Richard Stanley has just given me a very funny look.
“Wait, you just saw it this morning?” he says.
We are discussing his film “Color Out of Space,” which is not only his first feature after being fired from “The Island of Dr. Moreau” way back in the mid-1990s, but is the first film adaptation of an H.P. Lovecraft story that hasn’t been met with an immediate “welp, that didn’t work” from hardcore Lovecraft nerds, of which there are many.
The film made its U.S. premiere Sept. 20 at Fantastic Fest, but I happened to see the picture at an 8 a.m. press screening.
“That's a hell of a thing,” Stanley replies in his characteristic mumble. “It's designed for late nights where most of the audience would have to be slightly drunk or on some kind of substance or another.”
Indeed it is.
Related: Fantastic Fest: In ‘Color Out of Space,’ Nicolas Cage, alien rock are match made in hell
Featuring Nicolas Cage at his most head-scratching and Tommy Chong at his most hippie, “Color” moves the action from the 1920s to now, using what is perhaps Lovecraft’s most famous non-Cthulhu work as the basis for a film that folds in all sorts of Lovecraftian images while retaining much of the story’s animating weirdness.
Lovecraft is a rock upon which many have wrecked their cinematic ships. (Not to mention Lovecraft’s racism, increasingly a topic in discussions of his work.)
Once considered an up-and-coming director, Stanley has been in de facto movie jail since John Frankenheimer took over “Moreau,” a fiasco chronicled in the amazing 2014 documentary “Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's Island of Dr. Moreau." He has made a few shorts here and there but no features. Why on earth would he chose Lovecraft for his return?
"He was my mother’s favorite author,” Stanley says. “She read me Lovecraft when I was a child.” (Note: This explains a great deal about Stanley.) “I would have read ‘Color’ myself by the time I was 12. This is something I've wanted to do for a while because he obviously mutilated my life in different ways.”
It doesn’t hurt that “Color” is set on a farm in New England and not in, say, Antarctica or at the bottom of an undersea trench, as much of Lovecraft's work is.
“It is one of his most approachable stories, I think,” Stanley says. “But as I grew up with the material and got to understand it better, I realized that there were all kinds of issues hidden in there, which needed to be dealt with. Not just Lovecraft's misanthropy and pessimism towards the human race, but his shocking racism and lots of worn-out ideas that I felt needed to be out to dealt with in some way.” For example, there is an African American character in the film wearing a Miskatonic University shirt, something that likely has Lovecraft spinning in his grave like lathe.
Setting the story in the present also was essential: “I wanted Lovecraft’s otherworldly forces to be a clear and present danger to the audience, not something that seemed quaint or that our grandparents had to deal with. It needed to be dangerous and needed to be relevant.”
This was also the first time Stanley dealt with digital effects, effects that work beautifully on-screen, especially in the film’s third act.
“I'm still kind of working out how I feel about digital effects,” Stanley says, "but that might have to do spending the best part of my summer in a bunch of Spanish computer labs living through Madrid's most boring daytime TV show, ‘Render Farm.’”
Now that "Color" is done and out there in the world, Stanley says he's had folks "who haven't returned my calls in 20 years or something suddenly materializing.” This is a good position in which to be. So what does he want to do next?
"Before I die, I would very much love to do a proper, fully blown sword-and-sorcery movie. I’ve mostly made science fiction, but I'm a big fantasy guy. There’s plenty of unfinished business out there.”