“It COULD happen! It MAY happen! It MIGHT happen to YOU!”
Directed by Daniel Haller
Starring Boris Karloff, Nick Adams and Susan (or possibly Suzan) Farmer
In ‘The Colour Out of Space’, a surveyor visits a blasted farm near Arkham. Unable to learn much about it, he eventually finds one mad old man who tells how a meteorite brought an alien substance of a colour not of the known spectrum, which infested the plants and animals and eventually the Gardner family, before flying into space leaving a fragment behind in the well.
Stephen Reinhart (Adams), an American, arrives in a rural English village with a bizarre lenticular haze across the middle of the screen, but is unable to secure transport to ‘the Witley place’, a request apparently both horrifying and hilarious. Making his own way to visit his fiancee Susan Witley (Farmer), he receives a chilly reception from her father Nahum (Karloff), but stays at the insistence of her sickly mother Letitia (Freda Jackson), who wants him to take Susan away with him.
Reinhart becomes intrigued by a patch of burned, dead land, where ‘the dark powers’ dwell. Strange noises and veiled shadows in the night threaten to lead Susan back to Wuthering Heights. Meanwhile, Nahum is conducting experiments in the cellar, in his father’s old Satanic temple.
What’s wrong with it?
Reinhart is a patronising ass.
“There’s something at the window!”
“There’s nothing there. It’s your imagination.”
“I’m not imagining it!”
“Let’s not talk about it any more, we’ll talk about it in the morning.”
Mind you, Susan is kind of insipid. When the manservant dies and her father argues with the ass about what to do, she basically shrugs it off, asking him ‘please don’t make trouble.’
On the Lovecraftian side, once more the barest bare bones of the original story are crowbarred into a more conventional narrative, in this case a Hammeresque (it’s actually from Shepperton) gothic horror, complete with unhelpful and obtuse villagers, a crippled scientist and a shunned estate.
Nahum Gardner’s attempts to hide or heal his family’s sickness becomes deliberate experimentation, and the obscene, grey vegetation of the short story become giant, lush, semi-mobile killer tomato plants, even as the family name mutates to a form of Whatley, a la ‘The Dunwich Horror’.
The alien, indescribable colour becomes a glow of radiation, transforming its victims into twisted mutants instead of pallid lunatics.
Other aspects of the film seem to borrow from Poe, or The Woman in Black (although its in the clear on that one, as the novel wasn’t written until 1983.)
Nahum chips pieces off the meteorite to feed his superplants, but when he hits it with an axe at the end a brittle outer shell cracks to reveal a glowy, sparky centre (and causes it to finally vapourise as in the story.)
There is a weird ‘eye’ shaped light haze across the screen. I don’t know if that’s an artefact of the transfer or what.
What’s right with it?
The wheelchair-bound Nahum has a manservant named Merwyn who lurches wonderfully up until his death.
The film makes an early stab at treating corrupt science and black magic as opposite sides of the same coin, which is old hat now, but relatively new to cinema then, and not unLovecraftian. Unfortunately, it eventually turns on a mere belief that Corbin Witley ‘summoned’ the meteorite with his black magic.
How bad is it really?
The film has all the hallmarks of a sub-standard horror of its age, trying to make up for a plodding plot with overwrought music.
Best bit (if such there is)?
Reinhart: It’s a scientific fact that prolonged exposure to radiation can change the characteristics of living things…
Yeah; just… drop that in there, why don’t you. Of course, he then proceeds to poke the obvious radiation source with his fingers.
What’s up with…?
- Nahum’s mobility? He ponderously descends into the cellar, then moments later is scowling through the crack in a door on the first floor.
- The apparent absence of police in this universe?
- Reinhart’s insistence that ‘in the right hands, your father’s discovery could have been beneficial’? That’s a textbook Lovecraft fail.
Production values – The prosthetics and mutant beasts are basic, but not bad. Shame about the bats, and glow on the picture is weird and distracting. 9
Dialogue and performances – The actors are decent enough, especially old hands like Karloff, and Patrick Magee as the local doctor, but the script is routine and Adams and Farmer make an uninspiring central couple. 14
Plot and execution – The plot is simple, but the pacing dire. Fully 50% of this film is either Reinhart shouting self-righteously at someone, or patronising Susan, or running from one part of the house to another in response to a scream. 15
Randomness – Aside from the decision to make a film of a Lovecraft story with a literally unfilmable central conceit, and the moving plants, it’s not too bad. Oh, and Witley turning into a cybernaut at the eleventh hour. 10
Waste of potential – I really don’t know on this one. I mean, on the one hand the story is about a malevolent colour unlike any seen by human eye, so that was never going to happen. On the other, it could at least have been a better spooky monster house story. 16