Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Any Colour You Like

I wouldn't be upset at all if the filmmaking model pursued by The H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society were to spread. Their relative success within their own self-defined niche of semi-pro filmmaking can be cloned. I've already seen it replicated. The results are as watchable as either The Call of Cthulhu or The Whisperer in Darkness, even if the source material, the already much-filmed "The Colour Out of Space," is a more intractable source material. The Colour Out of Space (aka: De Farbe, 2010, directed by Huan Vu) transplants the familiar Lovecraft story to Germany just after WW II. It actually thrives in its new setting.

The story should be familiar by now, having been previously filmed as Die, Monster, Die in 1965 and again in 1987 as The Curse. A mysterious rock falls from the sky and lands on the Gärtener farm near the Swabian-Franconian Forest in Germany. The meteor is a nine day wonder to the locals, and soon, scientists arrive to study it. To their dismay, they find that it is rapidly evaporating. Soon enough, it disintegrates entirely. Its effects linger, though. The Gärtener farm blossoms with plants that are unnaturally bright, and then withers away. The family's matriarch soon descends into madness. The mysterious "colour" that has descended from the sky is monstrous. In true Lovecraft fashion, this all comes second hand, slowly revealed through the investigations of one Jonathan Davis, an American scholar searching for his missing G.I. father.

While purists might grouse at the transplantation of the story, setting The Colour Out of Space just after WW II is kind of brilliant. This places the story right at the dawn of the atomic age and the story itself has always been a creepy and accurate extrapolation of the horrors of nuclear fallout or of a large scale toxic waste spill, both specters that haunt the post-war world more than they did the pre-war world. The blasted landscape of the story dovetails nicely with a landscape already blasted by war. Like The Whisperer in Darkness, this is one of Lovecraft's science fiction stories, and like that story, this demonstrates the folly of demarcating a boundary between science fiction and horror.

The film itself is well made. The conceit of shooting this like it's period (a la the HPLHS films) pays dividends here when the filmmakers break out of the noir-ish black and white design they've adopted to show the "colour" in all it's vivid violet hideousness. This is an old trick--perhaps most memorably deployed in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)--but it's particularly appropriate here. The shot compositions are startling sometimes in ways that suggest a film crew steeped in European film rather than American schlock, which gives the film a visual texture that other Lovecraft adaptations lack. It's a visually striking film, which is something I wasn't expecting. There are very few bad compositional choices. Even the choice of color for the titular monster seems apt.

The performances? That I can't judge, really. I can follow German some of the time, but not enough to tell if the actors are stiff or natural. My impression is that Marah Schneider is very good as Frau Gärtener, but that may be because she's given the opportunity to barnstorm as a lunatic. The English language parts of the film, however, do feel kind of stiff, so what do I know? It's not an actor's movie, anyway. The film tends to repeat itself, too, in ways that seem like the filmmakers are padding the length to make the cut as a feature. Regardless, it's a fun film, one that's respectful of its source material. It's obviously a labor of love, and sincerity counts for something, even as the film veers off the reservation near the end.

As I said, I wouldn't mind it if this mode of filmmaking were to spread. I see no reason why it shouldn't, given the increasingly diminishing barriers to filmmaking. I'd also like to see it diversify. I love Lovecraft as much as the next horror fan, but there's lots more to the genre than the Providence Spook. I'd love to see someone attempt F. Marion Crawford or some of Robert E. Howard's horror stories. Those moldering issues of Weird Tales were packed with material for an enterprising filmmaker and most of it has slipped into the public domain. The horror genre in the 20th Century was built on that stuff. It's a sturdy foundation.

Final tally: 34 films.
26 first time viewings.

And so ends this year's October Challenge. I did better than I thought I would. For everyone who has kept reading my drivel, hopefully you'll stay with me through the rest of the year and come back for next year's challenge. Thank you from the bottom of my blasted, black little heart.

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