The BMD Interview: COLOR OUT OF SPACE’s Tommy Chong

In which Scott speaks with a living legend about horror, aliens and Hell.

I've seen Color Out of Space a few times now. You're great in it.

Tommy Chong: Oh, man, thank you!

I'm curious if you'd read much Lovecraft before making this movie.

Ah, not really. The only real horror experience I've had, I fell in love with a movie named Christine. You know that one?

Oh, yeah. Killer car. John Carpenter directed.

Yeah! I loved that movie, but I did read a lot of other horror stuff because I was interested in writing my own horror stories. So, I'd read up on some of that. The best plots come out of [the horror genre]. As far as the genre itself, though, man - I scare too easy.

You scare too easy but you wanted to write your own horror stories?

Oh, yeah, I've been wanting to write a Cheech & Chong horror movie for a long time now.

Word? Like a slasher movie or more of a supernatural deal, with ghosts and whatnot?

Well...I never really figured that one out. I just knew it'd be funny, especially if [it were set around] Halloween, something where might look like a costume is actually real. I've always liked that idea. But, y'know, with me - I'm a very flighty pickle. I'll stick with one idea for a while and then, boom, it shifts because I've got another idea. That drove Cheech nuts. Still does! 

It would seem to me that the obvious route here would be to have Cheech and Chong meet the Universal monsters.

Yeah, but again, you gotta get those surprises in there somehow! That's one of the things I loved about Color Out of Space - you have to use your imagination. That's the scariest thing in the world! Your mind can put you inside all kinds of things you can't [execute onscreen].

That's a big part of cosmic horror, that idea of the unknown being the most terrifying thing. Or like an alien intelligence that's completely indifferent to, y'know, "good" and "evil".

Totally, man.

Speaking of which, what's your current position on the existence of alien life?

Well, y'know, I was on Joe Rogan's podcast the other day and I said something - and, y'know, when I go to speak to someone like Joe I always go in open-minded and don't really plan a lot [for what I'm going to say] - and we were talking about aliens and that, and I came up with an epiphany. It was about space, and eternity. When you contemplate on eternity, it means there's never been a beginning and there'll never be an ending. It will always be. And there's not just this universe, there's millions of other universes, and they're this size. They're this big! So I got to thinking, if there's that much space, why would we have to have other aliens in our universe?

Sure, I don't think we have --

But if you evolve, it's like...the smarter you get, the less you fight, y'know? 


That was the thing that really bothered me about Star Wars. They would have a sword fight!


It was insane! You've got all these planets and species and you can propel yourself through space, you can suddenly appear wherever you want, but also - you're fighting with a sword? Anyway, what I told Joe was, we are so unique, and we have our own universe, and the scariest thing is ourselves and what we can conjure up, y'know? Anything really evil does not exist except in your mind. Just like that Lovecraft guy - none of those monsters exist except for in his mind.

This sort of reminds me of -- 

Oh, I had another epiphany, too: Hell is part of the physical universe. Not the spiritual one.

So you're saying Hell might be a place we could feasibly travel to? But like somewhere within this reality, right, not like underground?

What, Hell?

Yeah. The classic version of Hell, the one you hear about when you're a kid, exists underground.

Well, here's the clue: Hell is burning. In order to have anything burning, you need oxygen. You'd need a physical world. So Hell exists somewhere within the physical world. And it's mental, because you can create anything with your mind. But there's no want, need or desire in the physical world. There's no fire because there's no oxygen. That's what I figured out. And all the horror comes out of the physical realm.


The other thing I noticed is how violent the Heavens are, when you look at 'em closely. You know that poem "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star?" How I wonder what you are?


Well, the twinkle of that little star has the energy of like a zillion atomic bombs going off at the same time. There's so much violence and destruction around that particular star - you get close to it, you're gonna melt, y'know? And the Heavens are filled with this violence! The physical world is just filled with violence. That's why war is so normal. That's what gets me more than hearing about monsters or boogeymen or something like that. Reality is much more intense to me.

Well, you've certainly given me a lot to think about.

Isn't that something?

The conversations you had with Richard Stanley on the Color Out of Space set must've been something else, man.

Y'know, it came and went so quickly! We had dinner together a couple of times, and it was mostly just me listening to his philosophies and and where he's at and what he's done. That was kind of a parallel trip, y'know? 


Richard Stanley's excellent Color Out of Space. Only in theaters January 24th. You should absolutely see it.