By Brian M. Sammons
Die, Monster, Die! (1965). Director: Daniel Haller. Cast: Boris Karloff, Nick Adams, Freda Jackson. Country: Germany.
Welcome back, friends and fellow cultists. Today, we set the Wayback Machine to 1965 so we can discuss the first of the many screen adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space”. Now, “Colour” was not only Lovecraft’s favourite of all his own tales, but it must be the favourite of moviemakers, as well, as it is the most filmed of all HPL stories. I have recently reviewed the two newest versions of this sci-fi horror story: Ivan Zuccon’s Colour from the Dark, which you can find a review of here, and Huan Vu’s Die Farbe, which I covered here. Don’t worry. I’ll get around to the Wil Wheaton career killing, The Curse, soon enough. But as for this old Boris Karloff vehicle, how was this Lovecraft story’s first trip down Hollywood Lane? Well, it wasn’t murdered or raped as it walked down that dark, twisting path, but it sure as hell was mugged and battered around a bit. Yeah, prepare yourselves, boys and ghouls. This crime scene isn’t pretty, but at least it’s not the stinking abattoir that H P Lovecraft The Tomb was.
This film moves the action from New England to merry old England, as an American arrives in a small British town looking for the Witley House, which sounds suspiciously a lot like the Whateleys from “The Dunwich Horror” and nothing at all like the Gardners from the actual story. Man, I hate it when films needlessly, and without any reason, mix and match Lovecraftian names. Were they trying to confuse the few people in 1965 that had read the original story for some reason? Is “Gardners” English slang for something like “butt-muncher” and so, they didn’t want people giggling when they heard it? This random change really confused me.
Anyway, everyone in town gives the American the stink-eye and won’t help him a lick once he says where he’s going. He must walk the entire way to the Whateley…er…Witley House, past a big crater in the ground and plants that crumble at his touch. Why did this Yank come all the way to England and then to such a shunned place? Why for some British nookie, of course. The traveler, with the awesome name of ‘Stephen Reinhart’, is there to meet up with the lovely Susan. The two have become engaged, or they want to. I really can’t remember which it is, but it’s not important. Whatever the case, Susan’s sourpuss, wheelchair-bound father is not keen on the idea of losing his daughter to the American stranger and also doesn’t want any visitors at his large, and largely crumbling, estate. The secret behind the old man’s reclusiveness, played to crusty perfection by Boris Karloff, is the key to the mystery of this story, which, at this point, sadly becomes the basic gothic horror movie common to the time, instead of the cool cosmic horror that this film was actually based on.
Only the barest of bones from Lovecraft’s tale can be found here. Something fell from the sky; vegetables grow large; people get ugly, cancer-like growths on them; and that’s about it. The cool alien intelligence that was the colour in HPL’s tale is gone, replaced by simple radiation. Sure, one of the servants goes mad, but it’s more out of grief than the sinister effect of being fed on by something from beyond the stars. Also, a thin veneer of black magic is painted over everything here, changing the uncaring cosmic horror of Lovecraft to the more traditional “The Devil is naughty” vibe. Then there’s the large portion of this film that has Stephen wandering the gloomy halls of the Witley House, searching for the sources of strange sounds, but actually uncovering very little. Really, this movie feels much more like the Poe films Roger Corman did in the 60s than anything Lovecraft-related.
Things do pick up slightly towards the end, when the young couple break into the family’s very green (as in, green-glowing) greenhouse to find the aforementioned big honking tomatoes, some glowing meteor rocks, and some very puppet-looking monsters in cages that the not-really-crippled Mr. Witley has been experimenting with. At the very end, Witley turns out to be not so bad, as he begs Stephen to take his daughter away from this cursed place, before going down to his satanic-looking basement, complete with a skull-shaped well, to destroy the meteor. But things don’t go as planned and Boris gets changed into what I can only assume is the monster from this movie’s title, as nothing else fits the bill. Well, maybe the forced-perspective sockpuppets in the greenhouse, but they don’t do anything other than make annoying noises. Whatever, Monster Witley, I’m pretty sure no longer played by Karloff, comes back up from the basement, looking like G.I. Joe’s Destro, for some odd reason. The metal man chases the lovebirds around the house for a bit, before falling to his death from a whopping six-foot height, and thereby causing the entire mansion to come crumbling down, a la the House of Usher.
Final Verdict: I guess you have to consider this movie good just because it is old enough to be called “classic”. Once things, and people, reach a certain age, you just feel bad for speaking ill of them. Aw, screw that. Die, Monster, Die! is not a very good film. There, I said it. It’s not horrible, but it’s overlong, overstuffed and rather boring. Karloff is good in it, doing his usual creepy Karloff thing, but it’s nothing you haven’t seen before in a dozen-or-so better films. The special effects were, I guess, passable for the time, but the Destro monster at the end is just plain silly, no matter how you slice it. Worst of all, to Lovecraft lovers, is how little Lovecraft flavour you’ll actually find here. Yes, a rock falls to earth, and plants and people get freaky, but that’s it. All the things that made HPL’s story so damn good have been excised, so really, Die, Monster, Die! is not Lovecraftian at all. But if you’re a completist fan of either Lovecraft or Karloff, rejoice, for you can get a copy of this flick on DVD for just around four bucks at Amazon.com. So, if nothing else, yay for that.
Die, Monster, Die! is available from Amazon.com.