Could 'The Color Out of Space' Finally Be the Lovecraft Adaptation Cosmic Horror Fans Deserve?

Thursday, 07 November 2019 - 11:53AM
Thursday, 07 November 2019 - 11:53AM
Could 'The Color Out of Space' Finally Be the Lovecraft Adaptation Cosmic Horror Fans Deserve?
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Screenshot: YouTube/RLJE Films
The problem with adapting any of H.P. Lovecraft's short stories to film is that they often aim to describe beings, sensations, or forces that cannot be described. The real horror in Lovecraft's writing is inarticulable: those struck instantly mad by whatever terrors they've witnessed are reduced to having their babbling relayed by Lovecraft's narrators. Those who manage to emerge from their experiences with the unimaginable with their wits intact can only say that what they've seem is unlike anything. How do you depict things whose very appearance or presence causes insanity in a visual medium? How do you convey the feeling of losing your grip on reality, of having your senses betray you, of having your intellect fail to protect you from freshly unlocked regions of your brain to an audience without drugging them with potent hallucinogens or actually injuring them?

The simple answer is that you can't... but you can try. At the very least, you can create a film where watching someone disappear into that vacuum is gripping enough to make you wonder if it could ever happen to you. You leave the audience no reward at the end. You offer no sense of redemption, no happy ending, no answer to the questions you raise, no reason for the fates suffered by the characters. 

Richard Stanley's upcoming adaptation of Lovecraft's The Colour Out of Space (preserving Lovecraft's spelling here) dares to attempt to tackle one of the most difficult short stories in cosmic horror: the invasion, via meteorite, of an alien presence in the form of an indescribable color. Throughout the story, the color is variously described as, among other things, a vapor, a "ghastly miasma," and an "unholy iridescence" that has emerged from the core of this space rock.

Towards the story's conclusion, Lovecraft's narrator can only describe it in negation, suggesting a different order of nature obeying "laws that are not of our cosmos," and therefore completely unknown – and unknowable – to us. "This was no fruit of such worlds and suns as shine on the telescopes and photographic plates of our observatories," the unnamed narrator says. "This was no breath from the skies whose motions and dimensions our astronomers measure or deem too vast to measure. It was just a color out of space – a frightful messenger from unformed realms of infinity beyond all Nature as we know it; from realms whose mere existence stuns the brain and numbs us with the black extra-cosmos gulfs it throws open before our frenzied eyes."

The color is distilled horror and fear. 

Stanley's trailer gives a glimpse of how this color, described by protagonist Nathan Gardner (Nicholas Cage) as unlike "any color I've ever seen before," spreads a psychedelic fuchsia apocalypse that affects everything from livestock to pets to, of course, the very sanity and flesh of those unfortunate enough to be in its vicinity. As the pink stain takes over Gardner's world, he finds himself desperately clinging to his sanity by doing the one thing that never works in a Lovecraft short story: trying to make sense of what's happening. 

Science-fiction and horror fans will immediately note the cinematographic similarities to Alex Garland's adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer's Annihilation (2018), which followed a similar plotline. The Color Out of Space, however, is a decidedly more grim tale. If Stanley sticks with the original ending, he'll be doing his audiences a favor... a better – if you can call it that – approach would be to step into the abyss, as John Carpenter did with his love letter to Lovecraft In the Mouth of Madness (1994) and, more brutally, as Frank Darabont did with his 2007 adaptation of Stephen King's The Mist. 

We're optimistic that Stanley and his cast will make this work  and early indicators are that they've succeeded. Following the film's screening at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this year, The Skinny's Katie Goh wrote that "the film's dread comes from cinematographer Steve Annis' swirls of colour and composer Colin Stetson's eerie synth score" and that it "is at its best when Stanley goes for this subtle and intelligent filmmaking, gesturing at the horror rather than pushing it in our faces." That's exactly the approach to take with The Colour Out of Space. 

The Color Out of Space opens on January 24, 2020.
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