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Color Out Of Space – film review

November 8, 2019


Richard Stanley’s trippy comeback is a triumph.

Reviewed on Sunday 3rd November 2019

Directed by Richard Stanley. Screenplay by Scarlett Amaris and Richard Stanley, based on the short story by H.P. Lovecraft. Starring: Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Julian Hilliard, Brendan Meyer, Madeleine Arthur and Tommy Chong. Running time: 111 mins.


As those who know me will already be aware, I have been a long-time and vocal fan of Richard Stanley and his films. First exploding onto the scene in 1990 with his cyberpunk splatter-fest Hardware, South African-born Stanley had previously forged a career in music video (most notably helming a couple of practical effects-heavy clips for UK Goth rockers The Fields of the Nephilim, as well as Public Image Limited). Following Hardware, he went on to helm Dust Devil – a supernatural western slasher set in Namibia – which sadly underwent such extensive post-production meddling at the hands of Miramax, it was deemed virtually incomprehensible upon its release in 1992. The film was subsequently restored to reflect Stanley’s original vision in 2006 and released as a limited edition five disk box set via Subversive Cinema.

In 1996, Stanley was given the opportunity to helm a big budget retelling of the classic H.G. Wells tale The Island of Doctor Moreau – a disastrous, career-derailing experience later documented extensively in the feature documentary Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s The Island of Doctor Moreau in 2014 (also reviewed on this blog).

In the years since ’96 Stanley hasn’t remained idle by any means, producing a slew of short films and feature documentaries – as well as penning screenplays for a number of as-yet unrealized features. Now, after a hiatus of some twenty-three years – we finally have another Stanley film to experience and appreciate – with a new retelling     of H.P. Lovecraft’s highly-influential horror tale The Colour Out Of Space.

There have been several attempts over the decades to adapt Lovecraft’s idiosyncratic brand of eldritch horror to the big screen (most notably Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator and From Beyond). Only one however has been truly successful in capturing the author’s signature sense of dread inherent in his tales – Dan O’Bannon’s The Resurrected. Well, having caught a special pre-release festival screening over the weekend, I can safely say that alongside The Resurrected can now be added Richard Stanley’s Color Out Of Space. Reportedly Lovecraft’s own personal favourite of his tales, this 1927 short story had previously been adapted at least twice before (firstly as Die Monster Die! in 1965 and again as The Curse in 1987).

Set on an isolated New England farm in the present day, Stanley’s take on the story introduces us to the Gardners – a family of five seeking rural respite away from the hustle and bustle of the big city. When a meteorite lands in their back yard – an indefinable cosmic force is released (the titular color out of space) – a contagion of sorts which taints the ground water – transforming whatever life it comes in contact with into its own image of alien biology. From plants and animals to the Gardners themselves – no life is spared from this cosmic corruption.

While both Hardware and Dust Devil do indeed contain horror elements, Color Out Of Space is nothing less than out-and-out horror. Genuinely creepy and unsettling, the escalation of tension is masterfully handled – reaching a mind-bending crescendo we simply cannot look away from. While shocking imagery abounds (much like Alex Garland’s Annihilation) – the driving force behind the horror is the lead-up to these reveals. The sense of extreme dread and unease we feel is what fuels this nightmare (adding immensely to the dread, incidentally, is Colin Stetson’s intense but subtle, predominantly atonal score – perhaps one of the most unique and effective horror scores of recent times).

As with Stanley’s previous work, the look of the film is visually striking – the pinkish lighting effects depicting the otherworldly ‘color’ clearly aping the depiction of the ‘resonator’ in Gordon’s From Beyond. And it should also come as no surprise that Stanley has said his primary aim with regard to the visual aesthetics of the film is       to give the viewer an immersive experience not too dissimilar to an acid trip. The extensive use of CG in the film’s final third enhancing this to mesmerizing effect (I can imagine Hunter S. Thompson giving his nod of approval if he were still alive today). This is absolutely a film which demands to be seen in a cinema.

Not counting his three day stint on Moreau (before he was unceremoniously replaced) this is the first time Stanley has worked with such recognizable Hollywood talent as Nicolas Cage and Joely Richardson. Cage nails the dark humour in Stanley’s screenplay – eliciting several laugh-out-loud reactions at the screening I attended, while Richardson’s heartfelt performance as his cancer-stricken wife tugs at the emotions. Newcomer Madeleine Arthur, as the couple’s wicca-practicing daughter, is also very good.

With only two features to his credit prior to helming Color – it was still easy to see why Stanley had been hailed as something of a visionary. Indeed, with his third (belated) feature now a reality, this label has been well and truly justified.

4.5 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Viewed at Monsterfest – GU Filmhouse, Adelaide, November 3rd 2019

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

From → film reviews

  1. Mark permalink

    Looks absolutely awesome man. Can’t wait to see it.


  2. Colin permalink

    Thanks for the recommendation Mr. Moss! So glad to see the return of Richard Stanley and this film didn’t disappoint.
    The neon auras and spooky ambiance worked so well with the classic horror gore.
    I hope this ushers in a new day into the mad mind of Stanley. I read he may try to give “Moreau” a go again. We can only hope!


    • gregory moss permalink

      Cheers Colin. Having read Stanley’s original script for Moreau – I’d definitely be up for seeing him do another attempt at it. Apparently he’s updated it since then. Would also love to see him be given the opportunity to shoot his Hardware 2 script some day. I’m just happy to have him back. 🙂


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