aka THE COLOUR OUT OF SPACE
Reviewed by Sandy Petersen
Mike Davis was good enough to put me onto the existence of this film. I had sort of heard about it, but had dismissed it, pretty much because after seeing Die, Monster, Die, and The Curse I had decided I was done with Colour Out of Space knock-offs. Heck, they’re as bad as the Lurking Fear knock-offs.
Well I was thrilled to see Die Farbe for two reasons. First, my ego was tremendously flattered by the fact that the film-makers were clearly influenced by HPLHS’s movies – The Call of Cthulhu and The Whisperer in Darkness (the latter of which features me as an Executive Producer). I hasten to add that I had no, and sought no, creative input to The Whisperer in Darkness – its fine qualities owe nothing to me but some funding. Still I look upon it with avuncular pride.
Anyway, Die Farbe was done in black and white, and it is a period piece. It takes place in three times – 1975, sometime in the 1930s, and then 1945. The film-makers moved the action to Germany, and they reference World War II. I think it is well worth seeing for any Lovecraft fan. The clever touch they achieved was that the only color in the movie is THE Colour, if you get my meaning, but even here they are very subtle. The first few times the Colour shows up it is very pale, and easy to miss or (more likely) to leave you uncertain you saw anything.
WHY DIE FARBE RULES
The movie doesn’t follow the retarded Hollywood 3-act plot sequence (apparently they teach it in school nowadays. Ecch.). Instead, the movie simply builds up a more and more ominous mood until finally the horrors come to fruition.
The film ALSO doesn’t follow the execrable trope of trying to explain everything either before or after the fact. It just lets the events happen, and remain inexplicable. Of course, this leads to the more spoon-fed people (such as one commentater on the IMDb) to be confused. But I loved it. After all the whole point to the Colour is that we cannot understand it – it is an entity so alien that the only way it can interact with us is to feed.
The sets and cinematography was excellent, in my opinion. The actors were decent, if not world-beaters. Sometimes the film is a little slow, but that is the nature of a mood-piece. I am certainly never bored watching it.
WHY DIE FARBE DROOLS
Well, it doesn’t really drool. But it has a couple of minor weaknesses. The lesser of the two is the fact that the supposedly all-American hero speaks English with a strong German accent. I sympathize with the film-makers. Given that he was the guy they wanted, they were stuck with his non-American nature I guess.
My other problem with the movie is a little more systemic. Near the end of the film, we see an assortment of flashbacks which seem to switch the roles of two of the actors, which seem to indicate that one of the characters got mixed up as to who was who. My problem is that this doesn’t seem to add anything to the narrative. It doesn’t make the tale more ominous or change the results.
I don’t mind a switcheroo at the end of a film – for instance, I just recently re-watched Saw III and rather enjoyed the series of surprises it finishes with. But this part of the ending sequence in Die Farbe just seems kind of pointless. Like they are trying to give us an “Oh Wow” surprise, but there wasn’t a surprise to be had there. It is puzzling.
I still liked the show though. That minor false step didn’t ruin it. Check it out.
Sandy Petersen is a game designer, best known for Call of Cthulhu and Doom. He is currently the Creative Director at Barking Lizards Technologies. He lives in Texas.
Okay look. There are MANY other ways to write a tale besides the three-act play, and they aren’t necessarily sloppy. For that matter you have seen many three-act-play scripted films which weren’t tight at all. This straitjacket of a writing tool is far far overused nowadays. It’s fine in its place, but you don’t need to use the same tool for every job. Jeeze. It has nothing to do with the fact I run RPGs. I watch plenty of films and many of my favorites use a different story structure.
In the second place I have a degree in Zoology myself, specializing in invertebrates, and have taken graduate-level courses on the subject, while working towards the PhD I never finished. I know from actual test that many aspects of zoology are completely horrifying to the layman, and when I describe, for instance, how a Tachinid fly reproduces they are disgusted and chilled. I can easily imagine them freaking out or going insane if such a thing were to be reproduced at the human scale. If you know zoology, then you ought to be aware of how terrifying such events as insect parasitoidism, the life cycle of the Echinococcus tapeworm, or the candiru can be. Have you ever dissected a mammal who had a long-term Echinococcus infection? It’s f***ing sickening. If I’d seen it in a human, I might have freaked out.
Must follow up. Not calling you stupid, certainly not, just think some people wouldn’t instantly be compromised by witnessing what looks just like they would see every day under a microscope, just bigger. I did, however, have a problem with your problem with the ‘Three Act’ thing they teach you in film school. Yeah. Tight storywriting. Somehow, that’s bad.
I have enjoyed your creative contributions to Lovecraftiana for several decades now, but I went to film school, and when I used the “Three Act” format I learned for screenwriting to apply to my prose writing, it was like unlocking some ancient key. You exist in the world of free-form, anything-can-happen RPGs. I exist in a world with a Beginning, Middle, and End. With book covers on either side.
I do love your contributions, however. Played many a game myself; I just wonder about the whole sanity thing. Throw a Robert E. Howard character in there, he/she is not going insane. They’ll just clobber the monster if they can, then find the next tavern and next willing wench they can, get drunk, get laid, and move on. The whole San thing always struck me as stupid. I study invertebrate zoology. Nothing HPL ever described is particularly horrific to me. It just seems like regular biology on a larger scale, something I’ve dreamed of ever since my first Godzilla movie. If I got to see that, firsthand, I wouldn’t go insane. I’d probably get aroused. Yay! Dreams do come true. That kind of response.
I have seen it three times so far, and saw it twice before writing my review. Clearly it is a keeper. Hell, I’ve already watched it more times than I saw The Tomb or Beyond the Wall of Sleep put together.
Already in my netflix queue, unfortunately under the saved section, no telling how long until they get it.
I also didn’t feel it needed the ‘twist’. It’s a strong enough story without it. There were some ropey effects at the start too, most notably the background in the University. However, these two minor quibbles aside it really is a striking and superbly made movie version of my favourite Lovecraft story and I’ve shown it to anyone who’ll watch.
I mostly agree with you, Sandy, though I would actually recommend a second watching for everybody. There’s a lot of stuff, story wise and visually that are easy to miss. What I was actually really impressed with was, for lack of a better term, the gore effects. Not that there was blood and guts, but there were a couple scenes that were supposed to be disgusting, and they really were, despite budget and color limitations (gore doesn’t hold up well in black and white).
When I saw this movie, I had this vision of the creation of the movie: A bunch of guys are sitting around drunk, surrounded by DVDs and books. It’s 4 am and they’re starting to wind down, when one of them pops out with “what if Ingmar Bergman made a Lovecraft film?” followed by an awed silence from everyone else. Then they woke up the next day, drank a bunch of coffee and started work on Die Farbe. In that way, the film kind of bugged me. It was an exceptionally beautiful movie, but I also think it was trying too hard to be beautiful and was too aware of its success. That was really my only gripe with the movie.
And, by the way, The Whisperer In Darkness is the best movie ever.
Sandy Petersen, a name as magical to me as; Brian Blume, Merle M. Rasmussen, Tom Wham, Gary Gygax, Greg Stafford, Jeff Grub, Stephan Michael Sechi, and Ed Greenwood. Thanks for many years of misspent youth!
It is indeed one of the better HPL adaptations committed to film (in this case it actually was shot on film) to come along in awhile. Great, sombre atmosphere that manages to be maintained even as the as the film moves forward towards the “climatic” ending. There are some technical issues with the greenscreen work here and there, which I know from experience are just part of the deal on such a low budget shoot. These kind of things seldom distract film or take me out of a heart-felt film though; as what really matters in the filmmaker’s intent, Withe DIE FARBE it is pure love for the source material. It is kind of a mystery to me as to why this particular film is still relatively unknown among HPL fan circles. Perhaps because it’s German? Though in this “everything is available via the interwebz” era, that hardly seems an excuse. Anyway, glad you enjoyed it sir!