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Color Out of Space

Color Out of Space

Nice reality you have there. Be a shame if something bad
happened to it.

dir: Richard Stanley


Color Out of Space is a title that probably doesn’t make a lot of sense. It doesn’t matter. The film itself is flat out fucking bonkers, so it’s perfectly appropriate to the title.

It’s based on a HP Lovecraft short story, with the fuller title of The Colour Out of Space, which is just as meaningless, but the importance of it is that whatever it is that is about to happen is otherworldly. As in, people will see things they should not see, which will leave them forever changed.

A witchy girl (Madeleine Arthur) conducts some kind of ceremony near a lake, and she is interrupted by a surveying hydrologist called Ward (Eliot Knight) who is, surveying something, presumably, other than the witchy girl and her witchy ways. He seems to be pretty familiar with magic ceremonies, and he wears a college t-shirt from, I’m guessing, the Miskatonic University, a common element in Lovecraft’s stuff, and plenty of other horror / fantasy stuff that’s been ripping off Lovecraft for nearly a century. He’s not really a protagonist in all of this, though he is a witness to it: cosmic weirdness is the main character. A family, one to which the witch belongs are the scenery upon which the colour, presumably from out of space, will wreak havoc.

I have pretty much avoided anything with Nicolas Cage in it for many years. As far as I know the last good performance he put in was in Adaptation. Since then I think he lost a lot of his money when some accountant / financial manager / astrologer ripped him off, so instead of being okay in a few good movies every now and then, he went to making as many terrible or pointless movies as possible in order to get some wealthiness back into his life. Again, it’s just what I heard.

Cage gives as awful a performance as we now expect from him, but it’s not inappropriate to the material. If anything, it makes what happens in the movie almost easier to handle. In a different kind of adaptation of this kind of story, we’d be introduced to a family that we came to care about, then they would be put under threat, and we would hope that they somehow find a way to survive.

This is not that kind of story. We are introduced to the family, their dog Sam and their alpacas, then a succession of terrible things happen to them, and then it ends, ominously implying that it will happen again to someone else. That kind of horror flick is usually hard to take.

I didn’t find it hard to take here. What happens to this family after a meteorite slams into the earth outside their house can be taken literally, can be taken figuratively, can be looked at as a commentary on environmental degradation, or people’s anxiety about clean water supply.

There’s no explanation given, no logical sense of what is happening or why. The mechanism at play that warps reality, that distends and mutates all flesh, that permeates everything and leaves it permanently altered, cannot be reasoned with, cannot be fought, cannot be understood. The family members might have had previously, their hopes and dreams, their faults or foibles, none of them mean much of anything in the face of such a cosmic force that cares not for their aspirations.

The mother (Joely Richardson) is recovering from cancer surgery, so she’s not top of the world even before the otherworldly horror starts. The witchy daughter desperately wants out of the boondock Massachusetts town in which they live, but no matter what she does she never seems able to leave. There’s a brother (Brendan Meyer) who smokes dope with the alpacas, and a younger son (Julia Hilliard) who doesn’t have much to do other than be young. The father, as we said, is played by Nicolas Fucking Cage, so he acts strange and offputting completely independent of anything else that’s about to happen.

Here’s where I’m going to do that thing I do talking about some other fucking movie for no good reason: not that it matters that much, but Cage here suffers from the same disease Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining suffers from: he’s an angry abusive jerk even before the supernatural stuff starts, and as such, well, I don’t hope for nice things to happen to him.

Just at the moment, that precious moment, where husband and wife are about to rekindle their “love” for each other in that most physical of ways since the wife’s convalescence post-surgery, the light strikes the ground outside their house. Kind of a weird metaphor for sexual dysfunction, don’t you think?

The light, the strange unsettling light that we’re not meant to be able to see that comes from somewhere else, is, what, alien life itself? A form of alien life so alien to this world and its biology that it does any number of things: it makes Cage shoutier and even somehow stranger than before, which is quite a feat; it makes the mother accidentally cut off her fingers; it makes the dog Sam attack people; it makes existing animals mutate but it also creates new creatures as well. It somehow gets into the water too, it messes with time, it makes people’s phone conversations somehow more aggressive, and in the end it does a number on these poor bastards and everyone that comes in contact with them.

With that being the premise, and, considering the original story this was based on, what we watch with is not trepidation, or concern, but with cold curiousity. The characters end up doing such strange / dumb things, or such strange things happen to them along the way that it becomes less a story about who will survive or will the alien menace be somehow forestalled, and instead becomes a session within which we just watch to see how much weirder shit can get.

There happens to be a scene in the flick that might be fairly minor in the scheme of things, but is pretty revealing in terms of where this director is coming from. This director has not exactly had a career covered in glory. He is “best” known for trying to make and eventually getting fired from a terrible, terrible movie called The Island of Doctor Moreau, of which his potential mental health issues and dealing with the outsized egos of lunatics such as Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer probably sent him even more round the twist.

Somehow someone decided to give this lunatic money to make another movie, and thought casting an even bigger lunatic in the form of one Nicolas Fucking Cage to star in the flick was a good idea, and so this flick got made, which is genuinely a madman’s delight. Cage overacts to the point where he can’t overact any more, and most of the people in the flick around him don’t look too put out because they sense on some level that they are going to be dead soon, so what does it ultimately matter.

Why does he include the clip from Island of Doctor Moreau playing on the telly for a brief moment? Is it his final revenge on Marlon Brando, who fucked off this mortal coil many years ago now, or to remind people of his greatest folly, or to imply that this flick is his redemption, and that Hollywood should be knocking his door down now so he can direct Marvel movies or Star Wars instalments? Who knows…I suspect it’s because it’s his way of saying “hey, it wasn’t my fault”.

But I stand by my professional diagnosis: this director is probably nuts, and that’s okay. As long as he doesn’t hurt any people or alpacas in the pursuit of what he does, good luck to him. If any Nicolas Cages are harmed during the making of his movies I don’t think anyone’s going to hold it against him.

As a horror film, it genuinely works in a horrifyingly bizarre kind of way. Of course the alien menace is so alien and so all consuming, kinda like being exposed to massive amounts of ionizing radiation from our own Earth, that nothing they do is going to matter, but I guess the overall point is that in the face of cosmic horror, you can always rely on a bad dad with a distorted sense of what dads should do for their families, that they’re only going to make awful situations way fucking worse, and, of course, he goes that extra mile.

This was, as I’ve previously made a point of noting, the perfect nutso thing to watch on a Thursday night, a few red wines into the evening. I’m not now nor have I ever been much of a dope smoker, but I can imagine this being a pretty horrifying / thrilling movie to watch when stoned, because visually it’s mind altering, confusing, perplexing and very magenta. As long as you don’t care much for the characters or what happens to them (like what kind of a sociopathic monster are they expecting the audience for this to be, huh?), and marvel at the radiance of the director’s demented imagination, this could be a startling way to spend a night where you’re not going to get much sleep afterwards.

The Color Out of Space? The one that cannot be seen by human eyes, that corrupts everything it comes in contact with? It’s magenta. Query answered. You’re welcome.

6 times a flick where no-one does a single sensible thing isn’t all bad out of 10

“What touched this place cannot be quantified or understood by human science. It was just a color out of space. A messenger from realms whose existence stuns the brain and numbs us with the gulfs that it throws open before our frenzied eyes.” – um, it has Nicolas Cage in it – The Color out of Space