What To Watch This February: Color Out Of Space
Messrs Nicolas Cage and Richard Stanley on the set of Color Out of Space (2020). Photograph by Mr Gustavo Galhardo Figueiredo/RLJE Films.
Our current era may be a bit shaky in many departments – ahem, politics and pandemic control – but it does seem to be a rather good time for horror movies. Especially the kind that unite their mortal thrills with aesthetic ones. Continuing the trend this February is Color Out Of Space.
Backed by Mr Elijah Wood’s production company SpectreVision, this film unites cult South African director Mr Richard Stanley (who, after being fired from the famously doomed 1996 production of The Island Of Dr Moreau, has spent more than two decades away from mainstream cinema) with his most cherished source material: the work of early 20th-century weird-fiction writer Mr HP Lovecraft. Based on Mr Lovecraft’s short story The Colour Out Of Space, the film stars an always-out-there Mr Nicolas Cage, who is reliably mad in it, and follows a New England family as their rural homestead is struck by a meteor and then infected by a strange, not-of-this-world colour that seems to warp and deform the reality around it.
In one sense, it’s a classic creature feature, reminiscent of films such as Mr John Carpenter’s The Thing and Sir Ridley Scott’s Alien. But in another, it’s a psychedelic marvel, a film that swirls with mesmeric light, shadow and sound.
After debuting at the London Film Festival in 2019, to much enthusiasm from critics, the film is this month finally getting a general release in the UK. What’s more, SpectreVision has signed up Mr Stanley to develop it into a trilogy of Mr Lovecraft-inspired films (the next will be based on The Dunwich Horror). Given that this could be the beginning of something special, we caught up with Mr Stanley to pick his brains about modern horror, aesthetics and – cue spooky wail – the limits of human consciousness.
What drew you to The Colour Out of Space as a story?
It was Lovecraft’s favourite story among his own work. It’s also one of his most accessible stories. It’s about a family living on a farm in New England as opposed to being set in Antarctica, or at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, or in some completely different world.
The film is horrifying, but beautiful. How did you find that balance?
I come from the tradition of the early [director Mr Dario] Argento movies. I’m a believer that even the most terrible things should be artistic or beautiful. I think the whole essence of it is that destruction is as beautiful as anything else. Beauty knows no morality. I’m sure the universe will be destroyed in as much beauty as it was created.
This story is about a colour no one has seen before. How do you adapt that?
Obviously, we can’t show anyone a colour that is completely outside the visible spectrum, just like you can’t share ultrasound and infrasound. But we can take you to the outermost edges of it. And the edges of the human spectrum are basically ultraviolet and infrared. Magenta doesn’t really exist. The brain invents magenta. It’s a bridge between red and violet, which are the opposite ends of the spectrum. So, the pink was about as close as we could get to where you would imagine that you’d go off the spectrum completely and then into something else. The soundtrack is dipping down into infrasound and ultrasound at different points. So, we can take you to the edge of the experience, but one can’t physically see or hear beyond the human range.
Color Out of Space (2020). Photograph by RLJE Films
Still, you’re pushing the audience to their limits.
Yes, there’s a reason for that. It’s just nudging against the outer limits of what we can see and hear. There’s an olfactory spectrum as well. So, in the movie when Nick [Cage] is complaining the whole time about smell, when they’re washing the sheets, worrying that it’s black mould, the smell’s another symptom of an ultra-dimensional intrusion into our plane of consciousness. Something we can’t perceive, but we can perceive its fingerprint. In the same way that a three-dimensional object casts a two-dimensional shadow, technically a four-dimensional or ultra-dimensional object would cast a three-dimensional shadow, though I’ve got no idea what a three-dimensional shadow would look like.
What draws you to stories that take us beyond rational experience?
I’ve become curious because I guess, over the years, I’ve gotten more broad-minded about it. Science and quantum mechanics and things keep suggesting all kinds of wild theories may have some credence after all. Like, when I was a kid at school, I tried using the phrase “non-Euclidean geometry”, which I’d got from a Lovecraft story. My teacher put a red ring around it and said, “There’s no such thing. All geometry by its nature is Euclidean.” But now we have fractal geometry. Moreover, we use fractals to make visual effects and use it for all kinds of industrial purposes. So, clearly, a lot of the weirder, fringe ideas may yet have currency and there may also be some reason why HP Lovecraft is crazily gaining in popularity in the 21st century, 100 years after his death.
Do you think cosmic horror is an appropriate medium for our time?
Horror and sci-fi have always been the areas where we’ve been able to explore the most important issues: what’s going to happen next, what’s going to happen to me and what’s going to happen to me when I die. These are super-pressing issues that don’t get addressed in the mainstream that much. Now that it looks like humanity’s facing some kind of extinction event down the barrel, it’s definitely a bit more topical.
How was it working with Mr Cage? Did you have to push him to find those extreme moments?
With Nick, it’s more about reining him in and dialling it down because he brings such an incredible amount of energy to it. It was a matter of modulating the next progression into the insanity he brings into the film. Nick pretty much single-handedly restored my faith in Hollywood, from the point of view that he brought so much each day to the set, was always there and always had an interesting take on it. His energy really raised the game for the rest of the cast and the crew. As a result, we’d usually get it in the second or third take. I found that we were clipping along at such an incredible speed when Nick was there. It’s a testimony to his professionalism. I’m used to the leading man slowing everything down.
This movie has been pitched as a comeback for you. Does it feel like that?
Yeah. I’ve been thinking of it as my revenge tour. It’s been going pretty well and now this thing has translated itself into some kind of three-movie deal. I can’t really complain, though. I guess that means I will be working with the Old Ones for a while longer.
Color Out Of Space is in cinemas on 28 February