Okay, let’s get the big one out of the way: the huge obvious change Color Out of Space makes that would have Mr. Lovecraft himself rolling in his grave:
They spelled the word ‘Colour’ without the ‘U’!
Come on, guys! It was his favourite work and he was insistent on this!
HP Lovecraft is one of the best known horror writers of the 20th century, despite the fact that most people have not read his work. He is best known for creating the Cosmic Horror genre and subsequently the eldritch god Cthulhu, among others. He was also a gigantic racist, a massive xenophobe, a colossal anti-semetic (even though he married a Jewish woman), and a pre-WW2 Nazi sympathyser. Let’s be very clear on that. While I do enjoy his writings (few though I have read) and I can sympathize with his tragic backstory (both parents were locked in mental hospitals where they later died [one of syphilis and one of a gallbladder surgery gone wrong after being locked up for what is now thought to be severe anxiety], their family’s money being mishandled by relatives after his grandfather’s death thus leaving him fairly impoverished for much of his life, and dying relatively young from intestinal cancer at 46), I cannot ignore what a massive piece of crap he was as a person. That doesn’t stop me from enjoying his works, I just can’t ignore the racism stemmed through them. It’s like how I can still enjoy Harry Potter even though JK Rowling is a massive transphobe. Also, he’s dead so it’s not like he’s not getting money from it. Okay? Okay.
Funny enough the original story, ‘The Colour Out Of Space’, is actually part of the larger Cthulhu Mythos, as it’s called, which is basically anything set in the same universe as his cosmic horror stories. So, more ‘Dunwich Horror’ and ‘Shadow Over Innsmouth’ than, say, ‘Cool Air’. It was also Lovecraft’s favourite and is considered by many, including himself (who was notorious for hating his own work), to be his best work. I personally think it runs a bit long at the end, but it is probably the least racist of his works. So, there’s that. If you want to try and get into his stories, it’s a good starting place. All of his fiction is considered public domain so it’s easy enough to find online though there are full collections of his fiction and individual releases if you prefer it in physical form.
Color Out of Space, set in the modern day as opposed to the original’s 1880s, is about the Gardner Family who live in the rural area an hour out of Arkham, MA (A recurring city in Lovecraft’s works, home to Miskatonic University which is also a recurring feature, and what Batman’s Arkham Asylum was named after). One night, a meteor falls out of the sky and lands on their farm, glowing a “mysterious colour, unlike any seen on Earth”. Slowly, it’s revealed that this alien colour is feeding on the family and their farm (Messing with their tech, poisoning the well water, making their crops bad, etc.), causing them to one by one lose their minds and, eventually, their lives. All while this one guy does a survey to help create a new reservoir.
I swear that is the only time I will quote Overly Sarcastic Productions in this review.
One thing to say up front, the visuals are amazing. This is only a $6 million film. How are the effects this good? This is easily the prettiest horror film I’ve ever seen, aside from maybe a del Torro film, and I don’t only mean because of all the magenta. The colours are bright and the surroundings are clear even at night. Though the glowing color helps with that.
Either the director or the effects guy, as my friend said, “clearly had The Thing on the brain” when he made the movie. There’s a lot of good practical body horror effects and puppets. It’s always a breath of fresh air to see practical effects being used in the 21st century. They always look so much better than most CGI we see in mainstream movies. The effects alone are worth the price of admission, but there’s more to this film than that.
Quick warning though: if you don’t like animals hurt or dying, you might wanna avoid this movie. I swear that didn’t happen in the book.
A big improvement on the book is that they gave the members of the Gardner family actual personalities. In the book, they’re your basic idyllic and charming family with not much else to them other than just being nice and farmers. This does not make for interesting characters so props for actually making me care about them. The mother is recovering from breast cancer surgery while working as a financial advisor, the eldest is a stoner, the middle child is now a girl and a Wiccan, the youngest is your standard precocious child, and the father (Nathan instead of Nahum in the book. The others were all renamed.) is just trying to make things better for his family by moving from the city to raise alpacas. Watching them go mad one by one is heartbreaking, especially after having seen them spending time as a family (and hearing the mother’s discomfort with her body following her surgery and the father’s assurances that he still loves her…my mother has breast cancer so this hits a bit close to home), and the performances reflect that. Even the child actor and you know good child actors are hard to find. Does Cage ham it? Oh, hell yes. I’d honestly call his performance more along the lines of Jack Nicholson’s performance of Jack Torrance from The Shining than the character from the book, to great effect I might add.
While it, obviously, doesn’t follow the book exactly, it does follow the same relative beats of the book. Though modernised, the major events are essentially the same as the book, providing the same creepy tension and atmosphere that made the book so scary to begin with, with the one exception of the thrownaway mention of the middle child disappearing before the eldest. The daughter, Lavinia, lives past her male counterpart’s role in the original story. She’s definitely a stand out, basically being the female lead, and gives representation to the Wiccan and pagan communities. Her magic isn’t seen as evil, far from it. It’s white magic and she’s first seen using it to try to heal her mother. It’s only the magic in her copy of The Necronomican, a recurring element in Lovecraft, that is seen as evil. I know next to nothing about Wiccan or any religion like it so I can’t say if the portrayal is accurate or not, but it’s not a negative portrayal. I’ll give it that.
The character of Ward Phillips is basically a combination of the nameless narrating surveyor, Amni Pierce, who tells said narrator about what happened to the Gardner family years before, and the scientists from Miskatonic University who initially examine the meteor. This is, presumably, to narrow down the amount of characters and streamline the story. Amni’s role is also split further between the elderly crazy neighbour Ezra (Played by Chong of Cheech & Chong) and the Sheriff, who’s name is Pierce. There’s also a corrupt government official, because of course there is. Thankfully, the mayor’s a very minor character who mainly exists to make sure the reservoir gets built. They leave out the reason why Ward doesn’t want to drink from said reservoir, but I guess it can be attributed to trauma even without the final image.
For years, this story was considered unfilmable, but Stanley and crew have found a way. Color Out Of Space is an excellent and well made horror film that you should definitely check out if you can. For some reason, theatres aren’t playing it but it is well worth searching for. In my neck of the woods it’s only playing at ArcLight Cinemas so if you’re in the Windy City, look for it there. The director is aiming to make an adaptation of ‘The Dunwich Horror’ after this as part of a trilogy of Lovecraft films and, if they’re as good as this one, I’m all for it.