Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 25, 2020

Color Out of Space

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 9:38 pm

Based on an H.P. Lovecraft short story, “Color Out of Space” opened yesterday at the IFC Center in Manhattan and the Alamo Drafthouse in Brooklyn. It was directed and co-written by Richard Stanley, a relative of the man who said, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume.” The film stars Nicholas Cage as Nathan Gardner, the head of a household that goes off its rocker after a small meteorite lands near their rural home.

Unlike the more typical space invasion movie that pits such a family against little green men with ray guns, the only threat to their well-being is the odd clouds of colored light that have begun appearing nearby. They have the effect of making food taste weird and inducing strange behavior in human beings, such as Mrs. Gardner slicing off her fingers while dicing carrots. It also makes their pet dog, plants, and mother nature in general go off-kilter as well.

Cage, who is—as you must know by now—America’s greatest actor turns in a scenery-chewing performance as a husband who ignores his children’s warnings that things are getting weird. Even as the family starts behaving like the Texas chainsaw murderer’s worst nightmare and flowers start growing that look like they were painted by Salvador Dali on LSD, he soldiers on.

Something told me that he was cast as Nathan Gardner after his command performance in “Mandy”, a brilliant 2019 film that had him on a one-man, battle-ax wielding, vendetta against a Charles Manson-like cult after they kill his wife. Both films come off the assembly line of SpectreVision, a studio founded in 2010 by Hobbit star Elijah Wood “a home for creator-driven projects that test the boundaries of the genre space”, according to the press notes. In addition to these two vehicles for Cage, SpectreVision also produced “Daniel Isn’t Real”, another mind-blowing horror movie.

If you want to read the short story that the film is based on, go to the H.P. Lovecraft website. Lovecraft, who lived in Providence, Rhode Island from 1890 to 1937, was the Stephen King of his day. Although he never attained King’s popularity, there is a good chance that people will be reading his works a thousand years from now (that is, of course, if capitalism hasn’t destroyed the planet.) Just consider how his short story begins:

West of Arkham the hills rise wild, and there are valleys with deep woods that no axe has ever cut. There are dark narrow glens where the trees slope fantastically, and where thin brooklets trickle without ever having caught the glint of sunlight. On the gentler slopes there are farms, ancient and rocky, with squat, moss-coated cottages brooding eternally over old New England secrets in the lee of great ledges; but these are all vacant now, the wide chimneys crumbling and the shingled sides bulging perilously beneath low gambrel roofs.

The old folk have gone away, and foreigners do not like to live there. French-Canadians have tried it, Italians have tried it, and the Poles have come and departed. It is not because of anything that can be seen or heard or handled, but because of something that is imagined. The place is not good for the imagination, and does not bring restful dreams at night. It must be this which keeps the foreigners away, for old Ammi Pierce has never told them of anything he recalls from the strange days. Ammi, whose head has been a little queer for years, is the only one who still remains, or who ever talks of the strange days; and he dares to do this because his house is so near the open fields and the travelled roads around Arkham.

Who knows where the film industry would be without H.P. Lovecraft? He has 204 credits as writer, including such gems as “Re-Animator” and “Cthulhu”. Although it is beyond the scope of this review to describe the writer in all his complexity, suffice it to say that he was strongly influenced by Oswald Spengler and obsessed with the idea that the barbarians are knocking at the gate. Like Spengler, he was a racist. Wikipedia reports that in an early poem, the 1912 “On the Creation of Niggers”, Lovecraft describes black people not as human but as “beast[s] … in semi-human figure, filled with vice.”

Having seen a number of films based on his works, I can happily report that this is not reflected in them. He is part of a long tradition of writers who reflect the dark night of the American soul with Edgar Allen Poe, being acknowledged by him as a major influence. As for King, I’ll let him speak for himself:

“Now that time has given us some perspective on his work,” says Stephen King, “I think it is beyond doubt that H. P. Lovecraft has yet to be surpassed as the twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale.” Around 1960 a young Stephen King came across an old paperback edition of Lovecraft’s The Lurking Fear and Other Stories . It was a decisive moment for today’s pre-eminent horror writer. “Lovecraft. . . opened the way for me,” writes King, “as he had done for others before me…. it is his shadow, so long and gaunt, and his eyes, so dark and puritanical, which overlie almost all of the important horror fiction that has come since.”


1 Comment »

  1. I have a kind of morbid fascination with H.P.Lovecraft, going back to adolescence.

    Thanks for this news!

    Apart from his books this is – yes I know who it’s by – is interesting: H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life Michel Houellebecq.

    I’d say this is a fair review and assessment of Lovecraft:

    Phil Baker finds Michel Houellebecq’s take on HP Lovecraft, Against the World, Against Life, to be a brilliant reassessment of a truly great bad writer.

    “HP Lovecraft, author of At the Mountains of Madness, was – according to your taste – either a visionary genius or one of the most ridiculous writers ever, with a fatal weakness for piling on adjectives such as ‘eldritch’ and ‘gibbous’. Cosmic horror was his stock in trade and he invented his own mythology of the indescribably ancient ‘Old Ones’ such as the great Cthulhu – a tentacle-faced, bat-winged, humungously-dimensioned ugly-bugly – who lurk under the deepest oceans and beyond the furthest stars, just waiting. American critic Edmund Wilson described the only real horror in his work as the ‘horror of bad taste and bad art’.”


    Comment by Andrew Coates — January 26, 2020 @ 12:09 pm

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