“They’re not my family.”
Apart from Tolkien, there is probably no bigger influence on the fantasy worlds that make up the backdrops of most tabletop games than H.P. Lovecraft. The weird horror he pioneered in the early 20th century not only helped create a genre, but spawned an entire industry around it.
Many of Lovecraft’s stories have crossed over into film, to mixed results. While some have become legends rivaling Lovecraft’s own work, i.e. Re-Animator (1985), others, like the 2020 adaptation of Colour Out of Space (original spelling) fall far short of the authors original intentions. I was very much looking forward to this first in evidently a series of Lovecraft big-screen modern retellings but unfortunately, my track record of being in a minority on certain horror films continues with Colour.
For starters, the 2020 adaptation was directed by Richard Stanley, the same director behind the massively disastrous 1996 Island of Doctor Moreau. I remember watching that film when it first came out and noting its quirkiness but not being impressed too much by it overall, apart from Val Kilmer’s ridiculous performance. But rewatching it after Colour, I can see the clear parallels between it and the 2020 Lovecraft adaptation.
Both film’s have a mixed bag of cinematography with some shots being truly elegant and mesmerizing, with others looking really amateurish and practically made-for-tv. This corresponds with the overall tone of both films as a blend of high and low quality. There is a weird mishmash of the banal with the absurd with the horrific with a camp tone that matches this disparity as well and it is not only jarring, but the transitions happen so rapidly I was getting whiplash. Colour just doesn’t seem to know how far or in which direction it wants to go. I can understand this was the film’s intent, but you can do camp with horror that still feels tonally the same, i.e. Evil Dead.
Released in the wake of Mandy (2019) which I loved, I also couldn’t help compare Colour to the prior film, which also starred Nicolas Cage. Where Mandy excelled in using Cage’s quirks to its advantage, his outbursts in Colour seemed forced and the camera and scenes lingered far too long on his performance, suspending some of the stoic mania that Mandy captured so well, replacing it with the slapstick Cage that he has long been made fun of for. I happen to like Cage’s performances a lot, but here, they really brought me out of every scene he was in. Again, you can do camp and ‘meta’ but if it pulls you out of the film, it’s hard to justify the effect as successful.
The supporting cast was also unfortunately very lackluster, including characters that apart from serving as trippy guest appearances (Tommy Chong) or as obvious audience stand-ins (Elliot Knight), none of them were particularly memorable or engaging. The various snippets of side-plots like the mayor’s corruption, the daughter’s wicca, the aborted love plot, the mother’s cancer and obvious nod to her later end, just confirmed for me the film’s inability to focus and provide a consistent tone. And as someone whose all-time favorite film is John Carpenter’s The Thing, the special effects, mostly CGI it seemed, were less than impressive. I really struggled to get through this movie in theaters (back when those were a thing).
The overall plot of the film is fairly straight forward – alien descends on a family’s farmland, begins to drive them insane and poisons the water-well and everything else within a few miles with its eldritch taint. Madness, murder and mutations occur.
Despite my feelings on the movie overall, I did for the most part enjoy seeing the Colour displayed on the big screen. A little too heavy on the CGI, the monster nevertheless evokes the terrifying awe that I think Lovecraft would have intended for it. It also presents a nice threat for a small out-of-the-way community, a perfect staple for D&D. And like demons and devils, the Colour Out of Space provides for a nice cult-like following…
What is the Colour?