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Richard Stanley on COLOR OUT OF SPACE’s “Lovecraftian Moment”

For as influential and popular as 20th century horror author H.P. Lovecraft was, there are surprisingly few major film adaptations. Even fewer of them properly capture the mix of hopelessness and awe that the author instilled. Even the most beloved Lovecraft movies—those from director Stuart Gordon—tend to leave out the true cosmic horror of the oeuvre. Filmmaker Richard Stanley looks to change that with a trilogy of Lovecraft movies from SpectreVision. The first of these, Color Out of Space, hits theaters Friday.

We spoke to Stanley about adapting (and contending with) Lovecraft in 2020 and infusing the bleakness of “The Colour Out of Space” with humor, heart, and heaps of Nicolas Cage.

Madeleine Arthur in Color Out of Space

RLJE Films
Lovecraft’s original story concerned a meteorite that strikes the Gardner family farm outside Arkham, MA. A strange and indescribable color comes out. It’s not a thing necessarily, but it’s definitely something the human characters (and Lovecraft by extension) have never seen before. The color permeates the entire countryside and metamorphoses the plant and animal life. For Stanley, creating the unknowable was a big part of bringing this story to the screen.

“The challenge of Color Out of Space is to try to hint at something which is beyond the spectrum of human perception,” Stanley explained. “Which I think comes with the title, so one is automatically flung into a situation of trying to create onscreen, both with the light and sound, a sense that the audience is being pushed to their very limits. And I think since Lovecraft’s time, we understand that process a lot better than we might have done say in 1926.”

Color Out of Space playing at Beyond Fest

RLJE Films
Stanley achieved this feat through cleverly upping specific colors in visual spectrum of the film as the film’s titular color gains more ground. “In the early scenes, I tried to avoid any pinks, reds, or bright colors at all,” he explained. “Other than the one streak in Lavinia’s (Madeleine Arthur) hair. It’s particularly the coffee cup Nic is drinking from in the first scene, which is nothing but shades of gray. The whole family are pretty much in shades of blue or gray at the first half, and between that and the natural green of the forests, it starts off in very naturalistic terms.”

“I like to think the film is structured in the same way as a decent drug trip,” Stanley continued. “You’ve got for the first 30 minutes or so; the audience are kind of looking at each other going, ‘Okay, well, nothing is happening. What’s going on? Is this working?’ Then very slowly, little things start to manifest and go a little bit wrong and little gaps widen in reality.”

Nicolas Cage in Color Out of Space

RLJE Films
It’s these gaps in reality where Lovecraft purists really see what films cut the mustard. But Stanley, who grew up reading the horror books, knows that for a film, there needs to be more heart. This is where the family element comes in. In the short story, the Gardner family are just vessels for horrific bodily harm; here, with Nicolas Cage and Joely Richardson as the parents, we care about them much more.

“On one hand, it’s a faithful adaptation of Lovecraft,” Stanley explained, “but it’s also a battle or an argument I’ve been having of Lovecraft. I’m not as much of a materialist atheist as Lovecraft is. I still have some faith in love and in the human condition. So I did want to introduce those themes and ideas into its universe. And one way I did that was by connecting all of the characters in my mind to different family members.”

Joely Richardson and Nicolas Cage in Color Out of Space

RLJE Films
Stanley’s own family, specifically his mother, informed much of Color Out of Space. “Theresa, the mother character, has elements of my own mother. Young Jack (Julian Hilliard) doing his creepy crayon drawings throughout is very much a version of my younger self. I dealt with most of my family traumas when I was young by drawing monsters and then drawing more monsters. The elder son Benny (Brendan Meyer) is very much like my own young nephew, Benny. I thought by annihilating and destroying people I love, that’s automatically going to resonate more strongly than characters that are barely defined in the original short story.”

For the filmmaker, the essential “Lovecraft moment” in any story is a character traveling into the void and horror alone. Nothing can protect them (or us) from the terrible things lurking things, but they’re going to try. “For me, in Color Out of Space,” Stanley told us, “[I tried to include those] moments. Like when Nic’s character, Nathan, has to go to the barn to deal with the mutant alpacas. You’ve got a character who is fundamentally flawed and too weak to deal with the situation. He has no choice but to propel himself forward into the dark and face whatever is waiting for him. And I think pushing the characters to the very brink of oblivion that gives me the strongest Lovecraftian frisson, or chill, when I’m trying to get at it.”

Poster for Color Out of Space

RLJE Films
Color Out of Space hits theaters January 24. And it’s just the first of a trilogy of Lovecraft adaptations from Richard Stanley. Click here to find out about the second film, The Dunwich Horror.

Featured Image: RLJE Films

Kyle Anderson is the Senior Editor for Nerdist. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Twitter!