After a two-decade hiatus, cult filmmaker Richard Stanley returns with a horrific take on the H.P. Lovecraft story Color Out of Space.
Richard Stanley is a cinematic cult figure unlike any other. His two films of the ‘90s – Hardware and Dust Devil – were polarising exploits of science fiction and horror, which catapulted him into the Hollywood sphere. With a rockstar-like status he was touted as the next big thing.
That is until his ambitious 1996 production of The Island of Dr. Moreau came crashing down when he lost creative control as a result of interference from his stars, Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando. The film was taken away from Stanley and – as revealed in the documentary feature Lost Souls: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau – he went a little crazy and fell off the radar.
Missing from the cinema landscape for 20 years, Stanley has now returned with the highly anticipated horror film Color Out of Space – an adaptation of a H.P. Lovecraft story of the same name, which had previously been turned into the 1986 movie The Curse. It tells the story of a unique alien invasion, whereby a meteor lands beside a farmhouse and infects the surrounding area. The entity itself occupies the ethos and manifests itself in the environment, emitting an unearthly colour whenever it’s present.
With Nicolas Cage on board, along with Elijah Wood’s increasingly prolific production company SpectreVision (Mandy, Daniel Isn’t Real), Stanley’s new film is a throwback to the body horror movies of the 1980s and relies on practical artistry to deliver its horror.
Speaking with STACK, Stanley emphasised his love of practical filmmaking. “I haven’t really changed my values over the years. I still like my physical makeup effects, my gore effects, along with my bright primary colours, as much as I liked them in the early 90s.”
He also discussed his hiatus from the industry and how it has influenced his new film. “I think it helped that I was perched on top of a mountain for 20 years and I wasn’t influenced by the movies that were coming out over the last decade or so. There are a lot of things I haven’t seen and I was kind of grateful that I skipped Annihilation, for example, going into this. And this has allowed me to come at Color Out of Space from a pretty unique angle for this day and age.”
One of the contributing factors in Stanley’s removal from Dr. Moreau was the lack of confidence in his vision. He was creating legions of ambitious mutant characters, the likes of which hadn’t been see on film before, and with Color Out of Space also posing the impossible task of creating a colour that has never been seen by the human eye, Stanley explained how he avoided a repeat disaster.
“Well, I dived into the mad science of it as deeply as possible. We obviously couldn’t give the audience a brand new colour. The human spectrum and our visual range runs between ultraviolet and infrared, so I figured that the ultra-dimensional intrusion to our three-dimensional universe would have to come from somewhere. It would have to start from infrared or ultraviolet and slowly bleed into our perception. The same as a sound coming into your consciousness, it has to come in at a very high pitch or a very low pitch, like a bass rumble that you slowly become aware of.”
With so many screen adaptations of Lovecraft’s work throughout the years, it was surprising to learn that Color Out of Space had been on Stanley’s mind from childhood – and that his frustration with so many of those Lovecraft films paved the way for his own contribution.
“I was a fan of H.P. Lovecraft all of my life; I was indoctrinated into his stories by my mother, who was also a huge fan. I probably started thinking about Color out of Space when I was about 13 or 14 and making Super 8 movies, simply because it’s the only Lovecraft story that lends itself to a low budget or medium budget adaptation.
“It’s set on one farm with one family and you don’t have to go to Antarctica or shoot at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. So it seemed accessible. But of course it took my whole life for the right sort of circumstances to come to being.
“I’m a huge fan of [Lovecraft’s] material and I’m always hoping that someone else would do a great job with it – I’m completely shocked that [Guillermo] del Toro hasn’t delivered on that with At the Mountains of Madness, and James Gunn hasn’t given us Call of Cthulhu yet.”
When it came to his own influences, Stanley reflected on some previous Lovecraft adaptations and the films that were heavily influenced by his writings.
“I had a really good time with the Stuart Gordon movies. Like everyone else I enjoyed Re-Animator, but I didn’t feel like it was really capturing the essence of the material, mostly because Stuart’s films are largely campy black comedy. And while there’s still black comedic elements in Color, I wanted the otherworldly threats to be as impeccable and terrifying as they deserve to be, which is something I felt hadn’t been put on screen in any of the official adaptations. I think that John Carpenter’s The Thing comes a lot closer in tone to the actual stories.”
With Nicolas Cage having found a new level of madness in his recent hyper-kinetic performance in Mandy, the actor continues to explore the edges of sanity in Color Out of Space in what can only be described as pure derangement.
“I think that Nic and I ended up being a really good combination,” Stanley muses. “I guess because partly we both have a penchant for deadpan surreal or apocalyptic black comedy, which is something that just seems to come naturally when I’m directing, and I think it comes naturally to Nic as well. He’s got an extraordinary sense of comic timing in what he does, even in the moments that aren’t particularly funny.
“We did highlight a few areas of the script where we were able to let Cage off the leash, such as the tomato scene in the kitchen and the freakout scene in the car. The trick was to try and calibrate Nic’s descent into madness so that it feels like something which is organic to the pace and texture of the movie.”
Following the runaway success of Color Out of Space, Stanley hints at what will come next. “It’s inevitable that we’re going to be doing two more Lovecraft movies. We’re already developing the follow-up to Color Out of Space, which is a new adaptation of The Dunwich Horror. It will give us an opportunity to expand on the themes of Color and also to take the saga back on campus, back to Miskatonic University for the first time since Re-Animator, and get to grips with the Necronomicon. I think that’s something that’s going to happen very swiftly, and I hope it will be in production by the end of this year.”