Eldritch Adaptations: Lovecraft, Back in Black (and White) in ‘Die Farbe’

Eldritch Adaptations

Eldritch Adaptations is a series of reviews of movies based on or heavily inspired by the works of Howard Phillips Lovecraft—better known as H. P. Lovecraft—an American horror writer who produced numerous stories during the 1920s and ’30s.  His works have influenced the horror genre and inspired major writers and directors like Guillermo del Toro, John Carpenter, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, and many more.

The Color Out of Space (2010) [Original Title: Die Farbe]

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Plot: In the mid 1970s, a young man named Jonathan travels to Germany in order to find out where his father is.  He finds a man named Armin Pierske, who remembers his father from when he came back from the front lines of the German army following World War II.  Armin had previously witnessed the destruction of a farm owned by the Gaertener family following a weird meteor crash.  He tells the Americans, including Jonathan’s father, not to go to that farm, but they insist on it and find the same oddity that caused the death of the Gaerteners.  Then, in some kind of twist, Armin was the head of the Gaertener family, I think.  Jonathan, after hearing this story, finds his father in the woods near that farm, and he is now all spaced out.

And with that nonsensical plot summary, we are back in the realm of Lovecraft adaptations.  Earlier this year, I reviewed the silent film The Call of Cthulhu, a fantastic indie movie that captures the cosmic horrors of author H. P. Lovecraft’s work.  If most of those words were nonsensical to you, I sum up the basics in the review I linked to.

The Color Out of Space is black and white, as is The Call of Cthulhu, although there is spoken dialogue here.  One of the benefits of Cthulhu is that, by acting like a much older movie, it gets away with having a low budget.  Color, though, is very clearly a low budget movie and often looks/feels like it.  The lighting always feels a bit off, and the effects usually don’t resonate.  The issue here is that, while Cthulhu can deal in ambience and an awesome monster, Color is actually supposed to be a gruesome, terrifying story.

Screen shot 2013-07-12 at 4.29.35 PM

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Lovecraft’s original short story, which this movie is based on, is one of his most horrifying .  It follows a family of farmers who, after a meteor crash, find that all their crops have been contaminated.  The meteor has a strange hue to it, an other worldly appearance called color “only by analogy,” and it destroys the land and psyche of the Gardner family.  Then, slowly, the wife and children go insane.  This story is, like in the movie, being told to a narrator who is not from the area, and the info is related by a man named Ammi Pierce.  Ammi recalls having gone to see the family after this has been going on for a while, and finds decomposing, rotting bags of flesh–ones that are still alive.  This horror has made the farm massively taboo in the area.

But what makes Lovecraft’s story, which has a similar framing device, effective, while the movie’s is convoluted?  Well, for one thing, the movie tries to add so many details and twists that it takes away from the important part of the story: what happens to the family.  Lovecraft’s story works because it presents a family of good people who are slowly, gruesomely destroyed because the universe does not give a shit about you.  Lovecraft was not often subtle, but this story develops at a pace that lets us experience the horrors of the Gardner family.  The movie is most effective when it portrays the family and their hardships, but it has so much other fluff added that these scenes do not develop at a solid pace.

This is the one shot that did manage to give me the heebie jeebies.

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This is the one shot that did manage to give me the heebie jeebies.

The other issue is, as mentioned before, how clearly low budget this movie is.  While the scenes with the Gaertener family are often well-shot, namely because they occur outside with natural lighting, the conversations between Jonathan and Armin just don’t look quite right by contrast, which is distracting.  My other major qualm comes down to the Color Out of Space itself.  It is supposed to be an alien horror, something that is color by analogy only; for some reason the filmmakers decided to make it a series of purple blobs.  Yes, the ultimate, sanity-destroying horror is purple blobs.

I wasn't able to fall asleep until later that night, when I normally go to bed.

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I wasn’t able to fall asleep until later that night, when I normally go to bed.

I understand that this is a low budget film, and I commend everyone that worked on it.  They put a lot into it, but unfortunately they were not able to sufficiently mask the budget in the same way that those behind The Call of Cthulhu did.  Their task was difficult, but they did not manage to set up the right pace, effects, and style to make something as horrifying as the story deserves.  As its own story, this movie is largely forgettable, as it depends, I think, on a knowledge of Lovecraft.  Sadly, as an adaptation, it still falls flat.  I do recommend that Lovecraft fans give it a view, as it’s certainly entertaining (and short), but ultimately this movie falls into the realm of most Lovecraft adaptations, which are rather weak.

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