Sunday, July 5, 2020

Cinematic Interpretations of H. P. Lovecraft's The Colour Out of Space

2012 illustration by Ludvik Skopalik
Written in March, 1927, H. P. Lovecraft's novella, The Colour Out of Space, is a science fiction/horror tale about a meteorite that lands on the Gardner farm near its well. Scientists from Miskatonic University travel to the isolated farm in the Massachusett hills to discover the meteorite has strange qualities and is shrinking. They find a clear globule they pop by accident releasing a color that lies outside the known spectrum. The well becomes infected and the water becomes insidiously poisonous.

Over the next three years, the vegetation around the farm including the animals and eventually even Nahum Gardner, his wife, and his three sons become affected by the residual effects of the Colour.

The Colour appears to be something akin to a living being inimical to terrestrial life and if you wish to read the story in its entirety, it is available here free and legal.

Over the years, there have been a number of attempts to bring the story to the silver screen, some more effective than others.


The first attempt was made in 1965, when Die, Monster, Die, directed by Daniel Haller, was released in both the United States and Great Britain. Starring Boris Karloff, Nick Adams, and Susan Farmer, the plot is based only loosely on Lovecraft's story.

The existing plot point is a radioactive meteorite lands near the mansion of Nahum Witley who discovers it has strange effects on plants and animals. Unwisely bringing it into his house, the residents began to mutate as well with predictable results and all does not end well except the hero managing to escape with Witley's beautiful daughter.

Critics did not have a lot of praise for the film, but it still deserves a fair following from those fans of early horror films, especially fans of Boris Karloff. I personally found the story interesting enough to maintain my attention and the final transformation of Witley was passably horrifying by the level of special effects available during that time period.

The second film to attempt bringing the Color to the big screen was The Curse (1987) starring Wil Wheaton (Star Trek: The Next Generation) and Claude Aikens who plays the role of Nathan Crane, the stand-in for Lovecraft's Nahum Gardner. Unlike Gardner, Crane is a caricature of a religious zealot who exists only to make life miserable for Wheaton's Zack. As the entire family is composed of nothing more than bullying hypocrites, they exist only to die in hideous ways and one could care less.

Still the story is more true to Lovecraft's original story, but in my humble opinion it is not as entertaining as Die, Monster, Die in spite of the latter's shortcomings.

I confess I have no praise at all for Colour From the Dark (2008), an offering from Italian director Ivan Zuccon. This time the color is not an interstellar wanderer but is just something that dwells within the earth and ends up in the family's well. As the color begins to affect the family, crucifixes melt into sludge, and a priest who comes to bless the house meets an untimely end. As one reviewer stated, the story is not so much cosmic horror but a bad retelling of The Exorcist.

The next film to tackle Lovecraft's tale is Die Farbe (The Color). Directed by Huam Vu, I agree with S. T. Joshi that "this is the best Lovecraft film adaption ever made." The decision to set the story in Germany in the 1940s and not Arkham, Massachusetts, and film it in black and white adds to the film and does not detract. The color itself does appear as a pinkish-purple color and the contrast it makes in a black and white film when staring out of the sockets of a skull or appearing above the well is shocking with its contrast.

As of this writing, Die Farbe is available for those who have purchased Amazon Prime and I believe is worth the investment of time.

I must confess a guilty pleasure for last year's offering, The Color Out of Space starring Nicholas Cage and Joely Richardson. Taking place in the modern era, Nahum Gardner (Cage) and his wife, Theresa (Richardson) move to a farm with their three children. Set near Arkham, Massachusetts, the everpresent meteorite crashes near their well and before you know it, insects and plant life begin mutating and Cage does what Cage does best, chewing the scenery as he and his family descend into madness and body horror as the color sucks out their life and vitality. By the bye, Tommy Chong makes an appearance in the film and plays a wonderfully lunatic follower of conspiracy theories.

Though not as thoughtful or as slowly paced as Die Farbe, Richard Stanley straps the viewer in for a wild ride and a wild ride it is. Again, I believe it is well worth the investment of time in spite of its shortcomings and wanderings from the original storyline.

The best news about this moving is that the director has promised that this movie is the first of a trilogy of Lovecraft films, the next one being an adaption of The Dunwich Horror.

I can hardly wait.





The Toss of a Coin: A Super Short Story

For the first time in months, my monthly group of writers met and as is typical we were given the exercise of a writer’s prompt and fifteen minutes to create a story, essay, or poem. The prompt was, “the toss of a coin.” 

After staring at my blank tablet for a few minutes, I began to write and what follows, with some limited editing to correct mistakes and add some clarification was my offering for the evening. 


 

We sat around the campfire, a quartet of old friends. The sun had set hours ago, and an easy friendship fed by years of similar gatherings had always given us the freedom of transparency. 

“I remember when I based a life decision on the flip of a coin,” Daryl said. He laughed to himself. “And I can promise you, Harold, that it was to determine a decision far more important than yours.” 

Our attention turned to Daryl as he ran his fingers through his gray hair. “After Alexa passed away after five decades of marriage, I couldn’t bear to go through her personal papers, but after a year of mourning, I was able to steel myself to open her side of the desk we shared and begin clearing out the papers. I found something that reminded me of that coin toss.

“Fifty years ago when I was at college, I was foolishly dating two girls at the time, but as they were from different towns I was able to maintain my scandalous secret. However, I got caught by both of them and they confronted me together. They demanded I make an immediate choice between them. The truth was I truly loved them both. Alexa insisted that if I couldn’t make up my mind then it was to be left up to fate and a coin toss. 

“As the other girl agreed Alexa handed me a half dollar. She called heads. The other girl got tails and I tossed the coin in the air. 

“It came up heads." 

“Did you ever regret the toss of that coin?” Fred asked. 

Daryl laughed. “That’s between me and my priest, but going through my wife’s personal papers, I found that coin.” He reached into his pocket. “Here. Take a look.” 

The coin was passed around the group and we remained silent as we inspected the coin. 

It had heads on both sides.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Greengate Prologue

What follows is the prologue of an old WIP. I touch on Greengate and its locale in a number of my stories. Enjoy.

PROLOGUE TO GREENGATE
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Greengate haunts me still in memory and dream. 

I was five years old playing in the backyard as my mother watched me through the kitchen window. 

Our house was one of ten clustered around the crossroads that we shared with a general store and an old stone church. To the north and east sprawled the gently sloping hills of Pennsylvania, endless orchards of apples and peaches and cherries. Cows grazed in the fields where limestone boulders jutted through the earth like giant broken teeth. To the south and west, the grassy knolls turned into woods of oak and maple that crept up the sides of large steep hills. The range stood to the east, running north and south as far the eye could see. Named South Mountain; it's stream-carved valleys, runs, and roads bore such imaginative names as Dead Woman's Hollow, the Devil's Racecourse, the Black Andes and Horsekiller Road. 

Engrossed in my play under the shade of the old oak, I ran my Tonka trucks over the tree roots that broke through the surface when I looked up and saw the face. 

It was a man's face created out of the leaves and branches of the oak, and it looked down at me without any emotion in its green eyes. With it came the overpowering realization that I was not watching it as much as it was watching me. 

I blinked my eyes and rubbed them to make the illusion go away. I thought it merely a trick of sunlight among the branches. I looked up again, and the face was still there. I felt a gentle breeze at my back, and the eyes blinked as the leaves gently swayed. 

More puzzled than scared, I turned to look at the house where my mother's head stood framed in the window as she bent over her dishes. I looked back at the face, and I looked up at nothing but leaves, branches, and bright sunlight where nothing looked back. 

It is one of the clearest memories of my childhood in Greengate.

Another memory.

Years later, Peter Mackey and I sat on a limestone boulder near the base of South Mountain, sharing penny candy we had bought at Echon's General Store. Peter and I were ten, and we talked about topics such as baseball, our fourth-grade teacher who had paddled Keith Bream in front of the whole class, and the new Johnny Quest cartoon show on television. 

The light dimmed as the sun sank below the Blue Mountain range to the west, its shadow slowly spreading across Greengate. 

Our conversation suddenly stopped when out of the small patch of woods to our right came a stag. 

The woods around Greengate and South Mountain are home to white-tailed deer, and they were a common sight in the fields and orchards, but this was like no deer that Peter and I had ever seen. At least seven feet at the shoulder, Its beauty filled our hearts with joy and awe. 

Our mouths open, not speaking, we stared goggle-eyed at the creature. It walked right by the rock where we sat as if we were invisible. Maybe we were. We watched it until it disappeared in the woods that lead up the slopes of South Mountain. 

Peter and I went home and never mentioned it then or ever again.

And yet, another memory.

I am eighteen years old, still feeling cocky from my high school graduation just the previous Friday. 

"This is for real, right?" I ask Ken once again. "The night before your wedding, you drag me out to an old orchard?" The clouds race against the full moon while Ken Wright stands in rapt attention, searching the darker shadows of the apple trees. The night is alive with a choir of crickets accented by a chorale of fireflies. 

"Do you believe in fairies?" he asks. He smiles at my look of stunned surprise. "Not the ones we see in Disney films or in the children's tales. I'm talking about the fey folk who live between reality and dreams." 

I shrug my shoulders and lie. "I don't have much of an imagination."

He turns his face to the full moon which had washed him clean of color. "Years ago, I saw her. I was eight years old and wandering through the orchard, and I saw her running among the trees. Her hair was as red as autumn apples, and her clothes looked like they had been knit from autumn leaves. 

"When she looked at me, her eyes were wild and dark. I think I fell in love with her then, and at night she still runs through my dreams."

I sadly shake my head. "Tonight is your last night as a bachelor. We should be at a party. We should be drinking your father’s beer, not haunting an apple orchard looking for a will-o'-the-wisp."

My friend continues as if I haven't spoken. "I've remembered her for years, and before I take those vows tomorrow and spend the rest of my life with a woman of flesh and blood, I wanted to put this final dream to rest." 

I clap him on the shoulder. "It's late. You have other dreams to dream." He ignores me. 

"You will want to be well-rested for tomorrow night," I smirk. 

I leave him standing in the moonlight among the apple trees. 

The next morning the wedding party waits nervously at the old church for the bridegroom, his beautiful bride almost in tears. Excusing myself, choking back the mounting fear, I return to the old orchard where I had left my friend the night before. 

I find Ken's body half-fused into the ancient bark of an apple tree, taken in a wooden embrace. 

A gentle smile is his sole expression. 

The next day, I left Greengate and did not return until almost two decades later.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Traveling to Japan!

In just a few hours (Friday, November 8th at 1 am E.S.T.) I will be leaving my home to spend nine days working for Japan CPI at the Tsumagoi Resort in Kakegawa, a city in western Shizuoka Prefecture (the red locator on the map). We will be flying from Baltimore to Detroit and then across the Arctic Circle directly to Chubu Centrair International Airport and then on to Shizuoka


I plan on uploading many pictures of my adventures there, so follow this blog and come along with me.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Wolf Hunter: A Short Story


What happens when you combine Norse mythology with Japanese manga? A rather odd piece of flash fiction.


Wolf Hunter 
by Alan Loewen 
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 


My name is Vidar, the son of Odin.

You do not remember Ragnarok, the final battle between the Æsir, the gods of old, and the Jötnar, the forces of chaos. I remember it well.

I saw the cosmos destroyed and reborn, and so very few survived. Then the Fates decreed the new world arising from the ashes would never remember the old. They changed the memory of mortals, even in dreams, so no evidence existed of the glory of Asgard except as tales for children.

Yes, I remember Ragnarok when god and giant slew and slew and the killing ended because there were no more to kill. The only survivors were myself, my brother, Váli, and Magni and Modi, the sons of Thor.

We had given ourselves up to the Fates, to let the Norns play out their cruel hand, but we have not died. We have watched the eons flow by us like water and, to our surprise and delight, Mjolnir, Baldr, and his brother Höd have been reborn. As Asgard now lies in uninhabitable ruin, the reborn have joined us in Idavoll.

Hod still stands gifted with prophecy and, some moons ago, he cast the wooden slips. They revealed to us that as we have returned, the monsters would also someday return: Jörmungandr, the Midgard Serpent, and the giants, Surtr and Garmr. And the divination has also revealed the ultimate cruelty of the Norns. Fenris the Wolf has already risen from Hel to walk Midgard once again.

At Ragnarok, I saw Fenris kill my father, Odin, and I tore the demon's jaws apart in my fury and grief. I have sworn a mighty oath the beast will die again at my hands.

Hod told me that Fenris was reborn in a faraway land called Japan, so taking the guise of a mortal, I once again walk Midgard.

This new land is strange. The people, the customs and their gods are peculiar, and I try my best to walk unseen. Yet, I delight in discovering the people in this island nation have an understanding of honor that I treasure.

Hod's prophecy and my oath led me like a beacon. In my inner self, I could sense Fenris lurking in this place. I could smell him.

Finally, in a busy city the people call Tokyo, my spirit told me to sit in a park and wait. Taking my place on a bench, I ignored the people walking by keeping my eyes on the entrance where I knew Fenris would enter.

The moment I sensed him near, the old grief and rage drove me to my feet, but then I stopped in disgust and dismay.

A group of silly young girls had entered the park, giggling and laughing and blocking my view of the monster surely behind them. Yet, I could feel the demon wolf's presence as you mortals feel the hot summer sun on your skin.

It was when the Japanese school girls reached me, I realized the beast was in their midst. I clenched my fists and searched the group for it, but when it met my eyes, I froze in surprise.

And then I laughed. For the first time since I buried Father Odin so many millennia ago, I roared in my sudden knowledge that the Fates can be capricious to those who are evil as well as those who stand on the side of honor.

The dark eyes of a young schoolgirl met mine filled with surprise at my outburst, passed over me in ignorance, and I watched her continue on her way.

I will not kill a child, no matter what her spirit may have been in eons past. Maybe someday when she reaches adulthood, she may remember what she is, and if that happens, I will be ready.

Until then, I drink mead in Idavoll and my brother gods and I toast the Fates who we now know have a sense of black humor to temper the horror they weave of our lives.


(Fenris graphic copyright to J. Humphries. Please peruse his amazing art gallery here.)

Saturday, August 24, 2019

My Libraries ...

Somebody asked about my libraries so allow me to take you on a tour.

A confirmed bibliophile since I could first begin to read, I've collected, lost, and gave away more books than I can remember.


In my office, I have two bookcases, this one handcrafted for me 23 years ago. Consisting mostly of works on theology and ministry, the upper left shelves are dedicated to books about and by Theodore Roosevelt, my personal hero. I may not have appreciated all his politics, but as an individual, his life is certainly to be admired.


The second bookcase in my office this holds my books on business management, my music CD's, and ephemera that covers a plethora of subjects such as neolithic survivals, books on cults, and works on ancient Britain.


These are the three books that are perpetually on my desk. My goal is to read through each one at least once a year; Sun Tzu's The Art of War, Baltasar Gracián's The Art of Worldly Wisdom, and the New American Standard Bible (Updated).


This is my personal bookshelf in my home, and unfortunately, the room is too small for me to back up to capture the entire bookshelf. I would say this contains 95% fiction and the rest containing books to aid in me in my research on my current work in progress. The paperbacks are stacked two deep.

By the bye, this does not take into account books in the storage room, the ebooks on my Kindle eReader or the books stacked up by my bed. 

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Yes, I Have Been Unusually Quiet.

Allow me to explain:

I can say without superfluous profanity the last four months have been hellish on my family and me with a long bout of personal ill health, four funerals, a sick wife, the protracted death of my beloved dog, and all culminating in the passing of my father.

Needless to say, my nights are consumed by incessant anxiety dreams, several of which contain scenes that will appear altered in future stories. (May as well use them.)

Last night I dreamt I traveled to one of the eastern Asian countries and had an interesting conversation as I passed through customs:
"We have come here to study your country's magnificent volcanoes."
"Ah, yes. Many scientists come. The last one was consumed by a herd of rabbits."
"But ... but rabbits don't eat flesh."
"These ones did."
Now I confess even though I was inspired to get out of bed and write the conversation down immediately, it's a little too silly to use in a story, but the concept is perfect for a horror story: a nonchalant speaker revealing a horrific truth. I could use the idea in so many ways, even in stories that are not specifically horror:
"The coroner says the woman was killed by her Shih Tzu."
"What! But that's just a little dog!"
My partner shrugged. "It's still descended from wolves."
Just an idea. Use it if it works.