COLOR OUT OF SPACE (2019)

Review by LL Soares

First off, I want to say, “Welcome back, director Richard Stanley!” Not that he really went anywhere, but he hasn’t made a full-length feature film since 1992’s DUST DEVIL! Sure, there was that ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU movie in 1996, starring Marlon Brando, that Stanley just started directing when the studio replaced him with John Frankenheimer, but that doesn’t count (check out the whole story of this disaster of a movie in the documentary LOST SOUL: THE DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY’S ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU, 2014). It must have been a painful experience, because Stanley has only directed short films (including the “Mother of Toads” segment in 2011’s anthology film, THE THEATRE BIZARRE), videos for cool bands like Fields of Nephilim and Marillion, and documentaries including THE OTHERWORLD (2013) and THE WHITE DARKNESS (2002). But he hadn’t directed another feature until now.

I first became aware of Stanley in the 1990s with a little film called HARDWARE (1990), a cool sci-fi horror movie where a guy finds a weird helmet that turns out to be the head of a killer robot that suddenly gets reactivated… it’s a simple but effective plot and I remember liking it a lot. After that, he made the praised DUST DEVIL (1992), and looked to be an up-and-coming new director before he got sidetracked by the DR. MOREAU bullshit.

Second, this one’s for the Lovecraft fans. COLOR OUT OF SPACE is Stanley’s adaptation of the story by H.P. Lovecraft. Did you know there have been more than 200 (mostly short) films made based on Lovecraft? Many of you know about Guillermo Del Toro’s passion project – to adapt Lovecraft’s novella AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS – which still hasn’t come to fruition. And of course there are Stuart Gordon’s classic Lovecraft films, RE-ANIMATOR (1985) and the underrated FROM BEYOND (1986). COLOR OUT OF SPACE, based on Lovecraft’s story “Colour Out of Space,” (with the British spelling of “Colour”), has been filmed at least four times previously, including a short film from 2017 by Patrick Muller, a German production from 2010 directed by Huan Vu, and an Italian production from 2008, directed by Ivan Zuccon. The most famous previous version, however, was a film called DIE, MONSTER, DIE! (1965, also known as MONSTER OF TERROR), directed by Daniel Haller and starring the great Boris Karloff, along with Nick Adams.

A lot of people were excited to hear that, not only was Richard Stanley coming back, but he was making a Lovecraft film. To put a cherry on top of the sundae, it was announced that the star would be…Nicolas Cage.

Wow.

And so we come to the third important cog of this particular machine. Hey, I know Cage is a polarizing figure. He was a big star at one point, making blockbuster action movies like  THE ROCK (1996), CON AIR (1997) and FACE/OFF (1997), and of course, NATIONAL TREASURE (2004). He even made some great movies around that time, including ADAPTATION. (2002) and the underrated MATCHSTICK MEN (2003). Then his career seemed to implode, but not due to lack of work. He was in tons of movies, it just seemed like a lot of them were make-em-quick-for-the-money duds. But I never lost my faith in him. For every bad movie, he’d make three interesting ones. Before his action hero ascension, he made lots of good movies, including BIRDY (1984), RAISING ARIZONA (1987), David Lynch’s WILD AT HEART (1980), and LEAVING LAS VEGAS (1995), the movie he won an Oscar for. And not all of the films he’s made since his career went all bizarre are awful, some of them are downright terrific like BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS (2009), DRIVE ANGRY (2011), MOM AND DAD (2017) and 2018’s MANDY, which was so good, people started taking him a bit seriously again.

Sure, Cage has a reputation for playing bigger-than-life wackos, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a joy to watch, and when he gets a good script, he can turn in a memorable performance. I’m convinced he always could.

So what happens when you take these three elements – Richard Stanley, Lovecraft, and Nic Cage – and put them all together?

COLOR OUT OF SPACE!

The Gardner family has moved out to a farm in the middle of nowhere, intent on a new start after a traumatic event. Theresa Gardner (Joely Richardson of the series NIP/TUCK, 2003-2010, and VAMPIRE ACADEMY, 2014) is healing up after a battle with cancer. Her husband, Nathan (Nicolas Cage) is intent on farming, and raises alpacas. They fight a lot over the Wi-Fi, which is constantly going out in this isolated area, and Theresa needs the internet to communicate with her clients, who she advises financially. Teenage daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur, also in BIG EYES, 2014) performs Wiccan rituals in the woods to help her mother. Teenage son Benny (Brendan Meyer, THE GUEST, 2014, and THE OA, 2016-2019) hangs out a lot with an old hippie hermit named Ezra (Tommy Chong, also in UP IN SMOKE, 1978, and THAT ‘70s SHOW, 1999-2006) who lives nearby in a shack. Youngest son Jack (Julian Hilliard, also in the TV series THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, 2018) spends most of his time with the family dog.

A young hydrologist named Ward Phillips (Elliot Knight, also on the series AMERICAN GOTHIC, 2016, and ONCE UPON A TIME, in 2015) comes upon Lavinia during one of her rituals, and explains that he is there to inspect the water table, since the state is planning to build a dam nearby.

One night, a meteorite crashes to earth in the middle of their yard. It emits a strange color (a psychedelic pink hue) and begins to transform everything it comes into contact with. The meteor mutates the land and creatures around it. Strange flowers spring up around the family’s well, and the alpacas, as well as the Gardner family members themselves, begin to experience weird changes.

The changes begin slowly, first changing the groundwater, which Ward suggests they don’t drink, to eventually turning animals and people into misshapen mutants. There are some nice body horror moments in the movie, including two people who are fused into one, agonized mass. And everyone in the Gardner family begins to slide toward insanity.

Things just get weirder and weirder as we approach the denouement.

Stanley does a good job with the story (aside from directing, he co-wrote the screenplay with Scarlett Amaris). Especially impressive is the look and feel of the strange glowing “color” that the meteor emits. Since it’s impossible to show us an alien color that we’ve never seen before, the use of eerie, overwhelming pink light in the mutation scenes works quite well. The creepy soundtrack by Colin Stetson is also very effective, as is the work of cinematographer Steve Annis, who gives us a strong visual sense of what’s going on.

Richard Stanley and the themes of Lovecraft work very well together. Nicolas Cage alternates between giving an effective performance, and going over the top at times. It actually doesn’t affect the mood at all, since everything is going in the direction of complete madness anyway.

However, while I liked this movie, I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed. COLOR OUT OF SPACE ends up being less than the sum of its parts. It wasn’t the masterpiece I was hoping for. There are times when the movie feels off, or things don’t go in a particular direction as strongly as they could have. It’s like a wild animal that tries to break out of its cage – and makes a valient effort — but utlimately, doesn’t.

But it’s good enough so that, if you’re a fan of Richard Stanley, Lovecraft, or Nicolas Cage, or any combination thereof, then I suggest you check this one out. It’s not the best Lovecraft adaptation you’ll ever see, but it’s far from the worst, too. And it’s supposed to be the first film in a Lovecraft trilogy that Stanley is working on. Let’s hope it’s all uphill from here.

 

© Copyright 2020 by LL Soares

 

VEROTIKA (2019)

Note: Lately, my reviews have been showing up on a new site called FILM HORDE, but because nothing is normal these days, that site is on temporary hiatus, and I’m posting my reviews back here again — for now. Here’s the latest one.

VEROTIKA (2019)

Review by LL Soares

(Warning: Review contains spoilers!)

WTF!!

Every once in awhile you see a movie and wonder how did this get made? What was the director thinking when they made it? And that’s exactly what I thought when I saw Glenn Danzig’s new movie, VEROTIKA, which got a brief theatrical release a few months ago before it came out recently on DVD and Blu-ray from Cleopatra Entertainment. If you’re a fan of bad movies, then you’ll have to add this one to your list.

Look, I’m a fan of Danzig’s music, from his days in the Misfits and Samhain, up to his albums with the namesake band Danzig, and when I heard he was going to make a movie – and a horror movie at that – I was excited. I’d heard that the movie would be based on some of the stories from his Verotik line of adults-only comics, which meant there might be some incredible visuals – depending on the budget – because the one thing Verotik is best known for is the art, by artists like Liam Sharp, Simon Bisley, and Tim Vigil, and its generous use of nudity, especially well-endowed women. I guess, in picturing the movie before I saw it, I imagined a live-action version of HEAVY METAL (1981), with lots of nudity and gore.

Let’s say the movie fell a little short of my expectations.

VEROTIKA begins with a woman in chains (an image that is used several times throughout the film), who is confronted by Morella, a goth-looking woman with upside-down crosses under her eyes, who gouges out the chained woman’s eyes, while cracking a joke. Morella is also our hostess for these little adventures. She is played by adult film star Kayden Kross (also in SAMURAI COP 2: DEADLY VENGEANCE, 2015).

The first segment is called “The Albino Spider of Dajette.” In it, a girl named Dajette (Ashley Wisdom, REPRISAL, 2018, and the short film GOOD GUY WITH A GUN, 2020) is getting frisky with a guy, but she won’t remove her top. When he pulls it off, we see that her nipples are replaced with eyeballs (which is never explained and doesn’t add much to the plot – sadly, they also don’t move, so they never seem fully animated). The guy runs away, and Dajette cries. Her tears fall on an white spider that is crawling on some flowers, and the tears transform the spider into a weird-ass monster with eight arms (Scotch Hopkins, GANGSTER LAND, 2017, and BLOOD CRAFT, 2019), who comes to life in the real world whenever Dajette goes to sleep. Kind of an arachnid Freddy Krueger. Of course, when the humanized spider is around, he goes on a killing spree, killing prostitutes, just like Dajette, including some of her friends.

The police are trying to stop the serial killer, while Dajette alternates between being sad because no one loves her, and guilty over the horrors that happen she goes to sleep. The spider-man tries to encourage Dajette to sleep more, so he can come out and play. Eventually, she tricks him into a vulnerable situation, so he can be stopped.

Despite the fact that this one makes the most sense of the bunch, in a dream-logic kind of way, there’s still not a lot that redeems it. Sometimes the monster is free to roam around when Dajette sleeps, and other times he’s in the same room with her (with no explanation why). And what about those nipple eyes? What’s the story with those?

And everyone in this segment speaks in awful French accents. I guess it’s supposed to take place in Paris, but after awhile, with more and more characters trying to sound French, it just becomes laughable. The acting isn’t very good (I guess that’s an understatement, although Hopkins, as the spider, stands out just because his character is so odd), and the effects aren’t all that amazing either (the spider-man’s extra arms are clearly plastic and have no perceivable life of their own).

Our next segment is called “Change of Face,” and this is the one I have the most questions about, because very few of the plot elements make any sense. A stripper known as “Mystery Girl” (Rachel Alig, also in BIKINI SPRING BREAK, 2012, and OFFICER DOWN, 2013) dances around the stage with a hood, with her face hidden, because she has scars. When she’s not dancing, she’s off attacking random women and slicing off their faces with a big knife. Even though this doesn’t sound like it would kill the women, most of them die due to “shock and blood loss.” Why is Mystery Girl so obsessed with taking other women’s faces? At first I thought the idea was that she would put the faces on over her scars and look like someone new each time she stripped. This wouldn’t make much sense, but in the goofy logic of the movie, it would work. Instead, she just hangs them on the wall around her mirror. There are all these fleshy sheets tacked to the wall, for seemingly no reason. She just likes to collect them! What a waste. There’s no deeper purpose. If she’s going to be ugly, then those beautiful women she steals the faces of are going to be ugly, too!

Meanwhile, the police, led by Sgt. Anders (Sean Kanan, who amazingly has had recurring roles on the soap operas GENERAL HOSPITAL and THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL) try to solve the mystery of the face stealer.

This one was also weird because even though it takes place in a strip club, there’s not much nudity. Girls either wear string bikinis or black tape over their nipples, or fishnet tops. And nobody gets completely nude. What kind of strip club is this? Especially based on the nudity-abundant Verotik comics?

Aside from the fact that this story makes no sense, there are other reasons why it’s bad. The acting is atrocious (even more so than the Albino Spider story, even though no one has to pretend to be French in this one). Some of the line readings are just cringe-worthy, and no one acts like a real human being. The dialogue is sometimes hilarious. At the end, I just wasn’t sure what the point was.

By the time we get to the third segment, “Drukija, Contessa of Blood,” the bad writing takes a turn. Instead of giving us a plot that doesn’t make any sense, “Drukija” just dispenses with the plot altogether. It’s really just a retelling of the story of Elizabeth Bathory, the subject of the movie COUNTESS DRACULA (1971), and several other films. A noblewoman bathes in the blood of village virgins to stay young. Instead of Countess Bathory, we have Contessa Drukija (Alice Tate, of SNOWBOUND, 2017, and roles on the TV shows JEAN-CLAUDE VAN JOHNSON and THE KOMINKSY METHOD), who spends her time doing two things: going around the village to check out the virgins, and bathing in virgin blood after her young victims have their throats slit. That’s it. We never really see what she DOES with her youthful vigor. Maybe because she just doesn’t do much else. Her only real relationship is with Sheska (Natalia Borowsky, SO, YOU WANT TO BE A GANGSTER? 2018), who acquires the virgins for her and makes sure the Contessa is kept happy. There are hints that Sheska is in love with Drukija. And since Drukija is an aristocrat, there are no police coming for her, no punishment on its way.

At least this one has a lot of nudity (compared to “Change of Face”) and the acting is a little better (Tate and Borowsky stand out only because they aren’t completely awful). But it’s just the same thing over and over, with no plot development.

The interstitial scenes of Morella don’t add anything. She just presents each story, but doesn’t have one of her own, sadly.

The thing is, despite the fact that they adapted stories by Edward Lee (“Grub Girl”) and Nancy A. Collins (“Sunglasses at Night”), two horror mainstays, the Verotik comics line was known more for the art than the stories, and this movie just continues that theme. Written and directed by Danzig himself, there’s not a lot of drama, suspense, or real horror here. Throughout the film, I kept wondering why the stories didn’t go in more interesting directions, and yet they were so odd (and often pointless) that it added to the overall strangeness. This is the kind of movie where you’ll be amazed how bad it gets at times, but I have to admit I also laughed more than a few times. I really don’t think it was intended to be funny, but it’s such a misfire that there’s a strong sense of campiness, even though all of the actors (no matter how bad) take their roles seriously (if they’d been more self-aware and winked at the camera, it probably would have been worse). The production values also leave a lot to be desired.

One plus, however, is the soundtrack. Since Mr. Danzig is involved, this comes as no surprise. The soundtrack includes songs by Danzig, Ministry, and Switchblade Symphony, to name a few.

So I’ll admit, this is a bad movie, but I also found is strangely entertaining in its own way. I thought Glenn Danzig might be the next Rob Zombie (i.e., musician turned successful horror film director), but I guess he’s more of an Ed Wood Jr.

If you’re housebound with the coronavirus situation, this one might be a good double feature with Tommy Wiseau’s THE ROOM (2003), or Wood’s ORGY OF THE DEAD (1965). Hell, make it a triple feature!

Word has it that Danzig is already making a follow-up movie, described as a “vampire spaghetti western” and it will actually have some recognizable actors in it. In a weird way, I’m looking forward to it to see if Danzig actually improves as a filmmaker, or if he gives us more “so bad it’s good” chills and thrills.

© Copyright 2020 by LL Soares