Madeleine Arthur as Lavinia in the sci-fi/horror film Color Out of Space, an RLJE Films Release. Photo Courtesy of Gustavo Figueiredo
Richard Stanley has been on the path to adapt H.P. Lovecraft’s Color Out of Space since he was a child in South Africa when his mother, an ardent fan of the author, would read the macabre tales of terror to him.
“By the time I was 13 years old, I wanted to adapt Color Out of Space mostly because it’s one of the most accessible of the Lovecraft stories,” he told iHorror in a recent interview. “It was Lovecraft’s favorite and out of all his material, it’s the one story that isn’t set in Antarctica or on some other planet. That fact that it concerns one family on a farm meant that even as a kid mucking around with a Super 8 camera, I could imagine attempting to adapt it in some way.”
At 53 years old, those childhood dreams became a reality with a film starring Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Madeleine Arthur, Brendan Meyer, and Julian Hilliard as a family forever changed after a meteorite carrying a mutant extraterrestrial organism lands in the front yard of their farm.
Even as an adult, however, adapting Lovecraft is no walk in the park. The author often dealt with indescribable horrors, a plot device which is perfect for sparking the imagination of readers but makes bringing the stories to film nearly impossible. Describing the indescribably terrifying almost always diminishes its inherent horror, after all.
As Stanley points out, however, science has caught up to Lovecraft in many ways since Color Out of Space was first published in 1927.
“Lovecraft talks about non-Euclidean geometry in his writing,” the director explained. “I remember when I was at school I used the phrase “non-Euclidean geometry” and I got marked down on my paper by the teacher with a big red ring around it saying there was no such thing. Now in the 21st century we have chaos science and fractal geometry. In fact we use fractals to create VFX in films like Color. Now we know that non-Euclidean geometry is actually a thing.”
In fact, it was science that gave Stanley the visual language necessary to create the color mentioned in the title which Lovecraft described only in analogy.
“We also realize now that the human visual spectrum basically runs between ultraviolet and infrared,” he said. “If something is invading our three dimensional space, it would have to come in between those two. If you take the halfway mark between the two, you end up with magenta which is the default color for the film.”
With his ideas for the visual storytelling in place, the director had to assemble a cast willing to take on the arduous journey that Color Out of Space demanded of them.
Nicolas Cage came aboard the project early in its development. As a lifelong fan of Lovecraft’s storytelling, he was excited to be a part of a film with so much potential and was happy to add his own twist to certain elements within the story.
They toyed with the notion that there is a point where, if a young adult doesn’t separate from their mother and father in some way, then they are sort of destined to become them. This absorption into the family unit takes on a very literal meaning in the film, but Cage had his own way of approaching those themes.
“Nic sort of based parts of this on his own father and there’s also, in a crazy way in the second half of the movie, an element of his character that begins to resemble Trump,” the director said, laughing. “This idea of becoming his own father, becoming this crazed character. Nic highlighted certain things and figured there were areas where we could push it further. It wasn’t quite as much a surprise to me on set as it was to the producers when we went off-book.”
The idea worked extremely well for Cage but other cast members were not so certain when approaching their roles, Stanley recalls. Joely Richardson, especially, was a bit of a hard-sell.
“One of the reasons it’s hard to cast is because there’s no such thing as a happy ending in a Lovecraft film,” he says. “There’s no such thing as a positive arc in the Lovecraft universe. We had a hard time casting Joely’s part as the mother, Theresa, for the particularly cruel arc that she’s subjected to. Joely was brave to come aboard, but we had to have a lot of conversations before she took on this task.”
Then there was the pivotal role of Lavinia, Cage and Richardson’s daughter in the film, played by Madeleine Arthur. The actress did not join the cast until three days before principal photography was set to begin, and the director admits he was reaching the point of desperation before Arthur came aboard.
“I was pretty much ready to go ashore and ask the first teenager I met if they wanted to be in this new Nic Cage movie that was about to start filming,” he said.
Arthur entered the fray with a dedication that impressed the director when she arrived on-set for rehearsal/costume fitting then left immediately afterward to work with a horse trainer to prepare for her riding scenes in the film.
All of this happened directly from the airport before even visiting her hotel room, mind you.
“We were absolutely graced,” the director said of her commitment. “I think Maddie, for me, was almost the best performance in the work.”
Color Out of Space is headed to theaters this Friday, January 24, 2020. Check local theater listings for showtimes and in the meantime, check out the trailer below!