“Die Farbe”–Lovecraft, Done Right

CAUTION: CONTAINS “SPOILERS”

I’m told that “The Color Out of Space” won H.P. Lovecraft a spot in The Best Short Stories of 1927 anthology, although I’ve never seen the actual book to verify that, but the story itself is certainly one of Lovecraft’s best. Dealing as it does with the disasterous effects upon a farm of the meteor that crashes down from the sky, it’s a story that resonates a lot with today’s eco-conscious audiences. “The Color Out of Space” had been filmed once before as “Die, Monster, Die!”, but even the presence of an aging Boris Karloff couldn’t save it from being something of a disappoinment. So who would have thought that a Vietnamese director, working in black-and-white and with a German cast largely unknown to American audiences would have a chance of pulling it off?

Huang Vu, who also adapted the story for film did some smart things. After a brief opening tribute to Arkham, Massachusetts he promptly moves the tale to more familiar ground, rural Germany. Then he sets the bulk of the story in two periods–1938/1939 and 1945–just far enough in the past to give the tale an almost Gothic feel. As I recall the story, Lovecraft’s unearthly “color” was constantly in flux, almost like an animated opal. Vu’s budget probably precluded anything so pricely, so again chosing wisely from the past, he settles upon Mauve, a color that is probably sufficiently unknown to modern audiences to be mysterious. It also helps that Mauve is a natural dazzler of a color.

Huang Vu also plays a few tricks that Lovecraft never thought of–like an unreliable narrator and an impending eco-disaster for a finale. (O.K. Lovecraft may have thought of that, but a picture if always worth a thousand words.) Lastly the director picked his cast wisely. Erik Rastetter, as the unfortunate farmer Nahum Gaertner, who plays unwitting host to the color, is so hapless and woebegone-looking that you want to give him a commiserating pat on the back, while Marah Schneider as his wife does the slow descent into madness and worse with chilling authenticity. Lastly there’s Marco Liebnitz and Michael Kausch playing Nahum’s neighbor Armin,as a young farmer and a old derilect, who may not be telling the tale quite the way it was.

Any effective fantasy film needs effective photography and Martin Kolbert got splendidly sinister results from what appears to be very matter-of-fact black-and-white photography. All in all, “Die Farbe,” marketed here as “The Colour Out of Space” is a well-spent 86 minutes. Would that all Lovecraft adaptations were as good!

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