This adaptation of the classic H. P. Lovecraft short story, “The Colour out of Space” is Ivan Zuccon’s second attempt at tackling Lovecraft’s fiction (if we ignore the director’s earlier Lovecraftian influenced THE DARKNESS BEYOND and UNKNOWN BEYOND), having shown distinct promise with THE SHUNNED HOUSE (2002). With the emphasis switched from the indescribable tentacled monstrous entities of the Cthulhu Mythos to invisible alien presences from outer space, “The Colour out of Space” is one of the more filmable tales of Lovecraft’s, with the potential for successful translation within the confines of a relatively low budget.
Made for less than $100,000, COLOUR FROM THE DARK sets new standards for Lovecraftian filmmakers with its thematics hearkening back to the philosophical tenets held by the Providence author and building its terrors upon the notion that man, his laws and spiritual comforts are of no consequence when faced with the indifference of puissant cosmic forces outside our understanding.
Instead of Lovecraft’s New England locale of 1892, Zuccon switches his tale to 1940s Italy where we encounter impoverished farmer Pietro (Michael Segal) and wife Lucia (Debbie Rochon). Pietro has avoided conscription due to a wounded leg and shares farm chores with his Lucia and her younger sister Alice (Marysia Kay). Alice is a mute 22 year old with the mental age of a child and is prone to terrifying nightmares that seem to prophesise horrendous events. With the aid of a creepy rag doll, that seems to act as her ears and eyes Alice has visions of dark and sinister forces lurking beneath the waters of the farm well; these forces are inadvertently released by Pietro when trying to recover the doll when Alice accidentally knocks it down the well shaft. With the farm’s water supply contaminated by the other worldly presence, it’s not long before the land produce and inhabitants fall prey to its alien properties. At first the devout Catholic family believe it’s an act of God when their crops return a bumper harvest overnight, and both Pietro’s leg and Alice’s speech impediment receive miracle cures. Lucio, too, seems a changed person when her libido, previously kept in check by her Catholic beliefs is heightened. All is well at first, and even Alice’s nightmares seem to have been vanquished, but within days, the natural cycle of birth, regeneration and death begins to take its toll, as all is enveloped by the unearthly presence.
Zuccon’s fascination with religious doctrine and use of religious artefacts as failed forms of spiritual security, used to effect in UNKNOWN BEYOND, THE SHUNNED HOUSE, and NYMPHA (2007), receive a thorough workout here, with the entity unaffected by crucifix, Star of David, or holy water. The all-consuming presence takes over the souls of its victims, turning their physical and spiritual strengths and defences against them. A priest sent to exorcise Lucio is burned by the holy water he uses to bless; Alice’s chastity is transformed into sexual deviance; Alice’s protective doll is ultimately responsible for her transgression; Pietro’s physical handicap is cured paving way for him to become a killing machine. Also intriguing is the war setting and the metaphorical parallels between the invading armies and cosmic forces. Nowhere is this more evident than the scene in which a Jewish character is exterminated by the “cosmic force” in much the same way as the Nazi’s might dispose of the Jews, with a single blast to the head, much like a bullet wound; the scene closes with a close-up of the victim clutching the ineffectual Star of David.
Like much of Lovecraft’s fiction, COLOUR FROM THE DARK is rich in rustic horror. The opening sequence in which Alice, using her rag doll as psychic guide and defence, rises from her bed, out of the farmhouse and down to the well is particularly effective, and suspenseful; the scene enhanced by Marysia Kay’s performance that exudes both childlike vulnerability and schizophrenic menace. Equally beguiling is Zuccon’s cinematography that exploits the sense of melancholy with moonlit shots of the farm architecture, overgrown crops, misty woods and abandoned fields.
Lovecraft’s original tale relies heavily on descriptive passages detailing the “blasted heath” and surrounding New England territories to build mood and sustain reader interest in the horrors that manifest themselves slowly in the text. The meteor crash from the original tale is dispensed with here. We are unsure from where the horror lurking at the bottom of the well originated and with Zuccon’s cinematography neatly summarising the rustic detachment and foreboding presence in nature with a few sweeping movements of his camera there’s not a lot of the original tale left to sustain this film to feature length. Zuccon therefore introduces secondary characters and a plotline that involves a farmhand and his wife sheltering a young Jew. Fortunately the sub-plot is gently woven into the fabric of the whole without detracting from the main themes of the script.
With the cast all performing well (though one or two accents seem out of place at times), and its terrors convincing and unnerving COLOUR FROM THE DARK cements Zuccon’s position as one of the leading Italian filmmakers working within the supernatural tradition.
Carl T. Ford
Directed by Ivan Zuccon
English Language / USA/Italy / 2008 / 93 minutes / Colour / Not Rated
Region 1 / NTSC
A Vanguard DVD release
Region 1 (USA)
COLOUR FROM THE DARK