Color Out of Space (2019)

*. It’s an old story. H. P. Lovecraft’s 1927 story “The Colour Out of Space” is a classic that’s been filmed many times over the years. I’ve made notes on most of them: Die, Monster, Die! (1965), The Curse (1987), Colour from the Dark (2008), Die Farbe (2010), and Feed the Light (2014). And these, I should add, are only the more direct page-to-screen translations. Any story where a farmer finds a glowing meteorite out in his field that turns out to be something pretty awful derives from the same source. So add The Blob, and the Stephen King episode from Creepshow to the list.
*. Given that it’s an old story, told many times before, did we need this new version? Did we need Lovecraft, in director Richard Stanley’s words, to be dragged into the twenty-first century? Well, I think I needed it. Specifically, I needed to see some all-out practical gore and monster effects done in the manner of Carpenter’s The Thing just to remind me of what they looked like. I needed mutant alpacas. I also needed Nicolas Cage totally losing his shit, because let’s face it, there are few things as enjoyable in movies today as watching Nicolas Cage have a meltdown. It’s the whole reason to watch a movie like Mandy. I guess I also needed to see Tommy Chong again, just to know he’s still with us. And finally, if I can find one, I think I need a Miskatonic University t-shirt. Even though I never got accepted.
*. I didn’t know I needed all these things, and I’m thankful to Color Out of Space for them (though I don’t know if I’ll ever get that t-shirt). This movie was sort of like a horror enema I had to take after so many lousy new fright flicks.
*. Did I also miss Richard Stanley? To be honest, I’m not sure why such a cult has grown up around this guy. Was Hardware that auspicious a debut? Was Dust Devil that good? Was he treated that unfairly in getting canned from The Island of Dr. Moreau? I’m not denying he has talent, but I have to think that a lot of his legendary status is due to the fact that he hasn’t done much. Before this he hadn’t made a feature in over twenty years. That’s quite a while to be out of work.
*. Is this the best film version of Lovecraft’s story? I’d rate Die Farbe higher, but this is still a respectable effort. The visual texture, with all its lurid magenta light and transformed flora and fauna recalls Annihilation, as does the link between the alien force and cancer. Coincidence? I note in passing that in his review of Color Out of Space Robbie Collin says that Lovecraft’s story was “already semi-adapted by Alex Garland in Annihilation.” I don’t know if he was aware of the book by Jeff VanderMeer.
*. This film and The Grudge (2020). Two horror movies released within months of each other, both featuring a scene with a woman at a cutting board in the kitchen slicing her fingers off. Another coincidence?
*. I wasn’t as blown away by the effects as some reviewers. The light show didn’t seem all that special and I thought that after nearly forty years they should have been able to do monster effects at least as good as in The Thing. But I guess that movie really did set a standard that’s never since been equaled.
*. What I did like was the appearance of the house at night. Its lights make it look like a spaceship, which must have been intentional. I think it makes for a fitting incongruity. A bit of backwoods alien-ness before the alien(s) even arrive.
*. The script could have been tighter. Why bother with all the stuff about Lavinia being a witch? Tell me you didn’t roll your eyes when Benny decides he just has to go down the well to look for the dog, or when Ward and the cop have to go looking for Ezra in his cabin. These are moves straight out of the most idiotic of idiot plots.
*. On the plus side, however, I thought the destruction of the family was very well handled, particularly with the surprisingly bleak fate of the mother and her youngest son. A suitably sickly atmosphere is evoked in eldritch Portugal (where the film was shot). The last act drags a bit (they should have kept Cage’s character around), but overall it seemed well paced.
*. A critical success but a total bomb at the box office. Apparently Stanley had plans for doing a Lovecraft trilogy but I’m not sure he’ll be getting the chance. Which, in turn, will likely only make his reputation grow.
*. Still, I liked it. Cage’s performance actually outshines all of the effects, and if he’s basically doing a sort of parody of himself now that’s fine with me. Samuel L. Jackson has been doing the same thing for years and it works for him too. So maybe not the Lovecraft we deserve, but the one we need. I hope we get more.

4 thoughts on “Color Out of Space (2019)

      1. tensecondsfromnow

        That would be Stanley, getting in over his head! I contacted him about a doc idea, and got back one of the most friendly, open emails I’ve ever had. He’s a smart guy who has big ideas and doesn’t want to water them down; more power to him…

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