The Fascinating Career of Richard Stanley

At one time, he was considered one of Britain’s most promising filmmakers. Then a troubled production involving Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando changed everything….

Color Out Of Space
TIFF

Nicolas Cage is unpredictable, but that’s what makes him one of the most fascinating actors out there. In recent times, he’s been showing more of a desire to work with auteur filmmakers, which has resulted in him making modern classics like Mandy. There may be more potential classics on the way.

One of his upcoming projects is Color Out of Space, Richard Stanley’s adaptation of the H.P. Lovecraft story of the same name. Color Out of Space is about a town that gets struck by a meteorite. The movie promises to be a neon-drenched cosmic nightmare, and Cage’s performance has already received some rave reviews for its nutty excellence.

That said, while Cage will be the center of attention (because he’s Cage) it’s worth noting that the film marks the long-awaited comeback of a fascinating director. Once upon a time, Stanley was a promising filmmaker who seemed destined for big things. However, an unfortunate experience with a studio movie led him to disappear from the limelight.

First, Stanley burst onto the scene with 1990’s Hardware, a low-budget science fiction movie about a robot that goes on a rampage in a post-apocalyptic society. The story revolves around Jill (Stacey Travis), an artist who inadvertently brings the killer machine to life and must put a stop to its murder spree.

Hardware’s basic premise is derivative of countless sci-fi movies in many ways, but it’s a film unlike any other. In this dystopian hellscape, citizens smoke hallucinogenic cigarettes for a buzz, while others are creeped out by pervs suffering from radiation poisoning. This is pure cinematic punk rock, like a grungy 2000AD comic strip brought to life, with cameos from rockers Iggy Pop, Lemmy, and GWAR.

Furthermore, like all great science fiction, Hardware — for all its schlocktastic qualities — has proven to be prescient. The robot in question was created by an authoritarian government, and we now live in a world where real politicians are investing millions of dollars into building super soldiers. It’s only a matter of time before we’re the targets of actual killer robots.

Stanley’s follow-up feature, Dust Devil, is an arthouse horror film about a woman (Chelsea Field) who is followed by a mysterious demonic hitchhiker (Robert John Burke) through the desert of South Africa. The story was influenced by a South African myth about a serial killer who eluded capture and became a desert demon, haunting unfortunate travelers who came into contact with the entity.

Dust Devil was inspired by the works of Sergio Leone, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Alejandro Jodorowsky. Stanley’s fascination with mysticism, folklore, and the occult is also firmly on display. The film boasts some excellent gory moments, including dismembered body parts, exploding heads, and some disturbing ritualistic slaughter. This, coupled with a desert landscape that feels truly inhospitable and supernatural, makes for a surreal and uncomfortable experience at times.

Dust Devil wasn’t a massive commercial success, but it did lead to Stanley being given the director’s gig for New Line Cinema’s The Island of Dr. Moreau remake, starring Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer. The movie should have been his breakthrough mainstream moment, but it turned out to be his downfall.

As a lifelong fan of science fiction and horror, Stanley was the perfect choice for the H.G. Wells adaptation. This project was a dream for him in many ways, as he’d always wanted to bring this particular story to life on the big screen. Unfortunately, the studio didn’t agree with his vision, and he was fired and replaced by John Frankenheimer four days into shooting.

Several factors contributed to Stanely losing his job. The first was being unable to control the cast. Brando was reluctant to cooperate with anyone because he’d seemingly lost his mind. For a start, he wanted to come up with his own lines as well as wear some extravagant gowns. When he didn’t get his way, he locked himself in his trailer and only opened the door for pizza deliveries. According to Ron Hutchinson, the film’s co-screenwriter, the legendary actor was “a monster.”

Kilmer was also a nightmare on the set. Coked up and going through a traumatic divorce at the time, he bullied most people whom he came into contact with and even burned some of them with cigarettes. His ego also ran wild, as he demanded countless creative changes be made, including having some of his co-stars’ roles slashed to ribbons because he didn’t want them stealing his focus. Afterward, he demanded that his role be made smaller because he didn’t want to put the work in anymore.

The actors’ poor behavior was bad enough, but the weather conditions weren’t forgiving, either. A torrential storm led to a flooded set and equipment being destroyed. Until everything was back up and running, the crew members and extras entertained themselves by drinking, taking drugs, and engaging in sexual debauchery.

Stanley believed that his time was numbered from the get-go, so he employed a warlock to perform a spell that would allow him to keep his job. When he was eventually fired, he hid out in the Australian jungle where the film was being shot and returned to the set in creature make-up pretending to be an extra. It’s a crazy story, and you can learn all about the film’s insane production in the hilarious documentary Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau.

After the nightmarish Island of Dr. Moreau experience, Stanley retreated into obscurity and focused his attention on directing documentaries and short films. He also wrote a couple of screenplays for independent horror movies, but they were released to little fanfare. He did try to get some other projects up and running but to no avail.

Color Out of Space will hopefully allow Stanley to get his career back on track. He’s a great director who experienced the worst luck, and just as he seemed primed to become a major force in genre filmmaking. Hopefully, he receives more opportunities going forward to realize that potential.

Kieran is a Daily Curator for the website you're currently reading. He also loves the movie Varsity Blues.