I wasn’t fully prepared the first time I watched “Color Out of Space”. Seeing it in September on my trip to cover the Toronto International Film Festival, the gonzo sci-fi horror film was not quite what I expected.
The film was screened as part of TIFF’s Midnight Madness series, which features a wild range of action, horror, shock and fantasy cinema. The films presented under this banner are a diverse group, tending towards the pulpy. But part of the fun is you never know what you’re going to get. And the projections often get noisy.
Mainly, I didn’t really see “Color Out of Space” at its midnight public screening, but a day later at a mid-afternoon screening specifically for the press and industry, where the audience tends to be a bit more moderate and a bit more jaded. Against this backdrop, the film’s quirky and wacky tone didn’t quite succeed.
But what is my life if it is not to offer a model of cinema so that others learn from my mistakes? My second viewing was home alone staring at a screen on my laptop. Still not ideal, but this time I had a better idea of what I was getting into. And that made all the difference.
“Color Out of Space” marks the long-awaited re-emergence of filmmaker Richard Stanely, who returns to the director’s chair for the first time since being fired from his 1996 remake of “Dr Moreau’s Island”, starring Val Kilmer and the late Marlon Brando. The full story of the troubled production of this unfortunate film was told in the entertaining documentary “Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau”, but in short: Stanley was replaced by John Frankenheimer, although ‘he always received credit for co-writing the script.
One of the perks of seeing a film during its festival is seeing it early, before any theatrical release, and before any real buzz or hype can set in. The downside is that by going out in the cold you don’t have a chance to get yourself in the right headroom for whatever you’re about to witness.
An adaptation of HP Lovecraft’s short story, “Color Out of Space” focuses on the Gardner family, who recently moved from town to a remote farm in rural Massachusetts.
Family patriarch Nathan (Nicholas Cage) yearns for a quiet life by raising alpacas with his slightly distracted wife Theresa (Joely Richardson), who is still recovering from a recent illness, along with their eldest son stoner Benny ( Brendan Meyer), black magic- obsessed teenage daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) and precocious young son Jack (Julian Hilliard).
When a mysterious meteorite crashes into their land, it sinks into the ground and begins to emit fuchsia otherworldly energy. This energy seems to gradually trigger strange mutations in the nearby flora and fauna, and eventually leads to more and more erratic behavior in the family itself they locked themselves in for the night, and oh my god what happened to alpacas ?!). Or maybe it’s all in their head.
When it comes to midnight movies, the traditional “good” and “bad” headings are pushed aside in favor of more mercenary criteria like “Am I entertained? And I have certainly never been bored. Often skeptical, sometimes confused, sometimes thrilled, but certainly never bored. Not to mention the joys of watching Cage descend in panic mode (seriously, so much screaming about the alpacas).
With its mix of straightforward horror, gooey makeup effects, and performances dancing along the edges of the camp, “Color Out of Space” is the platonic ideal of a midnight movie. For maximum enjoyment, it’s made to be enjoyed beer in hand, with raucous (preferably slightly drunk) weirdos sharing the same ideas.
“Color Out of Space” is a paradise for lovers of cult films. And seeing him in the almost fully packed Scotiabank IMAX theater alongside semi-interested industry folks in stony silence just didn’t have the same effect. The film is messy, awkward, over the top and so spongy; a wild moment at the cinema. As long as you are ready.
Adam Lubitow is a freelance writer for CITY. Comments on this article can be sent to [email protected]