September 23, 2020

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Lovecraft adaptation delivers recognizable horror

Director gives much-adapted tale of terror a timely environmental twist

H. P. Lovecraft’s short story The Color out of Space has been filmed at least four times before, the best known versions being the 1965 B-movie horror Die, Monster Die!, starring Boris Karloff, and the 1987 video-store staple The Curse, starring Wil Wheaton.

Richard Stanley’s new film, simply titled Color out of Space, is the most faithful of the lot, right down to the Lovecraftian purple prose that ends the film, courtesy of narrator Ward (Elliot Knight).

A hydrologist who comes to the town of Arkham to do a study of the water table in the area prior to a planned hydro project, Ward is one of Lovecraft’s classic designated witnesses to mind-boggling terror.

The hydrology assignment places Ward in the proximity of the Gardner family, whose patriarch, Nathan (Nicolas Cage), is doing his darnedest to keep it together. His wife Theresa (Joely Richardson) is a cancer survivor trying to re-establish her career as a financial consultant. Daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) is acting out a fascination with the occult. Son Benny (Brendan Meyer) is an aspiring pothead, and younger son Jack (Julian Hilliard) is, well, stressed about everything.

SpectreVision</p><p>Julian Hilliard as Jack, whose family member begin behaving strangely after a mysterious meteorite crashes on their property.</p>

SpectreVision

Julian Hilliard as Jack, whose family member begin behaving strangely after a mysterious meteorite crashes on their property.

Also lurking around the place is a burnt-out hippie, Ezra (Tommy Chong), who squats on the Gardner property.

A mysterious meteorite falls smack in the back yard of the Gardners’ rural farm property, but of course, this is no run-of-the-mill bit of space debris. For one thing, the glowing hot rock disappears the morning after it touches down. From there, the family is subject to escalating terrors, including a psychedelic light emanating from the well, strange behaviours by the alpaca herd in the barn, and then even more strange behaviours from the Gardners themselves.

Director Stanley has had something of a tragic career. He started strong with his 1990 indie feature Hardware, a solid science-fiction offering about a malevolent robot. Things sidetracked horribly when he was fired from the 1996 feature The Island of Dr. Moreau. (If you believe the 2014 documentary Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau, he was sabotaged from the start by both Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer.)

Color Out of Space, then, is something of a late-career comeback for Stanley, and as such, it’s a solid success. He layers the story with some hallucinogenic visual effects (it is no accident that Tommy Chong is in the movie) that somehow dovetail nicely with Cage’s progressively unhinged performance as the dad gone mad. That’s not to discredit Cage. His brand of over-the-top works here.

It is unfortunate timing that the film is being released near the recent death of director Stuart Gordon, whose made a name for himself with his own run of Lovecraft projects (Re-Animator, From Beyond, Dagon) which layered Lovecraft stories with a very contemporary perversity that made them modern horror classics.

Comparing Color Out of Space to that body of work is not quite fair. For all its grotesque visual effects, Stanley is aiming to make Lovecraft relevant, with a movie about an environmental catastrophe that, while not man-made, is dismayingly recognizable.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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