Color out of Space: A Solid Adaptation of Lovecraft

Nicolas Cage stars in this adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft done by the famed not-director of The Island of Dr. Moreau. It’s awesome.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

The film is narrated by a hydrologist named Ward Phillips (Elliot Knight). Nathan Gardner (Nicolas Cage) moves his family to a rural farm in Massachusetts after his wife, Theresa (Joely Richardson) survives cancer, deciding to start growing tomatoes and raising alpacas (for the milk, apparently). His children are handling the situation in various ways: His daughter, Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur), takes up Wicca to try to keep her mother’s cancer away; his eldest son Benny (Brendan Meyer) starts smoking pot with local hermit Ezra (Tommy “Cheech and” Chong); and his youngest son Jack (Julian Hilliard) spends most of his time just playing with his dog, Sam.  

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They look so happy. Nothing could possibly go wrong.

One night a meteor crashes into their front yard. The meteor glows an unnatural color and emits a terrible smell before being struck by lightning. What follows is high strangeness. 

END SUMMARY

I wanted to editorialize a little bit on the story, so if you just want the film, skip down.

ON THE SHORT STORY

So, if you’ve read “The Colour Out of Space” by H.P. Lovecraft, good news, this movie changes enough of the story and adds enough creativity to still keep everything interesting. If you haven’t, it’s really short and pretty solid. It’s definitely one of the least controversial Lovecraft stories and it’s one of the most adapted and influential, up there with “The Dunwich Horror” and “Herbert West, Reanimator.” It got a bit more press than many of his previous works because it was selected as one of the Best American Short Stories the following year, just as Lovecraft’s more famous “The Call of Cthulhu” was published. It’s got a great blend of Sci-Fi and Horror elements and, as is typical with Lovecraft, it bombards you with multiple levels of unease that culminate at cosmic. You can read it here, because copyright law has set it free. 

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So many movies about meteor strikes seem to derive from this.

Also, Lovecraft was a racist bastard. I feel that everyone who does a review of an adaptation of him should probably mention that he was a brilliant and influential author, but also a racist bastard. He’s not getting paid for adaptations and, much like this movie, his works can produce interesting and entertaining derivations, so let’s keep them going, but we should still acknowledge that even by 1920s standards he was pretty damned racist. Okay, now to the film:

FILM REVIEW

First, how exactly has Nicolas Cage never been in an adaptation of Lovecraft before? One of the hallmarks of Lovecraft is a type of madness that usually comes from trying to grasp a concept that the human mind simply is not capable of accepting. While this might be difficult to convey for some actors, THAT’S NICOLAS CAGE’S DEFAULT. Nicolas Cage always seems like he’s living in a reality that’s rotated about 20 degrees from our own. There’s a scene in Ghost Rider where Cage “relaxes” by eating jelly beans out of a martini glass while watching internet videos of monkeys doing karate and he somehow makes it seem believable. In Mandy, Cage manages to give a heartfelt and emotional performance which he follows up with a chainsaw duel. He’s basically the perfect person to convey the madness that comes from forbidden knowledge or trying to perceive the impossible.

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This man knows altered realities.

The film does a good job of attempting to convey a concept that just can’t be related visually: Imagining a new color. In Lovecraft’s story, the meteor’s color is described only in analogy because it doesn’t fall anywhere on the visual spectrum. In this film, even though the color is represented by an unnatural neon pinkish hue, they use it in such a way that it does feel like it’s part of something ineffable. It’s significant that Cage sells the sensation of something “else” happening to him as he looks at it, making us feel like reality and logic start to get burned away by the glow. 

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It’s so well done.

That’s not to say that Cage’s performance is the only good one in the film. Actually, all of the actors who portray the family members do a good job of showing their various descents into madness caused by the color. Each of them has their own take on the decline of their sanity, but they all work. Tommy Chong plays a character who already lives in an altered state, which… well, is perfect for Tommy Chong, but he also does a good job showing his character’s greater ability to perceive things outside of the Earthly realm due to it. 

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He’s been preparing for this his whole life.

The special effects in this film are sufficiently unnerving. There are things that are horribly disturbing that are both implied and also shown. If you’re someone with a queasy stomach, this movie is not for you. It also helps that they are used sparingly. The pacing of the movie, much like a Lovecraft story, is unnervingly slow and deliberate. It starts off with almost nothing happening, but the fact that nothing is happening is itself tense because of the atmosphere. Even when stuff starts to happen, it’s very gradual but it keeps building from slightly supernatural all the way to cosmic horror. 

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This film has some epic horror moments.

Kudos to Director Richard Stanley for managing to do such a good job capturing Lovecraft. He says that this is the first of a trilogy and I hope that’s true, because I would love to see more quality adaptations of cosmic horror. Hell, put Cage in all of them. I won’t complain. It’s also good to see him come back to film after having famously been fired three days into filming The Island of Dr. Moreau, a movie that failed so hard the Documentary about his experience is called Lost Soul. Stanley supposedly loved the H.G. Wells story and was passionate about that project, but he apparently had a huge connection to Lovecraft all of his life, and this film captures a lot of that. 

Overall, I really liked this film. I recommend it for fans of Cage, fans of Lovecraft, or fans of body horror. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Halloween Review – In The Mouth of Madness: Carpenter + Lovecraft = Amazing

John Carpenter brings us this story that manages to capture the madness and existential terror of H.P. Lovecraft.

SUMMARY

John Trent (Sam Neill) recounts his story to his doctor, Dr. Wrenn (David Warner). Trent was an insurance investigator who was asked to look into a claim by a publisher called Arcane Publishing. When he was first given the request, he was attacked by a man wielding an axe asking if he reads “Sutter Cane.” He discovers that the insurance claim is regarding the disappearance of horror author Sutter Cane (Jürgen “Das Boot” Prochnow), and that the axe-wielding man was Cane’s agent, who went mad from reading Cane’s work. Arcane Publishing’s director, Jackson Harglow (Charlton Heston), assigns Cane’s editor, Linda Styles (Julie Carmen), to help Trent find the missing author. Trent manages to piece together the covers to all of Cane’s books into a map to a location from Cane’s book called Hobb’s End. Styles and Trent head off to find it.

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If I ever get published, I’m hiding maps in the covers. Maps to various Shoney’s restaurants.

The two experience some disorienting phenomena on the drive, only to end up suddenly appearing in Hobb’s End. They wander around the town, finding characters and places from Cane’s novels, which Trent claims are part of a publicity stunt. Styles disagrees, admitting that the initial insurance claim was a stunt, but that the town was not part of it. Styles heads inside the church of the town trying to find Cane, who shows her his last book, In the Mouth of Madness. She quickly goes mad for him, literally and figuratively. A mob of the people in the town start to attack Trent, and he attempts to drive away, only to find that any attempts to drive out of the town only lead back into the center of the village. He crashes his car and wakes up next to Styles in the church. In the church, Cane reveals the truth of his work to Trent: Trent is one of his characters, created to deliver the manuscript of In the Mouth of Madness. Once the book is read by enough people, it will open a connection to an extradimensional realm of monsters who will destroy the world. Cane then rips himself open, becoming a portal to the monster realm. Trent escapes through the portal, with Styles staying behind, ending up in reality. 

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I would read this book, right up until the madness overtook me.

Back at Arcane publishing, Trent reports that he destroyed the manuscript and lost Styles. Harglow tells him that there is no Linda Styles. Trent was sent alone, the manuscript was delivered, the book has been published already, and a movie adaptation is set to come out soon. Trent, going insane with the realization, kills a reader of Cane’s work, getting himself committed to an asylum. After he finishes relaying the story, Trent awakens to find the asylum abandoned and evidence that monsters have overrun the world. Trent goes to see the movie version of In The Mouth of Madness, which is the same film that we just watched. Trent starts to break down when he realizes that he is, in fact, fictional. 

END SUMMARY

This movie is part of John Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy along with The Thing and Prince of Darkness. The three movies are about three different concepts of how the world could be destroyed, whether by aliens, by the devil, or, as here, by creatures beyond our reality.  Unfortunately, this film is the middle child of those three, with The Thing towering over it as a masterwork in horror and Prince of Darkness being mostly forgettable. In the Mouth of Madness is in-between, with a ton of great and memorable scenes and ideas unfortunately inter-cut with a decent amount of forgettable filler. Hell, I didn’t remember some of it until this re-watch and this is like the 10th time I’ve seen this movie. Still, the good parts so far outweigh the bad that I have to recommend this movie for literally anyone that enjoys horror.

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I’ll get around to doing all three of these eventually, I’m sure. 

This is one of the best adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft on film and it’s not even a real adaptation. It’s hard to say that this isn’t a film absolutely dripping with love for his work, though. Sutter Cane’s books are all references to Lovecraft, including “The Hobb’s End Horror,” a clear nod to “The Dunwich Horror,” and the film’s titular book being derived from At The Mountains of Madness, one of the most central and broad works by Lovecraft. By playing up the themes of Lovecraftian horror without actually using the author, the film manages to use some of the best parts of it while also avoiding some of the more controversial aspects of Lovecraft’s work.

The racism. I’m talking about the racism. 

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Though, it wasn’t like he was the most racist person in the 1920s. 

The central themes of Lovecraftian horror, or cosmic horror, mostly revolve around the idea that humanity is so insignificant that all of existence is pointless or hopeless. Typically this is because of the revelation that the thing we call reality is only a small piece of it, and that we are surrounded by beings that are so much greater than us that their very presence means that all of humanity is rendered but a speck in the eye of the universe. When confronted by this revelation, characters in cosmic horror usually respond in one of two ways: madness or misanthropy. Either you go insane because the human mind isn’t capable of understanding things that exist in dimensions beyond our reality or you decide that the fact that these creatures are out there means that humanity needs to be destroyed by them. This movie has both of those reactions. 

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I mean, wearing a cross-drawn asylum outfit with popcorn helps sell the insanity.

However, it adds in a layer that the main character’s existence, and eventually the existence of everyone in the movie, is rendered even more pointless than the Lovecraftian cosmic horror because they become aware that they are only characters in the movie that we’re watching. While the citizenry of Hobb’s end are fictional beings in a fictional setting, by having Trent enter into the “real” world and then witness the film that we’re watching, he becomes a self-aware character who is now aware that the story is ending. When the credits roll, he stops existing. Given the state of him at the time, perhaps this is a mercy. Much like in plays by Tom Stoppard, Luigi Pirandello, or Samuel Beckett, the existence of the self-aware character questions whether or not they have an existence beyond just the show itself, but here we have a character who was created as a fictional entity within the work of yet another character, who was given life in a higher-realm (the film) only for the purpose of bringing about its end. If this is confusing, that’s kind of the point. If you were in this film and facing what Trent is, you wouldn’t just be confused, you’d be standing on ground that doesn’t really exist. Your mind would shatter, like his does. 

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I mean, he takes it in some stride.

When it came out, this movie was not a hit. In fact, it pretty well tanked, much like The Thing. While The Thing has since been recognized for the work of genius that it is, In the Mouth of Madness is begging to be reevaluated by a newer audience. This movie came out in 1994 and the only adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft we’d had so far were the Re-animator movies that don’t really address any of those themes (though those movies are awesome). This movie tried to convey a sense of the hopelessness and overwhelming insanity that would be felt by someone living in a Lovecraft story, and that’s just not what people expect from a cinematic narrative. I’m not saying this is a perfect film; it definitely lags in a lot of places and should probably be 20 minutes shorter (though a decent amount of filler IS a Lovecraft trait), but it’s essentially trying to get the audience to imagine something that’s inherently unimaginable, and that’s a hell of an ambition. 

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Although, you do get a little glimpse of some eldritch abominations.

Even at the time of release, though, people recognized the strength of Sam Neill’s performance and of Carpenter’s direction. The environment that the two create within the story is dripping with dread. Prochnow’s portrayal of Cane, while brief, is extremely memorable and powerful. The scenes of the impossible geography of the city of Hobb’s End still make me uneasy even now. 

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Also, just… damn, man. That subtle intensity. 

Overall, this is a great movie. It’s one of my favorite horror films, and if you’re a fan of the genre, you really need to take a shot at it yourself. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Reader Request- Call Girl of Cthulhu

If the pun in the title didn’t grab you, then… well, I’m sure you have other nice qualities. This is the parody of H.P. Lovecraft that nobody was asking for, but that we all thoroughly deserve.

SUMMARY

The movie starts with the traditional frame-story of a guy being interviewed after a massacre. It flashes back from there.

Carter Wilcox (David Phillip Carollo) is a stereotypical virgin loser for a B-film. He lives in a house where everyone else is getting laid, watches porn a lot, has a condom that predates the Industrial Age, and is pretty much everyone’s tool. One night, he catches sight of a hooker, Riley (Melissa O’Brien), who has a distinctive birthmark on her ass, and falls for her. At the same time, a group of people are searching the asses of call-girls around the city and murdering the ones that lack birthmarks. The group, revealed to be the Church of Starry Wisdom, in turn, is being stalked by a group of women who appear to be trying to stop them. The women find out that the killers have left the Necronomicon in a hotel room after a murder and flee with it, losing 2 of their members in the process.

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Yes, this is a virgin. I know you’re shocked.

Carter finds Riley’s card and decides to call her. When she comes over, he’s naturally nervous and first asks to use her as a life-model for his art, believing that he’ll have sex with her only if they fall in love. The Church invites over more hookers and Riley’s pimp Ashton Eibon (Troy Jennings), but they capture the hookers after none of them have the mark. Ashton sells out Riley after a group of squid-masked cultists surround him and threaten him. Meanwhile, the women fighting against the Church contact Carter, having seen his illustrations in a local magazine and believing him to be able to copy the illustrations in the Necronomicon. Apparently, that will help them stop Cthulhu.

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Yes, she has a squid face on her butt.

Riley and Carter go out on a regular date, where she regales him with stories of people’s odd kinks. The Church is revealed to have a number of possessed and feral demonic call-girls, who attack the captured hookers and Ashton. Riley and Carter go back to his place where he reveals that he’s a virgin, leading her to ask him to wait to have sex. Riley then gets called away by the Church using Ashton’s phone. Carter starts to ink the copy of the Necronomicon, but is haunted by strange visions. The remaining women, Edna (Helenmary Ball) and Squid (Sabrina Taylor-Smith), come to check on Carter and find a painting of Riley that shows her birthmark. They give Carter an incantation.

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If you don’t know what those are… they’re boobs. It’s truly horrifying.

Riley goes to pick up a shift at a strip club, where she finds herself suddenly surrounded by Church acolytes. They capture her and Edna, bringing them before their leader Sebastian (Dave Gamble), who cuts out Edna’s tongue. Sebastian opens a portal through which tentacles emerge and “get too familiar” with Riley. Meanwhile, there’s a subplot where Carter’s musician roommate, Erica (Nicolette le Faye), breaks up with her boyfriend, Rick “the Dick” (Alex Mendez), resulting in him getting poisoned by the cult and having his penis become huge and fanged.

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Riley has become possessed by Cthulhu and starts to take on demonic characteristics, resulting in her killing all of her former clients by using their kinks against them (btw, acid golden shower was a little much, film). She breaks up with Carter over the phone, trying to save him from their fate. As he tries to get over it, he ends up sharing a romantic moment with Erica, but realizes that Riley might be in trouble. After he leaves, Rick comes back and attacks Erica, resulting in her cutting off his meter-long penis. Squid finds Carter and Erica before being attacked by the Church but Carter accidentally plays one of Erica’s songs which blow up the Church Acolytes’ heads.

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Not the bodily fluid Erica is I’m not finishing this joke.

Carter and Squid make their way to the Church. Carter finds Edna captive, but she’s quickly killed and Carter is captured. He wakes up next to Erica. He believes he’s going to die a virgin, but Erica decides to bang him before the apocalypse. Meanwhile, Squid fights off an army of possessed hookers as Riley turns into a tentacle monster and gives birth to several baby Cthulhus. Squid and Carter work together to try and destroy the Church, but Squid is killed by Sebastian, before monster-Riley kills him. Carter confronts Riley while Erica stabs her repeatedly. Carter closes the portal to Cthulhu with the incantation and Erica confesses her love, right before Riley kills her. Carter plays Erica’s song, blowing up Riley’s head.

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Am I still beautiful?

Back in the present, Carter is drugged by his interviewer, who has him committed, before she is surprised by more Church Acolytes. Carter sits in a padded room and just wishes the world would end already.

END SUMMARY

Well, this is a pretty solid exploitation parody. Yes, there’s a ton of gratuitous nudity and goofy practical effects, but, counterpoint, it’s also hilarious at several points.

The people who made this clearly loved the hell out of H.P. Lovecraft. Almost everything in the movie, from the names to the places to the products featured onscreen are references. It would be impossible for me to name all of them, so I’ll do my top three:

3)   Rick “The Dick” Pickman

Okay, so, this one was a slow-burn joke that really ended up being funny for me. The name comes from the Lovecraft short story “Pickman’s Model” about a painter who keeps displaying his grotesque works that are actually paintings of real creatures. It seems to just be a name drop until you find out that this Pickman is famous for displaying his apparently enormous penis everywhere. Later, his penis gets bitten by one of the mutant acolytes and becomes huge and alive, but he still wants to show it to everyone. In other words, Pickman still wants to model his one-eyed monster (which is what they actually call it in the film). Whatever, I thought it was funny.

2)   Missy Katonixxx (Stephanie Anders)

The name of a porn star who has her own internet channel in the film. She shows up repeatedly and her breasts becoming grotesque mutant faces is the first thing that Carter hallucinates after starting to copy the Necronomicon. Her name’s a reference to Miskatonic University in the town of Arkham, a frequently recurring location within the Cthulhu Mythos, as well as the site of “Herbert West-Reanimator,” one of Lovecraft’s most famous stories and adaptations. The reason why I loved this so much is that they actually did need a school name within the story and, rather than just use it, instead repurposes it into what is almost certainly a real burlesque name.

1) Deep Ones Condoms

Why is this not a real product? No, really, why the hell is this not an actual product? I would switch brand loyalty in a heartbeat. The first story to feature Deep Ones was “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” and if you can’t make a dirty joke out of that then you are just not trying. Even the name “Lovecraft” was made for condom manufacturing. GET ON THIS, TROJAN.

Also “Get on this Trojan” is a good slogan itself. You’re welcome.

Other than the Lovecraft jokes, the plot’s somewhat interesting and the special effects, while cheap (they’d have been great in the 1970s), are appropriately grotesque. The acting is significantly better than you’d usually find in a movie like this and Carter, Riley, and Erica are actually pretty great performances. It is a classic exploitation film, so the nudity is pretty plentiful and most of the female characters are not exactly “enlightened,” which might be tough to deal with for some viewers.

Overall, if you’re a fan of Lovecraft, exploitation films, or, hopefully, both, then you will love this movie.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.