Back in 1965, set designer-turned-director Daniel Haller scored a minor hit with “Die, Monster, Die,” a science-fiction horror film starring Boris Karloff as a scientist experimenting with the cosmic powers of a strange meteor. Twenty-two years later, this film was remade as “The Curse,” a dreadful cheapie with Claude Akins as a Bible-thumping farmer whose family is taken over by a meteor that crashes nearby.
Straddling the line between horror and fantasy, the new “Color Out of Space” is the third feature to be spun from H.P. Lovecraft’s 1929 novella. The weird happenings and grotesque monsters that inhabit the movie inundate the plot. None of it makes much sense, but the picture is enjoyable on its own loony terms.
Written by Scarlett Amaris and directed by Richard Harvey (“Hardware,” “Dust Devil”), the movie stars Nicolas Cage as Nathan, a disaffected Montana alpaca farmer and patriarch to a dysfunctional family consisting of wife, teenage daughter and two sons. The wife, Theresa (Joely Richardson), has some unexplained medical condition. “We haven’t made love since the operation,” Nathan laments at one point.
His children aren’t much help. The oldest, Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur), is a goth girl who spends her free time holding pagan rituals at a nearby lake. The elder son is more often than not zoned out on weed and the youngest is a mother’s boy who frets about her health. The lad soon has good reason to worry.
Everything changes when a meteor crashes on the farm and begins to affect the minds of the family. Nathan begins to act and sound like Fred MacMurray in “My Three Sons” with a touch of psychosis. While chopping carrots, chops off two of her fingers, and then casually tells her husband and children that dinner is ready. The monsters are presented with surprising restraint. Alpacas and human beings are fused together to create menacing and pathetic masses of corrupt flesh that are subtly lighted and convincingly animated by the special effects unit.
The Montana farm, as rendered by the cinematographer Steve Annis, is a hellish purple-pink when the meteor erupts and emits its mutating energy. The movie’s weakest feature is a hydrogeologist (Elliot Knight) who suspects that the farm’s water table has been contaminated, but the actor’s role is severely underwritten.
Cage and Richardson, when their characters aren’t falling apart psychologically as well as physically (and even sometimes when they are), convey refreshing intelligence and a sense of sardonic wit. As they transform from picture-perfect but odd mom and dad into monsters, they reveal a mad empathy with their miseries. “I won’t win too many Father of the Year awards,” Cage’s Nathan declares as his arms sprout scales.