by Miguel E. Rodriguez
Director: Richard Stanley
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Madeleine Arthur, Tommy Chong
My Rating: 9/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 86% Certified Fresh
PLOT: A secluded farm is struck by a strange meteorite which has apocalyptic consequences for the family living there and possibly the world.
Once upon a time, there was a film director named Richard Stanley. He made a few unremarkable films in the early 1990s, toiling in relative obscurity, until he hit the big time in 1996 when he got the opportunity to direct his dream project: a remake of The Island of Dr. Moreau starring none other than Marlon Brando. The story of that film’s troubled production inspired a documentary all by itself (Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau ). Stanley himself was fired after only four days of shooting and replaced by John Frankenheimer. Rumor has it that Stanley secretly convinced the makeup crew to turn him into one of the background mutants so he could keep tabs on his dream project. After Moreau bombed, Stanley’s career imploded, and he never directed another feature film.
…until over twenty years later when an enterprising film production company expressed interest in allowing him to direct another dream project: an adaptation of an H.P. Lovecraft story from 1927 called The Colour Out of Space. To say that Stanley redeemed himself with this film would be an understatement. This is one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen. It was supposed to be the first part of a Lovecraftian trilogy, but alas, Stanley was accused of domestic abuse in March of 2021 and the trilogy was scrapped. One hopes that someone like Guillermo del Toro or Jordan Peele might pick up the promising threads here. [insert good mojo dance here]
Anyway, the movie.
Color Out of Space is, at first glance, an amalgam of previous horror films. One can easily spot elements of The Thing (1982), Annihilation (2018), and David Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986). But when you consider the screenplay has been adapted from a 95-year-old short story, the movie takes on a prescient nature. Here are all the elements of a solid contemporary horror film, in a story that was published the same year sound was introduced to motion pictures for the first time. Remarkable.
The Gardner family lives on a secluded farm in the forests of New England, where the nearest township, Arkham, is an hour’s drive away. (No, Arkham isn’t a Batman reference, it’s Lovecraftian…which might explain why the very name “Arkham Asylum” has always felt a little creepy all by itself.) One night, a meteorite lands with a crash in their front yard. This is no ordinary meteorite. It glows with an unearthly magenta light, and by the following morning it has disappeared. Shortly thereafter, the youngest son, Jack, starts hearing strange noises outside. Mrs. Gardner (Joely Richardson), who is recuperating from cancer surgery, keeps getting disconnected from her business calls. Nathan Gardner (Nicolas Cage) takes a shower one day and discovers what looks like a cake of soap covering the shower drain. He picks it up…and experiences something NO ONE wants to experience after picking up a cake of soap.
Things get stranger. A local hydrologist takes some water samples and urges the Gardner family and their squatter, Ezra (Tommy Chong), who lives in a shack on the Gardner’s vast property, not to drink the water until he gets some test results. Meanwhile, Jack, the youngest son, takes a peek down their well and watches as an alien-looking egg hatches and releases a magenta-colored praying mantis. Mrs. Gardner gets distracted by…something…and has a kitchen accident with a knife. Their daughter, Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur), who dabbles in Wiccan rituals, hears a noise that makes her sick to her stomach. Time passes in fits and starts.
And the whole time, new vegetation has sprouted up around the well. All the same magenta color…
Experienced moviegoers might be able to plot the film’s course from A to B to the climax, and they might be right on. But Color Out of Space has one or two surprises up its sleeve that elevates it into the same level as other modern horror classics like Hereditary (2018) or The Babadook (2014).
There are scenes involving a small herd of alpacas – oh yeah, they raise alpacas – that are as unsettling as anything from John Carpenter. At one point, mother and son are caught in the “grip” of the alien color/light. What happens to them sets up one of the biggest jump scares I’ve ever had in my life. I yelled so loud and long that my girlfriend ran to the back of the house wondering what was happening.
Color Out of Space is one of the most effective horror movies I’ve seen in a long time. Naysayers may refuse to watch it because of Nicolas Cage’s presence, but I can assure you, his “hammy” talents are put to good use and are always in service of the story. It’s not for everyone. It’s not for the squeamish. But for those who dare…Color Out of Space is a horror-film lover’s dream.