Shooting 16mm film on Dartmoor: “The Colour Out of Space” after H.P. Lovecraft

Shooting 16mm film on Dartmoor: “The Colour Out of Space” after H.P. Lovecraft

It all started some years ago, when Lomography brought the Lomochrome Purple 16mm Motion Picture film to market. Instantly comments popped up in the internet, asking “What is it good for? Plants on it have the wrong colors and people look ill.” Suddenly I remembered the short story “The Colour Out of Space” by H.P. Lovecraft (1890–1937). Therein a meteorite hits the ground, poisoning every living being nearby. Vegetation grows large but are foul-tasting, and the people go insane or die one by one. The perfect story for an experimental horror film!

Since a trip to America was not possible, I had to look for alternatives. How fitting that in 2016 I had planned a great summer vacation in southern England. So I tried to find equivalents for the original locations in New England. You might know the Dartmoor from Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles”. The ground was cursed since Hugo Baskerville chased a woman to death in the era of the English Civil War. That’s why the “blasted heath“, depicted in Lovecraft’s short story, is now the Dartmoor.

I filmed everything with my old but amazingly compact and fast-to-use Keystone A-9 Criterion movie camera. Two Schneider lenses, the 25 and the 75, were perfectly matched to the two possible focal lengths in the wonderfully bright viewfinder. The 75 was used only once when I spotted a wild horse in the distance. It jumped so excitedly that it matched perfectly with the wild livestock from Lovecraft’s story. A large mountain that looked like a huge meteorite crater was later added at the beginning of the movie.

But where can you find an equivalent to the meteorite? In Avebury! Well, strictly speaking, no real meteorites. But the Neolithic stone circles there, reminiscent of Stonehenge, made me think of it all the time. Impressively they stand around in the landscape for hundreds, like not of this world. They are also said to have magical powers that can not be explained. And as if there were not enough Lovecraft motifs to be found there, there are also sacred trees with big and mysterious, entwined roots. The torrential water under the old 12th-century bridge in Postbridge, Devon, represented the water of the reservoir that buries the contaminated land in my film at the bottom.

The latently menacing and uncanny atmosphere in Lovecraft’s stories is generated above all by numerous suggestions. As a filmmaker, I have searched for visual equivalents that create “The Uncanny” in the Freudian sense. Like the helpless protagonists in the short story, the viewer of the film should indulge in the nightmare logic of “The Color Out of Space”. Only then do you experience its horror and its beauty equally.

Back in Germany, was now the development of 60m purple-colored film on the program. Since the film has no remjet, which is very difficult to remove in manual development in Lomotank, I could develop it comfortably in C-41. That’s what the film stock, which was originally conceived as a 35mm still film, was made for. After drying on the home-made drying aid and a rough cut on the Catozzo splicer, the film was sent to Madrid. Transfer lab Ocho y pico created a wonderful 4K transfer, which can play its strengths on big screens.

When the cut in Final Cut was over, Uwe Rottluff from Chemnitz contributed the music, better known under the stage name “WellenVorm“. The slowly swelling melody, created with analog synthesizers and mixed on analogue tape recorder, is a perfect companion for the atmospheric film images.

His world premiere was on the renowned H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Oregon, USA. It would have been too short for an arrival, but thanks to the internet, many positive comments were received afterwards. At the subsequent Festival Signes de Nuit in Paris, the film even won a “Mention spéciale”, a special mention in which the film was described by the jury as a “visual gem”. Uwe Rottluff and I traveled to the Braunschweig International Film Festival for the German premiere. We were greeted, looked after and interviewed warmly by Clemens Williges, one of the organizers. While the film screened on most festivals as a digital DCP, the Super 8 Festival in La Coruña, Spain, even showed it as a 16mm film copy with optical sound.

“It was just a color from space,” it says at the end of the story. But for me it was a blissful movie project that I like to look back on.

This article appeared in similar form first in the journal Cine 8–16, March 2018, p. 12–13.

More information on Patrick Müller’s website

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