When HP Lovecraft wasn’t insulting the working classes or non-white people, he could turn out a pretty fantastic story, and as he’s both famous and in the public domain, lots of movies have used those stories, and have had no problem with altering large portions of the source material. Sometimes, like “Cthulhu Mansion”, it’s an “inspired by the fiction of” credit (which means “we took the famous words and ignored the rest”); sometimes, like with “Dark Heritage”, they try and stick closer.
“The Colour From The Dark”, though, is a sort of halfway house. The title gives us a clue – HPL’s original is called “The Colour Out Of Space”; and is about the horror caused when a few people interact with an very alien race (this is a very very brief and incomplete summary of the original). Lovecraft apparently spent a great deal of time imagining what an alien race completely and utterly different in all things to humanity would act and behave, and that fed into the story, one of his very best. He also tried to imagine / describe a brand new colour, which I’m sure you’d agree is a bit tough for a visual medium like the movies. This, on the other hand, puts the action very much in the hands of people (so I think, it’s open to interpretation).
It’s Italy, in 1943. A small family is farming the land as families there had probably done in roughly the same way for centuries, and it looks a beautiful peaceful little idyll. Of course, the date should give you a clue, and when we see the neighbour of our main family giving help to a Jewish woman, we know something’s not right (even though there’s only one Nazi in the movie, really). Pietro the farmer, his wife Lucia, and Lucia’s younger sister Alice live together, but all is not well with Alice – for reasons which I think remain unspecified, she is mute and has some “difficulties”.
One day, Alice drops a bucket down the well, and trying to retrieve it, Pietro causes…something?…to happen. Smoke billows out of the well, along with a sort of lightning-looking thing, and things start happening pretty much immediately. The vegetables they’re growing, watered by that same well, start growing to monstrous size, and then even stranger, soon Alice is talking again and Lucia has become a sexual dynamo. Only Pietro appears unaffected initially, but things get darker and darker for our family, and…well, it’s available to watch for free, I’ll leave you to discover that.
“Colour From The Dark” does a remarkable job of giving that feel of Lovecraft’s best fiction, perhaps more strongly than any movie the ISCFC has covered so far (with the exception of “Dagon”), that we are ultimately powerless against forces much too big and alien for us to understand. Now, here’s my theory about this movie, as it’s definitely not to do with aliens. The thing that causes the crops to fail and the people to slowly descend into madness is a Nazi chemical weapon, accidentally dropped in the bottom of the well. The Nazis and fascism could count as the “alien” belief system, which isn’t so much fought against as survived by people like the Italian villagers. I do want to point out that I ran this past my friends, who watched the movie with me, and they think I’m talking rubbish. So you may have a very different take to me.
It’s let down a little by some technical stuff. The CGI is awful, and presumably the budget was very small indeed (tiny handful of sets, a garden with very obvious blue screen behind the cast for some shots). It’s quite visually boring, too – look at a movie like “The Reflecting Skin” for how to shoot those sorts of locations with not much money. The three main women in the movie all look way too similar, which leads to unnecessary puzzlement at the beginning of a few scenes; although the acting is fine, with a series of perfectly workmanlike performances, with one particular exception.
Debbie Rochon, as Lucia, is absolutely amazing. Her transformation is entirely believable, her sexuality almost leaps through the screen and grabs you, she’s mysterious and beautiful and far far too good to have just had a career as a low-rent “scream queen” (including a lot of Troma movies and a couple with Donald Farmer, so we’ll be seeing her again soon). Every scene with her in ends up elevated.
Sadly, the low budget is not my only criticism. While filmmaker Ivan Zuccon nailed the atmosphere (he’s made a lot of Lovecraft adaptations, so it’s perhaps to be expected) he really didn’t write enough movie. The middle is really slow, and while I’ve tried to spin the Nazi thing as a plot substitute for aliens, the whole thing with the Jewish refugee and the town’s Nazi never really went anywhere. It could have been set literally anywhere with the tiniest bit of tweaking.
But, this is definitely in the “win” column for Lovecraft movies. Great atmosphere, interesting plot, and one amazing performance.
Rating: thumbs up