Director Richard Stanley takes on HP Lovecraft’s ‘Color Out of Space’
Nathan Gardner (Nicolas Cage) has pulled up stakes and moved to the country (to his deceased father’s remote, wooded estate) to live the simple life. Along for the ride are his cancer-survivor, businesswoman wife Theresa (Joely Richardson), stoner son Benny (Brendan Meyer), Wiccan daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur), and young son Jack (Julian Hilliard).
Sounds like a real Green Acres moment, right? Not by a fuckin’ longshot, as not only is Nate a closet alcoholic and possible avatar for the spirit of his dead pappy (he even talks like Daddy Dearest when he’s stressed A.F.), he’s also invested a small fortune in alpacas in a desperate bid to be a success to make his dead patter proud… as one does.
Anyway, that isn’t going great, but things go even less great when a meteor crashes on Nathan’s property and begins having a negative effect on the land and all who live near it, resulting in an existence akin to a blacklight poster from hell… replete with bodies swirled and mangled into near abstraction!
There is a sublime genius at play in Color Out of Space, and cinematic sorcerer Richard Stanley has conjured another effective and original fright flick to add to his legacy (which includes classics Hardware and Dust Devil). Armed with the original terror tale of the same name by author of nightmares H.P. Lovecraft, Stanley, along with co-writer Scarlett Amaris, have taken the material into a whole other dimension of the bizarre.
Now the space-born pseudo-virus that infects the environment in which it finds itself was there from the original text, but Stanley adds layers of witchcraft, channeling, shamanism, and a fractured family dynamic that takes the narrative into straight up “what in the fuck?” territory numerous times, and leads to the entire affair being infinitely as watchable as it is strange.
Of course, the material is only as good as the actors that bring it to life (or some such bullshit), and here the film succeeds as well because only the organic performance of Nicholas Cage could do this one justice. My dude is a caring, off-beat patriarch one minute, and a emotionally deranged madman the next… and back again… and he is almost a scarier proposition to deal with than the terror from beyond the stars.
The supporting cast is up to the task at hand as well with Richardson, Arthur, and Tommy Chong (as the colorful and lovable shaman Ezra) being the standouts.
Mention must also be paid to how the alien is presented, with those that encounter the entity succumbing to a blissful, synesthesia-like blast of color and sensation… which of course isn’t as beautiful as it may seem, and turns ever more sinister as time passes (and is lost by those within the presence’s sphere of influence)… which leads to body horror of the most nauseating kind, all of it realized with effective and creative special effects that will surely satisfy horror hounds slavering for something diseased and fleshy to sink their teeth into!
In the end, Color Out of Space is arguably the most blazingly original Lovecraft adaptation yet; it’s a surreal, disturbing, lunatic fever dream and must be experienced to be believed!
Color Out of Space plays as part of Proctors’ It Came from Schenectady series on Wednesday the 22nd at 7 pm. Tickets can be purchased here. Only in Theaters January 24th!
As an added bonus, yours cruelly recently had an opportunity to chat with Color Out of Space’s director Richard Stanley!
Nippertown: How did your experiences in The Zone (as documented in Stanley’s documentary The Otherworld) inform the setting of Color Out of Space… the space seems a hotbed of strong spiritual energy (the witchcraft of Lavinia, Tommy Chong’s shamanistic Ezra calling it home, Cage’s Nathan channeling his dead father’s affectations when faced with stress) before Lovecraft’s cosmic entity even makes the scene?
Richard Stanley: I was hoping to make the film on location, so that fed directly into the material. The Zone is an area 200 square miles in the French Pyrenees so this reflects a bunch of pretty odd things that have happened in real life.
Notably, one plot aspect ported directly into Color is the issue with the hippy marginal character making analog recordings of the character moving below his house, which is something that actually happened in our neck of the woods in the early ‘90s. it was a hippy marginal guy recording what he believed were aliens moving around under the mountain on which he was living. He played these recordings on French national television in the ‘90s, which ended up sparking a mass hysteria outbreak which got so bad the French military declared a state of martial law in the area in 2012 when the Mayan calendar broke out, to seal off any public access to the mountain… and the more the military tried to seal off access to the mountain, the more people believed there was something under the mountain they were deliberately trying to hide… it basically upped the ante throughout. That’s something I brought in from real life.
I’ve also been interested in first hand accounts of people who believe they have encountered aliens or ultra-dimensional beings. I’m not really a believer that technological craft are visiting this planet, but certainly odd things and similarities in accounts you hear of repressed memories, distorted perception of space/time, different scents and colors… the sensation of sweet smells or very bitter smells when some sort of supernatural event is happening I tend to think are the fingerprints of ultra-dimensional interference met with our consciousness or reality.
NT: Such as the ancient accounts of encountering faeries?
RS: Yeah, aliens are roughly the same thing. The only difference in faeries and little green men, is that the last of the faeries are always about to disappear, and aliens are always about to arrive… aliens are always just coming and faeries are always just going. Otherwise, the symptoms are about the same; you tend to lose time, they have this bad habit of replacing your children… faerie changelings or alien embryos… they seem to be different descriptions of the same phenomena.
I like the idea that rather something from another galaxy, they have always been an immediate part of our environment, we just don’t understand what the hell it is.
NT: What significance is there to the color choice utilized to represent the alien energy?
RS: Like a lot of things in the movie it relates to applying a great deal of mad science to the material, and the idea behind that is it’s based on the human visual spectrum. Us humans can only see between infra-red and ultraviolet. I understand that animals… dogs and cats and things can see a greater visual range than us… at the edge of our perception, ultraviolet and infrared are kind of the borders.
If something wants to enter into our consciousness, it has to come from somewhere and magenta, which we use in the movie, is what you get if you mix those two colors… and the same goes for ultrasound and infra-sound. When a sound is coming into your consciousness it has to come from somewhere… it’s either going to be a high-pitched noise or when it comes down into normal audio range is going to be a deep, low bass that you gradually become aware of… that comes up into your range.
So throughout the movie, we tend to be pushing to the edges of the visual spectrum, and I know the sound design and Colin Stetson’s score is also pushing us towards ultrasound and infra-sound in those same moments to try and give us a sense of what it’s like when your consciousness is stretched to its limits and presumably beyond that.
NT: What power and significance does the usage of triangles have in the narrative?
RS: Well, there is kind of a running ritual in the movie… Lavinia has three beats where we come back to three variants on the same ritual three times… once in the beginning, once in the middle, and once at the end, which gives us something like a triangular structure.
I’m pleased to say that beyond the three acts of the movie itself that Color is going to be the first of a trilogy… two more movies are on the way. We are currently prepping on the follow-up which is going to be a new adaptation of The Dunwich Horror which will take us back on campus to Miskatonic University (a t-shirt for which appears in Color – Dan) for the first time since Re-animator.
It also means well come to grips with the Necronomicon (eagle-eyed viewers will spot a mass-market paperback version of the tome in Lavinia’s possession in Color – Dan) itself, the black book which contains the ritual… the essential core mythology of the Old Ones locked out of our universe coming back into the world to clear mankind from the planet.
So I’m hoping that the aspect of the ritual magick and the Necronomicon and some of the ceremonial stuff that’s creeping into Color will become clearer and more stressed to an alarming degree in the next two movies.
NT: The Dunwich Horror, like Color is a Lovecraft tale with “family” as it’s central theme. Was that a consideration when choosing that story to adapt next?
RS: To an extent, but is also just seemed logical. I kind of wanted to make Dunwich Horror first because I’m so in love with the Whateley family… and I can’t understand why people haven’t done the Whateley’s before beyond casting Dean Stockwell twice in two different Poe-specific adaptations which is kind of a weird approach.
But the whole notion of a MAGA-era backwoods family that have inter-bred with ultra-dimensional demons is just so juicy… and I think the Whateley’s could support their own running television show… and it’s about time someone gave them their moment on screen.
NT: I agree one hundred percent! Back to Color, Nathan’s near OCD fascination with the alpacas resonates to me as a desperate grab at being a success… to matter in his father’s eyes… even though it seems in his heart that the plan is futile. Why alpacas?
RS: There’s something inherently practical about alpacas, and I didn’t want this to be something that anyone had ever seen before. One of the things you’d expect out of Color Out of Space is a core moment that a meteorite comes from space, strikes an isolated farm, and some man in dungarees and a plaid shirt pokes it with a stick… which is a moment we’ve seen in so many 1950’s movies.
I kind of knew that moment couldn’t happen in Color… that it had to happen differently. By the same token, I didn’t want to see a cow, a chicken, or a pig… I figured if they are going to be farmers, they had to be modern day farmers, and whatever they were farming had to be slightly impractical, and if they weren’t farming alpacas it would be Angora goats… they be making Angora sweaters… or maybe it would be ostriches… and ostriches kick so much, I’d like to see what a herd of mutant ostriches growing into one another would look like… but they are much more dangerous to have on set, whereas alpacas are very calm, soothing, sort of zen, docile animals that are really friendly to work with… really difficult to get an emotional response out of them. You had to run up and distract them to get them to act… it was tricky to get them to bellow and rage in pain, but they were pretty friendly movie creatures to be around.
NT: Thank you so much for speaking to us, I have loved your films since I saw Hardware back in the early ‘90s, and Color Out of Space is a true triumph. Before I go though, I have to say you have created a scene so disturbing, I had to actually go and hug my sleeping children once it had ended (obviously I mentioned the specifics of the scene to Richard, but I’m not spoiling that here – Dan).
RS: I’m so glad that worked! That was a strong strategy because in Lovecraft he doesn’t really bother with his characters… he just dispenses with them in about two sentences… he kills off the family and spends three paragraphs describing the trees. There’s a lack of emphasis on humanity in his work that made me want to imagine throughout precisely that; “What if it was my kids… What if it was my mother that was being destroyed by this thing?” which I think gives it a certain amount of emotional weight.
NT: It worked beautifully. Once again thank you again for the interview… and you lot reading this, see Color Out of Space as soon as you can!