South African filmmaker Richard Stanley has had a remarkable career, full of glorious highs and spectacular disaster. Leaving apartheid South Africa to avoid being drafted, he became a highly sought-after music video director in the UK, bringing his eye for the bizarre to the smoke machine visions of goth and post-punk bands.
At a young age, he jumped into feature films with the sci-fi, Hardware (1990) and the Namibian set Dust Devil (1992). These films became cult favourites, combining visceral thrills with a whacked out, grand Guignol visual sensibility. Off screen, Stanley’s own interests in drugs, magic, anthropology and high weirdness- imbued his work with a powerfully mystical sensibility. At this point, Stanley was well on his way to becoming a horror auteur like John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, Lucio Fulci, Stuart Gordon and George A. Romero. That was until his doomed stint at the helm of the 1996 disaster The Island of Doctor Moreau. Starring then big name Val Kilmer and acting legend Marlon Brando, the production was plagued by egos, hurricanes and studio interference. The shoot was so legendarily bad, that it was memorialised in the excellent 2014 documentary The Island of Lost Souls.
Unfairly blamed for the debacle, Stanley fled from Hollywood and has spent the last two decades writing, researching and producing occasional documentaries and narrative shorts. But after this long hiatus, he has returned with the acclaimed new film The Color Out of Space. Adapted from a classic short story by legendary horror writer H. P Lovecraft, Stanley’s long anticipated third feature lives up to the hype. With a typically wild-eyed and committed performance by Nicholas Cage, the film plays out the story of an isolated rural family whose life is upended after a sinister alien meteorite smashes into their lives. The leaking out of the alien colour infects and perverts time and the human body.
Stanley goes full throttle, piling on disturbing – yet often strikingly beautiful – images of surreal decay and poisonous psychedelic vistas. And crucially, it updates the original text with contemporary fears about ecological collapse and breakdown. The film is a brilliant portrait of humans being transformed, and ultimately destroyed, by cosmic and natural forces they cannot control or even comprehend.