Is “Color Out of Space” the Film H.P. Lovecraft Fans Have Been Waiting For?
Those unfamiliar with the early 20th Century writings of horror icon Howard Phillips Lovecraft (HPL) will be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about. For HPL purists, film adaptations of his work have largely been limited to risible cable tv efforts, so with the UK cinematic release of Color Out Of Space, directed by Richard Stanley (The Island of Dr. Moreau) and starring Nicolas Cage (The Rock, Mandy), is this the start of an exciting development? Not quite, but it’s encouraging nonetheless.
Based on a short story written by Lovecraft in 1927, Color Out Of Space is narrated by a surveyor from a local water authority, who learns of a terrible disaster that befell a local family years before. He is told by a grizzled old local of the time a meteorite crashed into the farmland, turning the well water, livestock and vegetation bad. The family involved eventually succumbing to madness. And that’s the basic plot of the film, although the surveyor – named Ward Phillips in honour of the author – played by Elliot Knight (American Gothic), is transposed to the time of the actual event.
The modern day family, Nathan and Theresa Gardiner (Cage and Joely Richardson), run their small alpaca farm with their three children; Benny, Lavinia and their youngest son, Jack. When said meteorite hits their land, bizarrely causing little more than a small crater consdering its size, things naturally start turning a bit weird and technicolour. And this is where the film shows promise, translating the tension from the source material as Cage unconsciously starts losing his mind as he tries to understand why his world, and family, is falling apart around him. The surrounding vegetation and wildlife starts changing to more vibrant hues of purple and magenta which add to the surreal nature of the story; and Madeleine Arthur’s Lavinia, although caught somewhere between auditioning for reboots of The Craft and Evil Dead, has reason to believe that this may somehow be all her fault.
But in striving too hard for the psychological horror of the source material, director Richard Stanley trips up too. The supplementary characters – with the exception of Knight’s Ward and Arthur’s Lavinia – seem little more than glorified extras. Benny is your average teen pothead (mentored by Tommy Chong no less) who tends to stand around a lot; Joely Richardson is slightly underwhelming as wife and Theresa, although full credit to her for agreeing to some pretty gruesome prosthetics; and youngest son Jack is a color-by-numbers horror film child that we’ve seen countless times before.
There’s a host of inexplicable set pieces too. The handful of alpacas may as well have ‘bait’ hanging from their necks; Cage’s disgust with his produce crop is unintentionally hilarious; the parents leave their children alone for hours in the middle of all this chaos; the ‘color’ is basically a Phantom from Final Fantasy: Spirits Within and Stanley falls into the old ‘it’s extraterrestrial therefore…’ clichés of missing time and the break down of modern technology. With all this happening in a little over 48 hours, it seems a bit too anxious to tell the story at pace, where it may have benefited more from the slower build up of the original. But that’s just me being an HPL purist.
There are some great nods to Lovecraft however. Surveyor, Ward Phillips, is from HPL’s home town of Providence, Rhode Island and wears a ‘Miskatonic University’ t-shirt, a fictional academic establishment often referenced in his work. Ward is also reading The Willows by Algernon Blackwood at one point, Lovecraft’s favourite author; Lavinia owns a copy of the Necronomicon (The ‘Simon’ edition, readily available from online bookstores); and a local weather report mentions fictional towns often associated with Lovecraft such as Arkham, Innsmouth and Dunwich.
It’s these little touches, and the fact it is respectful enough to the original that as a stand alone, it passes as a decent effort warranting a place near the top of Lovecraft movie adaptations. It does feel good to finally have a film worthy of Lovecraft’s twisted cosmic horror, and hopefully the producers at SpectreVision will surpass this with their next release The Dunwich Horror.
Images by Gustavo Figueiredo/RLJE Films
Dave is a long time Star Wars and Tremors fan with an affinity for heavy metal, early 20th century weird fiction and curries. A graphic designer by trade he has self-published a magazine on UFOs and the paranormal, is in the middle of writing a host of short stories and while not picking obscure movie trivia out of his head he can generally be found muttering something about ‘the Elder Gods are coming’.