I was never much of an H.P. Lovecraft fan, even before I knew he was a grade-A bigot — a fact that, when I discovered it, made me proud that the internal racism radar I’d honed growing up in rural Virginia had subconsciously steered me away from his writings.
I’ve enjoyed some of the films based on his work, though — Dagon being a favorite — as well as films influenced by it, and I acknowledge the enormous impact he’s had on the horror genre. That said, I can also say FUCK LOVECRAFT AND THE CTHULU HE RODE IN ON, and in the spirit of the current statue-toppling movement, I heartily declare that there’s no good reason to erect or maintain monuments to him — either actual or metaphorical.
He was not, after all, a run-of-the-mill citizen whose beliefs merely reflected the racism of the day. He was a virulent racist — not to mention antisemite and xenophobe — who described the KKK as a “noble but much maligned band of Southerners who saved half of our country from destruction at the close of the Civil War,” someone who had to defend his bigotry to his friends (in letters that even Lovecraft apologists acknowledge constitute a “huge volume of material…where he vehemently defends his racist views”) and whose own (Jewish) wife viewed him as “livid with anger and rage” — his beliefs no doubt contributing to the brevity of their marriage. And as a writer, he had the reach to influence millions — which he’s done over the course of 100-plus years, allowing his most forgiving fanboys the privileged freedom to excuse references in his published stories to the “primitive half-ape savagery” of non-Aryan races or descriptions like “an Arab with a hatefully negroid mouth” or “sneering, greasy mulattos” and “hideous negroes that resemble gigantic chimpanzees.”
But hey, you have to separate the art from the artist, right? By some people’s logic, Hitler’s biggest mistake was not being a good enough painter.
…Which brings me to Color Out of Space, which will receive the side-eye treatment by some due to its basis on a Lovecraft short story, “The Colour Out of Space.” I personally would be just as likely to give it the side-eye treatment because it stars Nicolas Cage — not because he’s racist or anything, but just because he’s Nicolas Cage. At this point, Nicolas Cage is so Nicolas Cage and NOT the characters he plays, the best you can hope for is that he doesn’t do something too crazy to take you out of the story. In fact, with him in front of the camera and writer-director Richard Stanley (Hardware, Dust Devil, almost The Island of Dr. Moreau) behind the camera, I would think the insanity insurance alone would make this film cost prohibitive to make.
But surprisingly, Color Out of Space is relatively restrained (certainly, compared to Cage’s recent cult hit Mandy) for a movie with such eccentric personnel and a plot about a meteorite that mutates the plants, wildlife and people in and around the farm where it lands. We get fleeting moments of the gleeful grotesquities that made John Carpenter’s The Thing such a visceral classic, but not quite enough to fully appease my horror palate or to match the Cage-ian lunacy we’ve come to expect.
Still, the unease of the undefined, creeping terror provides ample entertainment value (if you can stomach that the fear Lovecraft’s stories largely reflect his hatred and nihilism: his fear of the “other,” his paranoia about white America being overrun by immigrants and diluted by other races/ethnicities/nationalities). In his first fiction film in nearly 30 years, Stanley reminds us why he was a rising star before the Moreau debacle, delivering some striking, lucid visuals and spooky atmospherics.
But why, you ask, am I reviewing this movie on my site? As it turns out, Color Out of Space features a major black character — the narrator, who most assuredly was NOT black in the original story — a hydrologist named Ward Phillips (Elliot Knight) who’s surveying the area ahead of the construction of a new reservoir. When he discovers that the meteorite has contaminated the water, he warns everyone, but the alien force has already taken hold of the area, and although he rushes to help the story’s central family — particularly daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur), with whom he has a flirtatious relationship — he ends up less a hero than a witness. He’s the one who spreads the campfire tale, a narrator — like Morgan Freeman in Shawshank Redemption or…Morgan Freeman in anything.
Half of his performance, it seems, is comprised of reaction shots, but while there’s a dearth of depth in his character, *SPOILER ALERT* he ends up being the only one left standing at the end. And there’s something awfully poetic about a black man being the sole survivor in an adaptation of a story by a white supremacist like H.P. Lovecraft.
And now, a reaction gallery by Elliot Knight: