Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Can H.P. Lovecraft, Nicolas Cage, and Modern Horror Tropes Mix? COLOR OUT OF SPACE Will Answer This Question

Film adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft's fiction have a record as mixed as Lovecraft's legacy. Some of them are very good (I'm looking at you Call of Cthulhu), some are fun (like Re-Animator), and some are best left to the dustbin of history (no, I'm not linking The Unnamable).

There's no doubt that there is rich potential in Lovecraft's fiction that can be exploited and adapted to a modern environment. Cosmic horror, the terror of knowing that in the end everything is meaningless, is a truly terrifying concept. We can fight that fear with nihilism or irony, but it still lingers in the backs of our minds. What if nothing matters? That is the question at the heart of much of Lovecraft's fiction and it is a question that digs deep into our subconscious.

Film makers like Guillermo Del Toro have discussed making a big budget adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness, but derivative films like Prometheus present challenges to film makers who want to go straight to the source in the same way that Star Wars and Avatar present challenges to those who want to make Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom tales on the big screen. There is the risk that audiences will think that a film inspired by the original material is the derivative film.

Stepping into this challenging market is Color Out of Space. The film is written and directed by Richard Stanley, who directed 1990's Hardware. You remember Hardware right? No? I liked it, but you might not. It's in the "not everyone's bag" category of film. This leaves me thinking the film could be good, or it could be very bad. The cast includes Nicolas Cage, Tommy Chong, and Joely Richardson, a cast that leaves me feeling the same way as the choice of director. If Nicolas Cage goes full Nicolas Cage, or dials his Cage level to Zero, the film could be great. If Cage sets the Cage level to 5, it could be trouble. I cannot tell by the trailer which Cage we are getting, so I'm still on the fence.

This isn't the first time that The Colour Out of Space has been adapted to film. Die, Monster, Die! (1964) adapted the story, with some liberties, and Wil Wheaton starred in an adaptation called The Curse in 1987. Die, Monster, Die! is on my annual horror viewing list, but I've not seen The Curse or heard anything good about it.

The story itself is a classic Lovecraftian tale, that draws more than a little imagery from American Gothic fiction and in particular Washington Irving's "Legend of Sleepy Hollow."

Compare the introduction to "Colour":

"West of Arkham the hills rise wild, and there are valleys with deep woods that no axe has ever cut. There are dark narrow glens where the trees slope fantastically, and where thin brooklets trickle without ever having caught the glint of sunlight. On the gentler slopes there are farms, ancient and rocky, with squat, moss-coated cottages brooding eternally over old New England secrets in the lee of great ledges; but these are all vacant now, the wide chimneys crumbling and the shingled sides bulging perilously beneath low gambrel roofs" -- H.P. Lovecraft, "The Colour out of Space" 1927.
 To the introduction to "Sleepy Hollow":

"In the bosom of one of those spacious coves which indent the eastern shore of the Hudson, at that broad expansion of the river denominated by the ancient Dutch navigators the Tappan Zee, and where they always prudently shortened sail and implored the protection of St. Nicholas when they crossed, there lies a small market town or rural port, which by some is called Greensburgh, but which is more generally and properly known by the name of Tarry Town. This name was given, we are told, in former days, by the good housewives of the adjacent country, from the inveterate propensity of their husbands to linger about the village tavern on market days. Be that as it may, I do not vouch for the fact, but merely advert to it, for the sake of being precise and authentic. Not far from this village, perhaps about two miles, there is a little valley or rather lap of land among high hills, which is one of the quietest places in the whole world. A small brook glides through it, with just murmur enough to lull one to repose; and the occasional whistle of a quail or tapping of a woodpecker is almost the only sound that ever breaks in upon the uniform tranquillity" -- Washington Irving, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" 1820.
The paragraphs are by no means identical, but both set the stage for bucolic New England farmlands that hide horrors in the shadows. Lovecraft's almost reads like a sequel to Irving.

Check out the trailer and let me know what you think. 

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