Column: Cthulhu Eats the Movies: Colour from the Dark

By Brian M. Sammons

colour_from_darkColour from the Dark. Director: Ivan Zuccon Cast: Debbie Rochon, Michael Segal, Marysia Kay.

H. P. Lovecraft said that “The Colour out of Space” was his favourite story of all the things he’d written. While it is hard for me to put my tentacle, I mean finger, on my absolute favourite HPL story, “The Colour out of Space” would be right up there, easily making the top-three list. It must also be a favourite of filmmakers since this is the third time this short story has been brought to the silver screen. First, there was 1965’s Die Monster Die, starring the late, great Boris Karloff. Then in 1987, there was The Curse, starring Wil “don’t call me Wesley” Wheaton. There’s even a German film called Der Farbe (that’s “The Colour” for us English speakers) that should be coming out later this year. However, just like with fascism, the Italians beat the Germans to the punch when it comes to bringing out a “Colour” film. Sorry, bad joke I know, but as a bit of a history nerd, it honestly was the first thing I thought of. Regardless, I’m here to talk about Colour from the Dark, the most currently-available film adaption of Lovecraft’s venerable story from the land of great cars, great art, great food, and – most importantly to me – great horror films.

I just love Italian horror. Argento, Bava, and Fulci, man, those cats could make some fright flicks. Not very Lovecraftian, despite a few nods Fulci gives to the master, like naming the town in City of the Living Dead “Dunwich” and namedropping the Book of Eibon in The Beyond, but talk about visual storytelling. These filmmakers could say more in a quiet scene filled with striking images than most directors can with pages of dialogue. Well, that must be an Italian thing, kind of like talking with your hands, because the director of this film, Ivan Zuccon, is clearly from the same school of filmmaking. Colour from the Dark is at its best when it’s showing us surreal images and thankfully, this film has plenty of those. From the deathly pallor people take on as the Colour slowly eats away at them, to the bright red splashes that accent the grey so vividly when bad stuff happens, to just how icky a slowly-rotting corpse can be, this film is filled with striking imagery.

Ok, so it’s got pretty pictures, but how’s the story? Well, if you’ve never read the Lovecraft story (shame on you) or seen the other “Colour”-inspired films, then I guess there might be some minor SPOILERS coming.

At its core, this story is about an otherworldly, sentient thing – in this case, a living spectrum of light barely-perceivable and indescribable by man, slowing consuming all life around it. This film, despite being set in Italy in the 1940s (yep, that’s right smack dab in the middle of World War II, so maybe my little fascism joke wasn’t too out of place), is nonetheless the most faithful adaptation of Lovecraft’s “The Colour out of Space” yet.

Well…with a few minor exceptions.

This living Colour doesn’t come from outer space, but from the bottom of a well after someone pokes the water with a big stick. Yeah, I’m serious. While that’s kind of silly, the director may have been trying to link the alien evil with the Devil, as it comes from out of the earth instead of from the stars. Now, why would I make such an assumption? Because the other thing that I really didn’t like about this movie was the focus on Christianity’s concept of evil as opposed to the cosmic evil that Lovecraft, the eternal atheist, originally envisioned. By way of proof, take the always-lovely Debbie Rochon as the farmer’s wife and the most afflicted victim of the Colour’s evil influence. She doesn’t so much go mad and wither away, as people in the HPL story did, as she becomes possessed by Satan himself. No, really, with crucifixes melting into black sludge, Debbie giving hateful glances to any Christian iconography she spies, her sudden uncontrollable lustful appetites, and her mocking rage at a priest who comes to bless the house once it’s obviously infested with some sort of malignancy, this movie at times plays out more like The Exorcist than anything Lovecraft ever wrote.

However, if you can overlook those slight missteps and chalk it up as perhaps the director’s personal views coming through the story he’s trying to re-tell, then you’ll still find a good, scary and, as said before, rather faithful version of “The Colour out of Space” here. The air of corruption, decay, and inescapable dread is palpable in this movie. All of the actors do a good job playing their parts and, while I wasn’t a big fan of the “possessed” turn that Ms. Rochon’s character takes, she did portray it very well and at times, was truly frightening. Michael Segal, as the doomed farmer and husband, also shines and is very believable as a man coming to grips with a suddenly insane and murderous wife, a daughter-like sister-in-law who inexplicably gets over one ailment, only to all-too-soon fall victim to another, and a farm that flourishes and then quickly dies, all in the span of a week. These, and other aspects of Lovecraft’s original story that made it into the movie, were easily my favourite parts of the film, but then, I’m an HPL fanboy, so I guess that’s to be expected.

So, when the credits on this movie roll, and the lights in the theatre come up, and all is said and done, and I have used all the other clich├ęd idioms that I can think of, two questions remain: is this a good horror movie and how Lovecraftian is it? Well, yes, it is a good movie, horror or otherwise. It is directed well with plenty of style to spare and the actors are fun to watch. For the gorehounds out there, there’s even quite a bit of the red stuff to bask in. As for Lovecraftian, well, at times, it would definitely get the HPL Seal of Approval, and at other times, it’s not even remotely Lovecraft-like at all.

Final Verdict: While this movie pinballs back and forth from Lovecraftian, to not, to back, to being Lovecraftian again, it always remains an engaging, fun fright film to watch. So, give it a watch and see how loudly it pings on your own personal Lovecraft-O-Meter and feel free to let me know about it in the comments section below.

Purchase Colour from the Dark from Amazon.com

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IFPColumn: Cthulhu Eats the Movies: Colour from the Dark