M.L. Miller here and welcome to my tenth anniversary Best in Horror Countdown! Every day in this glorious month of October I’ll be counting down the best in horror, culminating with the best horror film since last Halloween! With theaters closed for the bulk of this shitty, shitty year, much of the countdown comes from alternative sources like streaming services, digital download, and On Demand. Plus, we saw the return of the drive-in theater, which is awesome! This list compiles the best horror films released beginning on October 1, 2019 and ending on September 30, 2020. No elitism here—only films released to the public on this list which rules out haughty festival flicks that only esteemed reviewers get to see. If it played on a public screen this year, it’s fair game to be on the list. Here we go!
Released on January 24, 2020. Available on digital download, On Demand, and Blu-ray/DVD from Image Entertainment! Also streaming on Shudder!
COLOR OUT OF SPACE (2019)
Directed by Richard Stanley
Written by Richard Stanley, Scarlett Amaris (based on the short story “The Colour out of Space” by H.P. Lovecraft)
Starring Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Madeleine Arthur, Elliot Knight, Tommy Chong, Brendan Meyer, Julian Hilliard, Josh C. Waller, Q’orianka Kilcher, Melissa Nearman, Amanda Booth, Keith Harle, Xibanga & Ulysses as Comet the Horse, Laia, Mina, and Afro as Sam the Dog, Lucifer as G-Spot the Cat, and Bruno, Oscar, Rowan and Tor as the Alpacas!
When a meteorite falls from space and lands in the back yard of a farm owned by the Gardner family, it changes the family, the animals, the plants, and the land around it into something unlike anything Earth has ever seen. A young hydrologist named Ward Phillips (Elliot Knight) attempts to study the meteorite and understand it’s unusual properties before it spreads outside of the farm and into the water supply. Meanwhile, Nathan Gardner (Nicolas Cage), his Cancer-survivor wife Theresa (Joely Richardson), their spiritualist wiccan daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur), stoner son Benny (Brendan Meyer), and younger son Jack (Julian Hilliard) all experience the effects of the meteorite in vastly different, yet altogether harrowing ways.
Richard Stanley has accomplished something that so many before him have not with COLOR OUT OF SPACE. Many films have attempted to adapt the cosmic horror of Lovecraft, and many have failed. At the same time, many films, including some of the most notable films in horror such as John Carpenter’s THE THING, PRINCE OF DARKNESS, and IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS all borrow heavily from the mythos, as well as Scott’s ALIEN, Cronenberg’s THE FLY, and scores of other influential films we all deem as classics. There might be a lot of scenes in COLOR OUT OF SPACE that feel familiar to some but know that those scenes were first done by Lovecraft, adapted by later films, and now the source material is given its time to shine and shine it does.
Stanley tells a story about the painful deconstruction of a family with COLOR OUT OF SPACE. The family has already suffered quite a bit when the film opens. Theresa (played by Joely Richardson) is in remission and it is quite clear that the entire family has been damaged due to this painful time. Nathan (Cage) chooses to relocate the family to a secluded farm in the country and raise Alpacas (which are sort of like llamas) and touts them as the meat of the future. These are well to do people, but all of them are trying to pick up the pieces of their damaged lives and try to push forward as a family. In very little time in the opening moments, Stanley is able to communicate a lot of information about the family. From Lavinia’s conflicted spiritualism (she’s a spiritualist and a wiccan, but still enjoys a good burger) to the short and sweet moments we get seeing the entire family gather around the dinner table to the even shorter moments of quiet with Nathan and Theresa gazing out over their property and soaking in the peace, you really get to know this family. And it’s because of these small tender moments at the beginning work so well that seeing the family being torn apart from a rock from the stars hurts so much. Almost immediately when the meteorite hits ground, the world of the Gardner’s chance once again. Just like an out of the blue cancer diagnosis of a healthy young Theresa, something is growing and changing everything around it on the Gardner’s farm. And just as the transformation of cancer cells may look brilliant under a microscope, the changes that sprout from the meteorite are beautiful, but devastating.
The casting of COLOR OUT OF SPACE is so crucial to its success. Joely Richardson is sympathetic and strong as a woman attempting to pull her life back together. She is just becoming comfortable with her healthy body again and tenderly moves back to normalcy. She communicates this with action, not words and it resonates through her interactions with the entire family, who seem to respect her, but still want to protect her. Tommy Chong plays Ezra, a stoned-out squatter living in a shack on the back of the property. Aside from his awesome presence and personality, he provides the closest possible thing to an explanation of the other worldly stuff doing on with his far-out ramblings. Madeleine Arthur is a true standout here as Lavinia. She delivers the right balance of rebellious youth and knowledgeable mystic qualities that makes her such an interesting contradiction. Her emotive eyes are entrancing, and she really shines as the one most in touch with all of the weirdness going on.
I have to say something about Nicholas Cage’s performance here as the patriarch of the Gardner family. While Cage has become meme-worthy and is seen as an industry joke to some, I think this was genius to cast him as Nathan Gardner. Without Cage’s quirky obsession with alpacas and his operatic singing while in the car, the role of Nathan would be such a bland and forgettable character. He would basically simply be the over-protective father if not for Cage’s presence. Say what you will about Cage, but he gives his all to deliver a human, yet extremely alien-like performance to everything he does. He is more restrained here than most of his roles, but the weirdness seeps through when he’s focusing on the way he comes off in the TV interview or simply saying the line “Boobs.” in a way that can only be done by this actor. But Cage still knows how to deliver some terrifying lines like “Billy lives in the well now.” and the soul-shattering realization at the end of “That’s not my family.” Those following Cage’s career closely will also notice another peach reference while they are cutting tomatoes in the kitchen.
There are so many small moments that really stand out in COLOR OUT OF SPACE. The film juggles CG and practical effects masterfully. You get a CG praying mantis, and then you get a practical effects Alpaca monstrosity. The final nightmarish effects used on Theresa and Jack are a blend of all forms; CG, practical effects, and camera trickery, making it one of the most terrifying scenes of the film. While much of this is familiar, Stanley and his effects team deliver a film that looks, feels, and sounds like no other. The subtle to thunderous music adds another layer of excellence to the film. There is so much from beginning to end to soak in, let envelop, terrify and utterly enjoy.
COLOR OUT OF SPACE is a story that has been told before in films like THE CURSE, DIE MONSTER DIE, ANNIHILATION, CREEPSHOW, THE BLOB, and so many other films. But unlike those entertaining, yet flawed films, Richard Stanley’s COLOR OUT OF SPACE get the story right even when things go cosmic and out of this world. Stanley is always grounding the story with this family, smartly focusing on their peril as a means to keep the viewer’s investment anchored. I found every minute of this film to be enchanting and fearless. Stanley goes intergalactic in the final moments and it is riveting to see Lovecraft’s world finally shown in such brilliant colors, shapes, and overwhelming feelings. You’ve got to give it up to filmmaker Richard Stanley who triumphantly returns to horror by kicking in the door and burrowing into your psyche with this utter decimation of the modern family. It’s simply groundbreaking filmmaking and a no brainer as the best all-around horror film I’ve seen this year.
THE 2019-2020 COUNTDOWN!
#1 – COLOR OUT OF SPACE
#2 – RELIC
#3 – WHY DON’T YOU JUST DIE!
#4 – COME TO DADDY
#5 – IN FABRIC
#6 – THE HUNT
#7 – THE LODGE
#8 – TRAIN TO BUSAN PRESENTS PENINSULA
#9 – THE INVISIBLE MAN 2020
#10 – HOST
#11 – HARPOON
#12 – GRETEL & HANSEL
#13 – THE HAUNTED
#14 – DOCTOR SLEEP
#15 – DANIEL ISN’T REAL
#16 – THE VAST OF NIGHT
#17 – HOMEWRECKER
#18 – IMPETIGORE
#19 – BUTT BOY
#20 – BECKY
#21 – UNDERWATER
#22 – THE DEAD CENTER
#23 – BLOOD MACHINES
#24 – ALONE
#25 – THE BEACH HOUSE
#26 – AMULET
#27 – LAKE OF DEATH
#28 – SEA FEVER
#29 – THE RENTAL
#30 – ANTRUM: THE DEADLIEST FILM EVER MADE
#31 – REPLACE
M. L. Miller is a wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow @Mark_L_Miller.
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