THE CURSE. Science fiction horror based on Lovecraft

The Curse is an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s short story “The Colour Out of Space”.

Maciej Kaczmarski

20 March 2024

With a few exceptions (Reanimator, The Call of Cthulhu), Howard Phillips Lovecraft has not been fortunate with film adaptations of his works, and The Curse is one of the most painful examples of this thesis.

On a rural farm in Tennessee lives the patchwork family of the Cranes: stern, devout farmer Nathan, his repressed wife Frances, her children from a previous marriage – teenage Zack and his younger sister Alice – and Nathan’s son, aggressive Cyrus. One night, Frances sneaks out of the house to betray her husband with a farmhand, when a meteorite falls onto the farm. Examination reveals that the meteorite has a constant high temperature, emits a strange glow, and oozes oily fluid from its interior. The sphere begins to dissolve, and its remnants seep into the soil. The well water becomes murky and foul-tasting, fruits and vegetables grow in huge quantities and sizes, but are rotten inside, infected cows, horses, and chickens attack people, and the farm’s inhabitants descend into madness. Nathan believes it to be divine punishment for his wife’s infidelity, but the local doctor has a different theory.

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The Curse is an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s short story “The Colour Out of Space,” first published in September 1927 in the magazine “Amazing Stories.” Both Lovecraft himself and his scholars considered it one of the best works of the Cthulhu Mythos creator. The Color… has been adapted into five film versions: the first was the film Die, Monster, Die! (1965) by Daniel Haller, and the latest so far – Color Out of Space (2019) by Richard Stanley. The Curse was produced as an Italian-American co-production shot in Italy and the USA. The film’s co-producer was Lucio Fulci (credited as Louis), who directed one of the scenes. The main roles were played by John Schneider, Cooper Huckabee, Claude Akins, and Wil Wheaton. The latter wrote years later about the violation of children’s rights and other abuses on the film set. The actor’s testimony can be read here.

The film was released in theaters in 1987 and was a deserved commercial failure, which did not stop other filmmakers from creating three pseudo-sequels unrelated to either the plot of the first film or even Lovecraft’s literature: Curse II: The Bite (1989) by Federico Prosperi, Curse III: Blood Sacrifice (1991) by Sean Barton, and Catacombs (1988) by David Schmoeller. Truth be told, Keith’s film – contrary to what Charles P. Mitchell, a connoisseur of the “Hermit of Providence’s” work, wrote – also has little in common with the literary original. Yes, the starting point agrees, namely the invasion of alien life resulting in an ecological disaster on the farm, but all the intriguing rest is the invention of screenwriter David Chaskin: transferring the action from 19th-century Massachusetts to contemporary Tennessee, the bigotry of Crane, his wife’s infidelity, and the characters of an inquisitive doctor and a greedy real estate agent.

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Cinema is a completely different medium than literature and is governed by different laws. You can make an excellent film based on a book without maintaining its one hundred percent fidelity, as evidenced by Apocalypse Now (1979) by F.F. Coppola based on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The problem is not that The Curse is a loose adaptation of Lovecraft, but that it is simply a terrible film in itself. The horror in the creator of The Shadow over Innsmouth arises from mystery, implications, ominous atmosphere – Lovecraft left much to the imagination of readers, whereas the film’s creators left them nothing at all. Instead of an enigma, we have an idiotic story about an alien invasion of Earth; instead of a climate of threat, there is unintended comedy embedded in ludicrous dialogues, hopeless acting, cheap makeup, and inept special effects. Kitsch in its purest form.