Dir. Daniel Haller
Written by Jerry Sohl
Starring Boris Karloff, Nick Adams, Freda Jackson, Suzan Farmer
A good companion piece to the mildly decent DUNWICH HORROR (with the same director), this, too, is an Arkoff/Nicholson production of an H. P. Lovecraft story except five years earlier and hence not quite so weak to the lure of 70’s psychedelic silliness. No Corman on this one, either, so that might also explain it. The result is a slightly classier, better structured film, although one which also could probably do with a few cheaper thrills.
Former “Twilight Zone” writer (and Charles Beaumont ghostwriter, if his iffy-sounding wikipedia page is to be believed) Jerry Sohl adapts Lovecraft’s “Colour out of Space” by changing it to a mystery, where a clueless young woman’s boyfriend comes into town and notices a few suspicious things about her Dad (for instance, he’s played by Boris Karloff) and the sprawling gothic estate (for instance, the maid fled the house and now lives in the woods as a knife-wielding black-veiled maniac). In what seems to be something of a trend in these English-set 60s movies, the girlfriend is maddeningly oblivious to her father’s shifty behavior, but she’s game to help boyfriend Nick Adams* investigate.
|You kids get these lousy lawn ornaments off my castle grounds!|
The beginning of the film is all slow burn dread, implying something sinister but never quite letting us see exactly what’s going on. Surprisingly, it actually works pretty well when it’s being serious, finding some good horror images and generally maintaining suspense even before the action starts. Once we actually encounter the titular colour out of space, things turn a little more hokey with some iffy effects and not-so-convincing peril for our heroes. Lovecraft’s story is creepy because of the subtle way that the "colour" affects and gradually alters people and things. I’m betting he didn’t imagine it as a “zoo from hell!” as described in the dialogue and populated by what look to be three or four dour-faced snuffleupagus family members.
|It's not easy being green.|
In the H.P. Lovecraft documentary FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN, John Carpenter opines that someone ought to make a movie of “The Colour Out of Space,” apparently unaware that someone already did under the silly title DIE, MONSTER, DIE. He notes, however, that he doesn’t know how they could because you’d have to depict the actual color, which Lovecraft describes as something “without a place among the known tints of Earth.” Well, here they solved that problem by making the color green. It’s that kind of movie. But even so, the generally serious treatment they give to the material gives this the dubious distinction of being one of the better Lovecraft adaptations. It ends up about as silly as the title suggests, but for the greater balance of the runtime it builds a convincingly creepy atmosphere and gets appropriate mileage out of it’s gothy sets and grumpy Boris Karloff power**. And hey, the poster isn’t lying, that ax does figure into the finale!
As usual, don't forget to check out Dan P's alternate take in ABBOT AND COSTELLO MEET FASTER, MONSTER, KILL, KILL: THE FINAL CROSSOVER!
*Adams led what appears to be a very interesting life, going from pool hall hustler to possibly having gay sex with James Dean and Elvis and along the way coming perilously close to becoming a huge movie star before dying of a drug overdose that some regard as mighty suspicious. Of course, none of that can be confirmed in any meaningful way.
**Karloff, only four years from death at the time, is wheelchair-bound and looks tired (by the end of his life he had only one half of one lung left and required oxygen after each take) but gamely gives it his all. Way to be, Boris.