Thursday, 23 May 2013

The Colour out of Space by HP Lovecraft

A very good place to start with HP Lovecraft this.  Quite often with this cultiest of authors, unspeakable horror comes with unpronounceable names and a mythos you need non-Euclidean geometry to work out.  This is pretty straight up for Howard Phillips, but no less effective for that.

It's set on a blasted heath - the classic gothic horror setting.  But it's being flooded with a new reservoir.  The narrator's an engineer who tries to find out why the locals shun it; why the plants don't grow and why the water's tainted.  He soon learns it started with a meteorite a few decades back.  Weirdness, madness, and - yes - unspeakable horror ensue.

So it's right on the cusp of traditional horror and science fiction.  There's something threatening and unfathomable, but instead of townspeople cowering from werewolves, it's scientists expressing bafflement as to why the substance in the meteorite doesn't cool down, and why it shines with a colour never seen before.  Fair enough, Lovecraft's misinterpreted the idea that there are colours on the spectrum we can't see, but it's a modern scientific concept which has clearly rattled him and which he uses with skill.  I also love the allusion to pollution - what kind of chemicals has the industrial revolution put in the soil?  Do scientists have any idea how we're changing our environment?  Very modern fears from the best part of a century ago.

There's not much in the way of characterisation (it's little more than a long short story) but the mood is - as you'd expect from Lovecrcaft - perfectly judged.  It's also really well paced, with a nice big climax.  And the creepiest part to me is the engineer going ahead with the reservoir, so the cursed place will be lost, but vowing never to drink from the water himself.  Classy move.

This is one movie I think the HP Lovecraft Historical Society could definitely have a stab at.  Do it in black and white, but handpaint the colour from space.  A nice eerie greeny red would work I think.