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Lovecraft’s Frightful Messenger: THE COLOUR OUT OF SPACE And MORE!
The Bite #94

Lovecraft’s Frightful Messenger: THE COLOUR OUT OF SPACE And MORE!

January 28, 2020

In this Issue:


By Graham Skipper*

“West of Arkham the hills rise wild, and there are valleys with deep woods that no axe has ever cut.”

So begins H.P. Lovecraft’s masterpiece The Colour Out of Space, a novella written and published in 1927 that Lovecraft himself considered his best short story. It tells the tale of the Gardner family, onto whose farm lands a meteorite from outer space which unleashes a mysterious, otherworldly “Colour” that first drives the inhabitants mad, then destroys and alters the land itself, finally changing the family into monsters.

The Colour Out of Space was written in a time of great technological change. A new reservoir had just been built outside of Providence and was, for Lovecraft, a looming shadow of progress over the ancestral home he held so dear. Other modern fears, like the recent discovery of the harmful effects of radiation, fed into Lovecraft’s tale of terror about unseen dangers we were hopeless to stop.

What this author believes Colour does better than almost any of Lovecraft’s other stories is that we care about the horrible atrocities befalling the characters because we care about the people themselves. These are not his normal cold, analytical protagonists: journalists, scientists, or academics; these are regular people. Kind people who only want to mind their own business and children who have done nothing wrong.

Unlike many of his stories, there is no central being that is revealed to be “pulling the strings,” no harbinger of destruction with a conscious goal. Lovecraft hated that science fiction writers routinely presented extraterrestrials as being humanoid, whereas he felt that whatever came from outer space may be as unknowable to us as, well, a being that exists as a spectrum of light. We don’t know what it is, what it wants, or if it even wants anything at all. A perfect encapsulation of Lovecraft’s central fear: the fear of the unknown.

Adapting Lovecraft’s work has always been a challenge for filmmakers, largely because he relies heavily on the reader’s imagination to describe his horrors. “The thing was so horrific it couldn’t possibly be described” is a common theme in his work, and his descriptions of the Colour are no different. It is a Colour beyond the spectrum of human sight, both self-aware and not. Cinematic adaptations have used various techniques to visually convey something so elusive, with varying degrees of success. The latest adaptation, Richard Stanley’s psychedelic, splattery descent into insanity, Color Out of Space, is a prime example of how to do Lovecraft right. Its horrors are both concrete and imminent as well as ethereal, psychological, and unknowable. It is a familial tragedy wrapped in the fabric of unfathomable nihilistic fear.

Lovecraft’s works all hover around similar themes, but Colour Out of Space expertly combines all of them into a single, impactful tale. It is a seminal work of sci-fi horror that remains as effective today, almost 100 years after its publication, as it was when it first appeared in Amazing Stories magazine.

This piece has been abridged to fit the format of The Bite. Visit our blog for the full version.

*Graham Skipper is an actor, filmmaker, and lifelong horror fan most known for originating the role of Herbert West in Stuart Gordon’s stage production of Re-Animator: The Musical, as well as starring in Beyond The Gates, Almost Human, and The Mind’s Eye. His directorial debut, Sequence Break, is out now on Shudder.


The Magnificent Emsh

Whether or not you recognize his name, Ed Emshwiller was a legend of 50s and 60s pulp science fiction art and an underappreciated experimental filmmaker. This image was the cover of the February issue of Space Stories Magazine from 1953.



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