Richard Stanley’s THE COLOR OUT OF SPACE, an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s 1927 short story of the same name, centres on the Gardner family, who have recently relocated from the city to begin a new life on a rural farm. One night a meteor lands in their garden and unleashes an extra-terrestrial pathogen. While mutant forms of Technicolour flora start sprouting and animals begin to display bizarre deformities, Nathan (Nicholas Cage), his wife Theresa (Joley Richardson) and their three children, Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur), Benny (Brendan Meyer) and Jack (Julian Hilliard) realise that they are also vulnerable to the infection. With the help of both Ward (Elliot Knight), a hydrologist, and their eccentric neighbour Ezra (Tommy Chong), the family attempt to save themselves from the nebulous entity.


In conversation with FRIGHTFEST, Stanley discussed his difficulties to understand the way stories come into being, the compromise of taking creative licence while still being faithful, and the links between the pandemic and Lovecraftian themes.


FRIGHTFEST: I recall reading you comment that no film you have made was a choice. Is that correct?


RICHARD STANLEY: Yeah, that’s true. Very much everything that has happened to me has been coincidental or accidental in some way. A project that wants to get made seems to force itself into existence regardless, and something that you really want to make, you can keep carrying and sending it out to people, and banging on doors, but for some reason it just doesn’t want to happen. And then the most likely thing can come along and suddenly decide that it wants to get made, and nothing will stand in its path. I’ve never really understood how that process works.


I tried getting any number of movies made first - my first screenplay was a sword and sorcery set in the 12th century, but by 1989 the pressure was on. Everyone was asking whether you could do something more like TERMINATOR and ALIEN, or EVIL DEAD, because Palace Films had had a big success with EVIL DEAD, and we could get it made.


HARDWARE came into being out of the zeitgeist, the music videos, the period we were in, and DUST DEVIL only happened because the script had been lying around for around ten years already. I wrote it when I was a young teenager and suddenly HARDWARE was a success, and THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS had come out and serial killers were all the rage. Someone managed to get hold of a copy of the script and give it to someone else, and before I knew it, Miramax were insisting that we had to make DUST DEVIL. At that point I wanted to make HARDWARE 2 - I’d written a sequel script. I wanted to continue on down that path, but suddenly this crazy South African serial killer movie from years before decided it was time -  it had to happen now [laughs].


FF: Ray Bradbury said, "Many people hear voices when no one is there. Some of them are called mad and are shut up in rooms where they stare at the walls all day. Others are called writers and they do pretty much the same thing."


I share this thought that there is an unconscious dimension to writing, in which ideas and characters are given to you. With that in mind, could we say that not every choice in the filmmaking process is a conscious one?


RS: On a completely wacky level, I get the impression that some movies have always existed, and that somehow the thing itself already exists on some other channel, and you’ve just got to try to see it clearly enough to recreate it. I even get paranoid sometimes and think that if the inspiration occurs to me strongly enough, then the chances are three other people on the planet have had the same idea at the same time, because things seem to come in weird cycles that I can’t always explain. You have similar ideas rising at the same time, presumably because we are all sharing the same pop culture influences.


The material I’m happiest with, the strongest, is the stuff that is coming directly from the unconscious. Those sequences that I’ve put into movies that are based directly on dreams, or those things that are unprocessed, like the first 7 minutes or so of HARDWARE is a dream. I’ve got no idea what any of it means, but the dream was strong enough that I was able to communicate it to film.


In the case of the adaptations, bringing us back to COLOR OUT OF SPACE, I am dealing with someone else’s dreams. With Lovecraft it was a matter of trying to climb into his world and perceive what he was on about, or interpret it as closely as possible. Throughout I had a weird sense that somehow Lovecraft, who was a complete hermit and a social reject, someone who could scarcely communicate with other people, let alone hold down a day job, and spent his whole life isolated in Providence, Rhode Island, was nonetheless able to perceive and commit to paper things that are clearly prophetic, that anticipate trends and ideas that were still decades, or even a century away.



FF: I have heard it said that a film adaptation is required to live separately of the book in order to tell its own version of the story, whilst finding a way to add to the source material. Is the process of adaptation therefore about conveying the spirit of the story and its author, rather than being a strictly faithful adaptation?


RS: Certainly when I talk about being faithful to the story, I’m talking about being faithful to its essence, or what the author is driving at. With Lovecraft and also with H.G. Wells, I was mostly concerned by the way both authors were dealing with cosmicism - the issue of humanity’s sheer smallness in the face of deep time and the infinite universe. But Wells and Lovecraft deal with them in very different ways. Wells’s characters are very plucky and stand up to the gulfs that face them, whereas Lovecraft’s characters go mad and die. I felt that neither author had been adequately portrayed onscreen, that folk had really missed what for me had always felt like the core theme of all of that material.


… Both Lovecraft and Wells were writing speculative fiction and were trying to deal with what we would think of as science fiction, of what might happen to us in the years to come. It made no sense to me to do these adaptations slavishly faithful, by keeping the material in its own time period. I didn’t want to turn them into period pieces and I’m sure if they were writing now, Lovecraft and Wells wouldn’t be writing stories that were set a 150 years ago, but would be dealing with issues that were cogent to the present day, and the near future. So it made sense to step away from the time period in which these stories were set, to update Lovecraft to the near future.


FF: Could we say there is a flexibility of interpreting the stories aesthetically, through the cinematography and production design, because the legitimacy of the adaptation is in the presentation of the themes and ideas?


RS: Yeah, it’s further to what we were saying before. Despite all the modifications I made to Lovecraft’s texts, I attempted to interrogate the texts as well by deliberately doing things that Lovecraft wouldn’t do, like introducing the first black graduate student from the Miskatonic University to be the narrative voice. And it was he [Ward] who encounters the family’s daughter, who doesn’t exist in the [Lovecraft] story at all. There were times I was stepping far away from the material, but to Lovecraft’s credit, every time I managed to return directly to his actual words, it really works [laughs].


Using the original text as voiceover, some of the scenes I’m happiest with in the movie are moments I am able to stage actual dialogue from the original story, notably when the sheriff comes to Nathan’s front door and they have the conversation, and the material recorded by Ezra on the audio tape, which was all pretty much verbatim Lovecraft. Those moments still play with a spooky intensity that I think outstrips any dialogue that I might have written myself.


FF: From dealing with someone else’s dreams to now sharing your interpretation of those dreams with an audience, what have you taken away from the experience of sharing COLOR OUT OF SPACE?


RS: It’s a timely question given that in the last 24 hours I have just received my first DVD and Blu-Ray copies of the movie from the UK release, and that really felt like the end, like it was finally over. From past experience I never feel the job is completely over until somebody has run off a disc, I have it in my hand and I can take it home and put it in my own system [laughs]. So it did feel like, okay, mission accomplished; the thing’s finally done.


It has been an eerie experience and I’ve been very gratified by the way in which the film has been embraced by the Lovecraft community, particularly some of the Lovecraft scholars, and hardcore fans given the licence I’d taken with the work. I’d expected to have a harder run, and it also made me realise just how many fans Lovecraft had. It suddenly became apparent that there were literally hundreds of thousands of them, and the extent to which the CTHULHU MYTHOS had penetrated every culture and country on Earth. I’d thought about it before, but I hadn’t realised the global reach of Lovecraft’s creepy ideas. And the fact that I hadn’t gotten a movie into cinemas for a good twenty years, and then we finally get one out there and a global pandemic breaks out and closes all cinema screens, only served to make the Lovecraftian sense of the cosmic anti-humanism, which is the darkest aspect of Lovecraft’s material, seem all the more relevant. It speaks very strongly to what the more one realises is, humanity could well be facing some future extinction event.


COLOR OUT OF SPACE is out now on Blu-ray, DVD & Digital, and VOD from 14th April 2020.


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