If there’s any truth to the old adage about Hollywood and redemption, then Richard Stanley should be taking a victory lap right now.
Stanley, a South African writer-director best known for being unceremoniously fired from 1996’s “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” had spent a near-quarter century in creative exile before being approached by Elijah Wood’s SpectreVision production company to adapt H.P. Lovecraft’s short story, “The Color Out of Space.”
Now, almost four years since entertainment websites reported that “Color Out of Space” would be Stanley’s first feature film since Bill Clinton was president, the world is about to experience the cosmic mindfuck that he’s created.
And, yes, I say mindfuck with all due respect. It’s a genuinely sincere compliment.
Color Out of Space
4 out of 5 stars.
Run Time: 111 minutes
Directed by Richard Stanley
Starring Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Madeleine Arthur, Brendan Meyer, Julian Hilliard, Tommy Chong and Elliott Knight
Opens Friday, January 24“Color Out of Space” is science fiction blended with body horror and saturated with a kaleidoscope of vibrant hues and shades that I’ve personally never seen in a movie before. It’s anchored by yet another tour-de-force, bath salts-bonkers performance from Nicolas Cage. And recent reports suggest the film may be the first in a planned Lovecraft trilogy.
Two words: Hell yes.
The film opens quietly, allowing viewers to get familiar with its small cast. Nathan and Theresa Gardner (Cage and Joely Richardson) have moved back to Nathan’s father’s farm. He’s intent on raising alpacas while Theresa works in the attic as a financial analyst. They have three children: Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) is a practicing witch. Benny (Brendan Meyer) is a stoner. And Jack (Julian Hilliard) is still young enough to call out for his parents when the nightmares keep him awake.
One night, as family members are scattered to their respective rooms, a meteorite crashes smack dab in the middle of the Gardner farm. The mayor and sheriff come out by morning, but seem completely unfazed.
And then, everything falls apart. Or, better put, starts to change.
First, it’s the adjacent vegetation that is marked by splashes of strange colored flowers. Then Nathan’s garden produces a tremendous yield of large vegetables, but they don’t taste right. Finally, the entire Gardner clan, one by one, exhibit subtle fluctuations to their personalities that slowly escalate until Theresa slices off two of her fingers without a care while chopping carrots and Nathan (in full-on Cage Rage mode) uncorks on Lavinia for being dumb.
And that’s before the truly unsettling transmogrifications kick in.
Stanley and Steve Annis, his director of photography, create an incredible series of visual sequences to represent the organic and environmental terraforming that the meteorite’s crash unleashes, and the last 20 minutes, in particular, are nothing short of awe-inspiring.
If there’s a criticism to be made, it’s that you want Stanley to go farther.
For all of its magnificent body horror, from mutated farm animals to human bodies fused together as horrific new lifeforms, Stanley never allows his camera to linger long enough to get a clear image of any of his nightmarish creations.
Genre films like “Color Out of Space” succeed because of those moments. They inspire new generations of makeup and special effects wizards by showing the wonder of what the imagination can do.
“Color Out of Space” is a triumph. It’s a welcome return for a director that many never thought would stand behind a camera again. It’s another feather in Cage’s expanding cap of memorable roles.
But with the addition of a few choice close-up creature moments on par with John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” it could have easily vaulted into that rarefied plateau reserved for all-time classics.
John W. Allman has spent more than 25 years as a professional journalist and writer, but he’s loved movies his entire life. Good movies, awful movies, movies that are so gloriously bad you can’t help but champion them. Since 2009, he has cultivated a review column and now a website dedicated to the genre films that often get overlooked and interviews with cult cinema favorites like George A. Romero, Bruce Campbell and Dee Wallace. Contact him at Blood Violence and Babes.com, on Facebook @BloodViolenceBabes or on Twitter @BVB_reviews.