COLOR OUT OF SPACE
(Malaysia/US/Portugal - 2020)
LOST SOUL. Stanley made a few documentaries and short films, got a co-writing credit on Nacho Cerda's 2006 film THE ABANDONED, and helmed a short segment of the 2011 anthology film THE THEATRE BIZARRE, but COLOR OUT OF SPACE is, at long last, his triumphant proper return. Based on Lovecraft's 1927 short story "The Colour Out of Space" and previously filmed in 1965 as DIE, MONSTER, DIE! with Boris Karloff and as the Ovidio G. Assonitis-produced THE CURSE in 1987, COLOR is a frequently surreal bit of phantasmagorical horror that shares some stylistic similarities with MANDY (as well as Cage and some producers, including Elijah Wood), but also seems indebted to the disturbing metamorphosing aspects of ANNIHILATION (not to mention one sequence that's an obvious nod to THE THING) while name-checking various Lovecraft essentials, with several character names and mentions of Arkham and Miskatonic.
When a meteorite crashes on the front lawn of the farmhouse of Massachusetts (but shot in Portugal, of all places) alpaca breeder Nathan Gardner (Cage) and his cancer-stricken wife Theresa (Joely Richardson), strange occurrences become the new normal: the water supply is tainted, their personalities are affected, they blackout as hours pass in an instant, youngest son Jack (Julian Hillard) stands by the well, saying he's "talking to my friends." Nathan suffers from wild mood swings and lashes out at the two older kids, stoner Benny (THE GUEST's Brendan Meyer) and free-spirited Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur). And all the while, inexplicable purple-derived light and color formations manifest themselves and envelop the Gardner property, which grows more isolated from the outside world by the day. There's also hydrologist Ward (Elliot Knight), who's surveying the groundwater at the behest of the do-nothing mayor (THE NEW WORLD's Q'orianka Kilcher), and Ezra (Tommy Chong), an easygoing, harmless squatter living in a shack on the edge of the Gardner property, who records voices of "The people under the floor, man!" that match the creepy garbled gibberish and screams that are heard on the other end of the line ("It's in the static! It's in the moisture!") whenever anyone tries to make a phone call. Stanley establishes an effectively ominous, otherworldly mood amidst the hypnotic, cosmic colorgasms ("It's just a color...but it burns"), and after a too-slow buildup that sometimes overindulges Cage's required-by-law freakouts (resurrecting some of his VAMPIRE'S KISS schtick), COLOR OUT OF SPACE really catches fire in its second half, with some truly unsettling visuals, unexpected emotion, soundtrack appearances by Mayhem and Burzum, and absolutely no mercy in who it's willing to kill off. It also offers some humor, particularly in the way the local media portrays Nathan as a UFO crackpot when they arrive at the farm to cover the meteorite crash. Easily the most noteworthy Lovecraft adaptation since Stuart Gordon's DAGON back in 2001, COLOR OUT OF SPACE is solid horror offering with Cage bringing his A-game in his best film since MANDY, and while it doesn't top the visionary HARDWARE in the Best of Richard Stanley rankings, it sure is great to have him back. (Unrated, 110 mins)
(UK - 2019)
BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO and the BDSM love story THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY. Strickland's films tend to be triumphs of style over substance and to that end, IN FABRIC is no exception, though it did get some buzz in horror circles last fall as "the killer dress movie" when the trailer went online, but A24 opted to keep it confined to arthouses and VOD. After seeing BERBERIAN and DUKE, I've concluded that I like the idea of Strickland's films more than I like the films themselves. Set in the early 1980s, IN FABRIC has some hypnotically stylish visuals and an incredible score by Cavern of Anti-Matter that sounds like it could've come straight from a 1972 fashion giallo with Edwige Fenech and George Hilton. Strickland nails the look and feel, but in terms of story, IN FABRIC is uneven, unfocused, and all over the place. Other than the look and sound, the film's biggest strength is Marianne Jean-Baptiste's performance as Sheila Woodchapel, a lonely bank teller recently left by her husband for a younger woman. She lives with her college-age son Vince (Jaygann Ayeh) and listens to him having sex with his intimidating, older goth model girlfriend Gwen (Gwendoline Christie). She decides to try the personals and treats herself to a new dress prior to her first blind date, purchased during a highly-publicized sale at Dentley & Soper's, a posh department store where she's attended to by eccentric saleswoman Miss Luckmoore (Fatma Mohamed). But after wearing the dress, she develops a rash, the dress destroys her washing machine, and while everyone's asleep, it hovers around the house on its own and even attacks Gwen at one point.
So far, so good, but then Strickland abruptly shifts gears around 70 minutes in, abandoning Jean-Baptiste's character to focus on nerdy washing machine repairman Reg (Leo Bill), who's about to be married to childhood sweetheart Babs (Hayley Squires). Reg's co-workers purchase the same red dress and make him wear it at his bachelor party, and the same strange cycle repeats--rash, wrecked washing machine, dress floating around the house--only with Reg being a little dorky, the second half is played more broadly compared to the ominous and eerie first half. Much of the humor comes from the bureaucratic, OFFICE SPACE-meets-Kafka-style nonsense that both Sheila's and Reg's bosses level at them, with Sheila being reprimanded by supervisors Clive (Steve Oram) and Stash (Julian Barratt of THE MIGHTY BOOSH) over a two-minute bathroom break, her handshakes "not being meaningful enough" and for smiling and waving at the manager's mistress when they bumped into one another on the street. Strickland also includes some scathing, satirical Orwellian jabs at capitalism, retail, and customer service in ways that seem more like he really wanted to make a Terry Gilliam movie but couldn't cut the cord from his Dario Argento/Eurocult/giallo fetishism, and to further muddy the waters, he throws in some HALLOWEEN III-inspired Dentley & Soper's TV spots that lull targeted viewers into a catatonic state. I really wanted to like this, and once again, I love what I see and hear but I'm still left cold by Strickland, who's starting to look like a one-trick pony, but it's admittedly an endlessly watchable trick. He's an extraordinarily gifted stylist, and other than Panos Cosmatos (BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW, MANDY) and maybe the team of Helene Cattet & Bruno Forzani (THE STRANGE COLOUR OF YOUR BODY'S TEARS), I can't think of a current filmmaker who's better at taking their influences and using them to craft sequences and set pieces that better convey the dazed sense of half-remembered fragments of a shared dream. Strickland's got that part down, but on a narrative level, IN FABRIC is a complete mess that basically turns into an uninspired BLACK MIRROR episode by the time it's over. (Unrated, 119 mins)
(Canada - 2019)
Rose wakes up in the ICU after a week (with the attending physician played by Stephen McHattie, probably the first sign that her situation is about to go from bad to worse) to find most of the left side of her face has been ripped off in the accident, with her jaw needing to be sewn back on. She's recommended for treatment at the Burroughs Clinic, an exclusive facility that deals in regenerative medicine and "Transhumanism." Rose is the subject of an experimental stem cell skin graft procedure pioneered by (deep sigh) Dr. William Burroughs (Ted Atherton). She's initially apprehensive, but it proves to be a complete success. She's more beautiful than ever, she gets her job back, is creatively inspired, and Brad seems legitimately interested in her, but...she's a devout vegetarian and suddenly develops a strange craving for raw meat. She wakes up with faint memories of violent dreams where she's attacking men in a flesh-eating fury. Soon, the people with whom she comes into contact (including UFC star CM Punk, cast radically against type as a meat-headed asshole) begin exhibiting even more advanced symptoms of a virulent new form of rabies that becomes a citywide epidemic. RABID '19 devotes a lot of time to lampooning the vapidity of the fashion industry in trite fashion, but at the same time dutifully hitting all of the old-school Cronenberg bullet points of body horror and disease. It also offers shout-outs to a bunch of his other films as well, like NAKED LUNCH with the name-dropping of Burroughs, the clinical surgical horrors of DEAD RINGERS (including the brief presence of Heidi Von Palleske as a member of the Burroughs surgical team), and the shady experimental treatment facility of THE BROOD. The protruding armpit phallus from the original RABID (also notable in its day as the first mainstream crossover attempt of porn star Marilyn Chambers) finally appears in the off-the-rails third act, where RABID '19 completely falls apart, abandoning the Cronenberg worship and turning into a dumb tribute to the late '80s work of Brian Yuzna and Screaming Mad George. The pointless RABID '19 really overstays its welcome at 108 minutes and can't even get the little things right--wouldn't McHattie (PONTYPOOL) have made a more interesting Dr. Burroughs than the bland Atherton? The first line of dialogue heard here is a ranting Gunter asking "Why do we keep remaking old trends?" A valid question, and one asked with little sense of self-awareness by the Soskas, since RABID '19 certainly qualifies as part of the problem. (Unrated, 108 mins)