man trying to make his farm work when something from the darkest part of space crash lands on his property and begins to change the world around him, things being in a subtle way at first before all the high strangeness of Lovecraft’s mythos begins to unfold across the farm and neighbouring landscape.
Nicolas Cage co stars as Nathan Gardner, a highly strung father whos attempt to move his family to his father’s farm in Arkham to raise Alpacas isn’t going to quite to plan, his wife Teresa (Richardson) struggles to get a wifi signal in the attic as she attempts to work and keep the family afloat, the kids spend their time pressed into their hobbies, gaming, toys and his daughter has an obsession with witchcraft and studies the Necronomicon regularly.
The “Colour” arrives on the back of a meteor that crashed into the front yard near the family well, and the colour while a metaphor is described as a violet tinted rainbow but it’s the effects which can’t be easily explained. Stanley’s approach is subtle, he’s happy to show the effects and let the audience debate what’s really going on, but with most Lovecraft stories “it” can’t be explained because we’re too insignificant to understand and at times I have to say that I felt out of my depth but on this rare occasion it felt right. The key to keeping the original feeling of Lovecraft in his stories is to keep the unknowing alive. Stanley also managed to keep his legacy alive too, there’s a reference to Hardware in the teen sons bedroom where he has the phrase No Flesh Shall Be Spared, the chapter of the bible that the death machine is named after, something that seems more relevant to Stanley than the bible for movie fans. There’s also a nod to another classic author who dabbled in progressive sci fi adventures is Algenon Blackwood, who’s cult book the Willows is seen in the hands of the movies hero.
The Gardner family are at the mercy of this astral phenomena, but it’s so truly alien that no one would be prepared, while it cannot be properly defined it does have some secular and dark effects, from a gentle voice which comes from the well, brightly coloured insects, lights in the forest, and eventually it begins to slow down and speed up time, some of the more body horrific effects affect the alpacas which become some kind of mass mess of screaming voices and sinew, melted skin and broken bones, much like the collection of dogs in John Carpenters The Thing, and there’s not much progression from the effects in the 1980’s classic, I personally would have liked to have seen more but the impression that you probably wouldn’t want to see it any clearer is evident in the terrible screaming and fear on the eyes of the characters who witnesses the horrors for the audience.
Another big scene comes after the Alpaca meltdown horror which involves the matriarch and her youngest son (literally), I don’t want to spoil the fun but the results will make you not want to enter the attic alone ever again. And it’s just one of many examples of how Stanley has blended old time horror with the lovecraft unknown terror, he brings the Colour right into the family home.
There is an attempt to create a hero with a character called Ward ( Ward Phillips – aka HoWard Philips Lovecraft clever huh!) (Knight) who plays a “science guy” working in the area, he raises lots of queries about what’s happening in the water in the area especial after the meteor, being the only science guy around he’s chucked a series of questions about anything and everything and apart from falling in love with Lavinia (Arthur) that’s pretty much his role in the movie, he’s the level headed answer that peers into the mess without being directly affected,and this makes him the perfect narrator. Chong’s little cameo is pretty relevant, playing a hippy who lives on the fringe, it’s not hard to see that he’s one of the few people who may have a Way Out concept, he’s probably smoked the colour out of space before it ever arrived.
Stanley certainly has shown himself as still being relevant in the world of cinema once again after a short break of 20 years since The Island of Dr Moroe (1996). I do wonder what magic he’s going to work with the next Lovecraft novel but with his track history of always trying something new he may not repeat again in this exact universe but I feel he’s raised the mark which hopefully will encourage more to do so when tackling such films, either way it’s obviously that no matter what he sets his heart on, he can really make a breathtaking and powerful movie, something quite different and usually much better than all the rest.
For it’s minor shortcomings, taking forever to get going and not showing us enough of that crazy creature in the trees, there’s so much to dig into and love about this freaky adventure that really updates the original short story into something epic and wonderful, he managed to suppress the Cageisms while amping up this gloomy adventure with shockingly sharp effects and opens up the story for more contemplation rather than shutting it down by trying to explain what should not be attempted to be explained.
R: Dagon (2001), Mandy (2018), Dagon (????)
L:A-Z of Lovecraft Cinema
5s: Richard Stanley, Nicholas Cage,