GORE IN THE STORE
IN CONVERSATION WITH RICHARD STANLEY
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.
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