[Interview] Director Richard Stanley for COLOR OUT OF SPACE

This past September, I took a flight to Austin, TX for one reason and one reason only: to attend the US premiere of Richard Stanley’s COLOR OUT OF SPACE at Fantastic Fest. Not only was this the first feature film Stanley had directed in almost 30 years, following the 1996 disaster that was The Island of Dr. Moreau, but it was also one of those rare instances where fans of cosmic horror where going to finally see another adaptation based on the work of H.P. Lovecraft.

In COLOR OUT OF SPACE, a meteorite lands in the front yard of a farm owned by the Gardner family. However, soon after it lands, the family begins to experience horrific changes to both their minds and bodies as a mutant extraterrestrial organism takes hold of each one of them, transforming their quiet rural life into a technicolor nightmare.

COLOR OUT OF SPACE is Richard Stanley’s comeback film. He’s one of the few directors capable of bringing such cosmic horror to the screen in a way that is both beautiful and terrifying. During Fantastic Fest, I had the chance to chat with Richard Stanley where we discussed everything from bringing this story to life, casting Nicolas Cage, as well as modernizing the story so that the horror’s presented connected with the present.

Nicolas Cage as Nathan Gardner in the sci-fi/horror film, COLOR OUT OF SPACE, an RLJE Films release | Photo courtesy of Gustavo Figueiredo

What was the process like in terms of bringing COLOR OUT OF SPACE to life? 

Richard Stanley: As usual, very accidental and chaotic. It took years [to get this film made]. I made a Lovecraftian short film back in 2012 which was part of the Theatre Bizarre – it was incorporated as the first segment of Theatre Bizarre. The gentlemen who put the money up for [Theatre Bizarre] approached me and asked me if I would write a feature-length Lovecraft movie preferably set on a single, rustic location. Immediately, Colour Out of Space and Dunwich Horror presented themselves as being potential stories to go after. Then I brought in a witchy friend of mine, Scarlett Amaris, to draft a female lead because we wanted to address Lovecraft’s failings as well as his strong points. He’s a great master but he’s also a misanthrope as well as racist and misogynistic. I wanted to start [the film] by introducing a woman and a gentleman of color in the very first scene because I wanted to shake that up [and show] there are other students at Miskatonic University outside of white men.

Nicolas Cage has had one hell of a resurgence, especially in the horror genre with roles in films such as Mandy and Mom and Dad. What was the process like in bringing him on to play Nathan Gardner in COLOR OUT OF SPACE?

Richard Stanley: Well, Nic was the catalyst that made the whole thing happen. By the time I finished writing the script, the guy who originally encouraged me had gone bankrupt and gone to rehab and the movie didn’t get made. The script floated around and then during the shooting of Mandy, Nic was talking to one of the producers and mentioned that he was a huge Lovecraft fan. Spectrevision had a dire need to make another movie fast and they remembered that they had seen a Lovecraft script floating around somewhere. They grabbed my COLOR OUT OF SPACE script which happened to be going by and shoved it in Nic’s hands. Then they literally cornered Nic in a bar in Las Vegas and dialed me on the telephone and passed the handset to Nic and I got this phone call at 3 am in France from Nic saying he wanted to make this movie.

COLOR OUT OF SPACE has a much more modernized feel to it. What was the reasoning behind that? 

Richard Stanley: Yes, that was a very deliberate move on my behalf. It was the same reasoning I had when I updated H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau – I felt that the misanthrope needed to connect with the present and it needed to be a clear and present danger for us now and for the generations to come. I love Lovecraft, I’ve got a plush Cthulhu doll back home that I sleep with and I’m very fond of the Call of Cthulhu role players, but I knew whatever happened with [the film] it couldn’t be cute, it needed to be made deadly. Rather than something quaint that belonged to the 1920s or the past century, I wanted to drag the mythos into the present and make note that it’s even more of an issue now than it’s ever been before.

Julian Hilliard as Jack Gardner in the sci-fi/horror film, COLOR OUT OF SPACE, an RLJE Films release | Photo courtesy of Gustavo Figueiredo

Adapting Lovecraft’s work has always been notoriously difficult to do. How was it adapting such a cosmic horror tale for the big screen? 

Richard Stanley: It’s a huge challenge because obviously I admire the man hugely so it’s akin to a religious artisan being brought on to paint the crucifixion. I felt a great responsibility to try and do the COLOR OUT OF SPACE justice.

Lovecraft’s popularity has grown immensely within what seems to be the last 5-10 years. What are your thoughts on that? 

Richard Stanley: There are more and more of us every year. He’s never been more popular than he is now which is a crazy thing. For something that’s never been own by a big corporation, never been pushed by a professional publicist, it’s incredible how Cthulhu is recognized in Russia, in Japan, even where I live in the French Pyrenees. There are kids who don’t speak English that come to my house and can identify Cthulhu at once. It’s saturated our culture in the 21st Century to such an extent people all over the world have heard of Cthulhu, the Necronomicon, even if they don’t know Lovecraft created them. It’s managed to reach across the face of the earth. I don’t know how it has done that but somehow it has.

COLOR OUT OF SPACE arrives only in theaters on January 24, 2020.

Shannon McGrew
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