Thursday, January 23, 2014

DIE, MONSTER, DIE! (1965) Blu-ray Review

Die Monster Die! (1965) d. Daniel Haller (UK/USA)

Having wrapped up their extremely successful run of Roger Corman-directed Edgar Allan Poe adaptations – fondly referred to as the “AIPoes” – American International Pictures set their sights on another highly influential horror writer, H.P. Lovecraft. (In actuality, they’d already adopted his “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” in 1963 and turned it into Edgar Allan Poe’s The Haunted Palace, but I digress.) Corman’s able art director Daniel Haller took the helm for screenwriter Jerry’s Sohl’s reworking of “The Colour Out of Space,” whose drive-in ready retitling of Die, Monster, Die! was only the first of its many woes.

In the original story, one of his best, Lovecraft introduces readers to the Gardner family, whose lives are forever changed by a mysterious meteorite that lands on their back forty and begins to exert a strange mutating power over their crops, livestock, and eventually the family itself. Sohl keeps this basic concept, but then creates a bothersome “romantic hopeful comes to visit family tortured by dark secrets” device stolen wholesale from Richard Matheson’s House of Usher and Pit and the Pendulum scripts.

In this case, it’s American college student Stephen Reinhart (Nick Adams) coming to visit his best girl Susan (Suzann Farmer, granted “introducing” billing, despite it being her fifth credited film role) in England, only to be rebuffed by her stern, wheelchair-bound father Nahum (Boris Karloff) who demands that Stephen leave immediately. Susan’s ailing mother Letitia (Freda Jackson), within her veiled bedchamber, intervenes and pleads with the young beau to take her daughter away from this hellish place before it’s too late.

Despite game performances from all involved, Die, Monster, Die! is ultimately undone by its generic and uninspired approach. The effects of the meteorite – kept squirreled away in the basement – are erratic and highly selective. Jackson’s face and hands appear to be turning into a spongy mold, while the Witley’s faithful manservant Merwyn (Terence de Marney) simply keels over one night after bringing out the dinner rolls. Karloff shows no ill effects at all, despite the fact that he’s spent the most time fussing with the space rock...well, not until it’s time for the big finish wherein he transforms into a glowing featureless stuntman that stalks Adams and Famer throughout the house. (Karloff was stricken with severe lung damage during the shoot, and his knees had deteriorated well beyond the nimble gait seen here.)

Adams, who kaiju fans might recall from the same year’s Invasion of Astro Monster aka Godzilla vs. Monster Zero, uses his wiry, intense heroism well, although Farmer (Dracula, Prince of Darkness) is relegated to the thankless role of helpless lady fair in need of rescue. Gravel-voiced Irish character actor Patrick Magee (A Clockwork Orange) shows up for a quick cameo as one of the town’s many frightened villagers, quaking about the grand old mansion on the hill and its dark past, but he’s not around long enough to help or hinder much.

In spite of the film’s faults, Shout! Factory’s BR presentation is quite excellent, with sharp images and AIP’s ubiquitous colored filters popping with renewed life. As always, the DTS-HD sound is clear and strong, (although it does seem to be only mono sound), allowing Hammer vet Don Banks’ score to provide the expected swells and stings. A theatrical trailer is the only other special feature.

Die, Monster, Die! is available now from Shout! Factory and can be ordered HERE.

--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine

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