Color Out Of Space director Richard Stanley is best known as the filmmaker who had to suffer through the truly cursed shoot of 1996’s The Island of Dr Moreau. With such an unlucky experience in his back pocket, though, comes perhaps the perfect qualification to tackle HP Lovecraft, whose horror novels and short stories have proved deeply difficult to bring to the big screen, insistent as they are on focusing in on the terror of the indescribable. Whether it’s the Garth Marenghi-esque ‘70s take on The Dunwich Horror or Guillermo del Toro being unable to find adequate funding for At the Mountains of Madness, Lovecraft fans have been starved of quality adaptations. Until now.
Bringing one of Lovecraft’s short stories into the present day, Color Out Of Space has all the requisite ingredients of typical Lovecraft – mind-warping body horror, visions of ancient evil, a heroic academic from the Miskatonic University – but Richard Stanley adds two crucial new ingredients. One is a healthy dose of goofiness. The other is Nicolas Cage. Color Out Of Space is pretty open in its ambition to fill the same sort of niche that Mandy did in 2018, and a wild Cage performance is absolutely central to that.
He plays Nathan Gardener, an alpaca farmer in rural Massachusetts whose life and family are torn apart when a glowing pink meteorite lands in his front yard. The light emanating from this space rock initially just subtly affects the minds of the people near it, but it’s not long before time is being warped and gruesome eldritch horrors are unleashed. Some of the gore here is truly horrendous, and there’s an extended sequence of body horror that becomes an outright endurance test in both its physical grotesquery and metaphorical implications. It creates a brilliantly intense atmosphere that Stanley’s script (co-written by Scarlett Amaris, a truly perfect name for a Lovecraft adapter) only very occasionally breaks with the darkest of dark humour.
Key to this comedy working is Cage. He’s constantly walking the line between silly and scary, each mood complimenting the other. It’s not quite as finely tuned to the film around it as his performance in Mandy was, but it’s still a hell of a lot of fun to be around. The rest of the cast, from Joely Richardson as Nathan’s frustrated wife Theresa to Elliot Knight as a Miskatonic graduate fighting against the evil, are generally solid (though the Gardener kids often border on the annoying), but Color Out Of Space belongs entirely to Cage and the wild special effects.
Befitting the title, Stanley makes a really magical use of colour. The lush, deep greens of the wilderness are immediately immersive before being corrupted by neon blues and pinks that are both captivating and terrifying. The purpose of the original story was to make a simple colour a frightening villain, and it’s a great testament to Stanley and his effects department that this potentially silly concept works so effectively on screen. The real visual masterstroke, though, comes in a sudden absence of colour, in a scene where waves of ash blanket the environment.
After an hour or so of being terrorised by otherworldly colour, Stanley bathes you in grey, and it’s the most beautiful grey you’ve ever seen. On a, presumably, limited budget, Color Out Of Space really does bring Lovecraft to believable life – even giving us a glimpse of the true cosmic scale of his stories, and while it may not be an approach that will work so well with the more Cthulhu-led stories, it is very exciting to see this potential used fully. A fantastic adaptation and a fantastic return to macabre moviemaking for Richard Stanley.