Welcome back, Richard Stanley. We’ve missed you.
In 1996 we were delivered a film adaptation of H.G. Wells’s novel The Island of Doctor Moreau. It was credited to director John Frankenheimer, but the story behind the scenes was darkly hilarious. Richard Stanley had always wanted to adapt this book, a favorite of his from childhood, and got the filming started before stars Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer drove him so insane that he climbed a tree and wouldn’t come down. The studio took his movie away and it wound up being one of the most fun disasters in film history. He’s been hiding away in Europe for over two decades at this point, only now releasing a narrative film. I’m glad he got this out there, it’s a wonderful return to the stage for him.
“The Colour Out of Space” is a short story by H.P. Lovecraft. His weird, universal madness has been dissected by fans and critics for generations at this point and Richard Stanley has been a fan since his youth. The story, and adaptation as well, revolve around the Gardner family. These down-to-Earth folks live on a farm outside of the fictional Arkham, Massachusetts, and begin to experience some weird shit when a meteor lands on their property. Stanley’s film takes things in a different direction after positing that the stone infects the ground. All of Lovecraft’s pieces are here, lovingly guided by a fan into modern-day America. It’s a new type of story that uses a lot of ideas I never thought would work onscreen.
I have to give props to Nicholas Cage (Nathan Gardner) for his comeback. A few years back we got to see him going batshit in Mandy. It was exciting to see this guy back in his element, a spot that he had been absent from for years. I was worried when I got a few minutes into The Color Out of Space, watching Cage mull around calmly with his dad-bod on full display, but it doesn’t take long for him to start going bananas and by the end of the film he’s through the looking-glass. He’s supported by Joely Richardson (Theresa Gardner), Madelaine Arthur (Lavinia Garnder), Brendan Meyer (Benny Gardner), and a few odds and ends. Elliot Knight is around as Ward Phillips, a hydrologist and the mouthpiece of reason in the film. I’d count him among the main cast but he’s absent for so much of it that I almost forgot him in places. His character and that of Tommy Chong (Ezra) are underutilized and it’s a flaw of the film. There’s an inconsistent structure early on in the film that makes for a weird first hour, but it finds its footing in the back half.
The intricate visuals are, for the first time, rendered in a way that FEELS like H.P. Lovecraft. Physical space can be distorted in a lot of interesting ways, often merely by scratching the film or adding effects in post, but Stanley takes a lot of care to make this as wibbly as possible (which should be a big ol’ “doy” for any H.P. Lovecraft fans) and the result is a psychadelic miracle of low-budget horror. I’ve wanted to see something that truly held up to what the style of storytelling was capable of, as Lovecraft is a specific type of maddening to adapt, but Stanley is the first to truly grasp the material and be able to make something out of it that lived up to the hype.
The film is flawed, there’s no question about it. The first hour is slow and sort of numbing for your mind, but it pays off in the back half by assaulting you with some of the finest insanity I’ve seen in a while. Your mileage will vary, but for my money this is one of the finest examples of Lovecraftian horror you could ask for.