American International Pictures is well-known to fans of clas­sic hor­ror for its pop­u­lar and influ­en­tial string of Edgar Allan Poe adap­ta­tions.  However, it should also be not­ed that they were the first film pro­duc­ers to take on the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Long before Stuart Gordon tack­led Re-Animator, A.I.P. took the film world’s first step into eldritch ter­ri­to­ry with The Haunted Palace (even though they hid it behind Poe’s name, this is an adap­ta­tion of “The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward”). They didn’t do as many Lovecraft films as they did Poe films, prob­a­bly because Lovecraft’s lit­er­ary style is much hard­er to adapt, but they earned a place in his­to­ry for being the first to give it a shot.

Die Monster Die! was the sec­ond of A.I.P.‘s trio of Lovecraft adap­ta­tions, drawn from the author’s clas­sic short tale “The Colour From Out Of Space.” The sto­ry begins as Stephen Reinhart (Nick Adams) trav­els from the U.S. to a remote English vil­lage to vis­it Susan (Suzan Farmer), who became his girl­friend at col­lege. Unfortunately, the vil­lagers all shun him when he asks for direc­tions to her home. Once he finds his way there, he’s sim­ply told to leave by Susan’s wheel­chair-bound father, Nahum Witley (Boris Karloff).

DieMD-posNick is reunit­ed with Susan but soon dis­cov­ers why every­one is so unfriend­ly: the Witley fam­i­ly has a bad rep­u­ta­tion due to the mis­deeds of their ances­tors and there’s also some new­er, even more unearth­ly secrets that Nahum is try­ing to keep under wraps.  However, the patriarch’s will­ful­ness is no match for Stephen’s curios­i­ty and the vis­i­tor soon dis­cov­ers a crazed killer wan­der­ing the grounds, the house’s matri­arch suf­fer­ing from an inex­plic­a­ble ill­ness and some­thing mon­strous locked away in the estate’s green­house.  Finding the truth behind all the­se strange occur­rences might mean death for all involved.

Despite its Lovecraftian ori­gins, Die Monster Die nev­er real­ly feels like a Lovecraft adap­ta­tion. In fact, the script by vet­er­an t.v. scribe Jerry Sohl takes its nar­ra­tive spine from House Of Usher (suit­or comes to crum­bling manse for lost love, fights angry blood rela­tion, dis­cov­ers ter­ri­ble secrets) and ditch­es the doomy, crazed mood of the source mate­ri­al entire­ly.  There’s also a secret cel­lar cham­ber that con­jures up a few mem­o­ries of Pit And The Pendulum.  On the plus side, there’s a focus on deliv­er­ing at least one shock per reel but on the down­side, char­ac­ter­i­za­tions tend to be weak and none of them ever become crazed by the hor­rors they wit­ness the way Lovecraft pro­tag­o­nists should.

That said, if you look at Die Monster Die! as a dri­ve-in pot­boil­er spiced up with a light dose of Lovecraft, in can be quite fun.  Adams makes an intrigu­ing­ly atyp­i­cal hero for this kind of film, hard-nosed and American in his approach to things, while Karloff man­ages to deliv­er chills with grav­i­tas even when con­fined to a wheel­chair. The pro­duc­tion val­ues are fan­tas­tic, mak­ing great use of both English loca­tions and lush Shepperton Studios inte­ri­or sets.

However, the best ele­ment of Die Monster Die! is the direc­tion. Director Daniel Haller cut his teeth as a pro­duc­tion design­er on Roger Corman’s Poe films so he con­jures up a goth­ic, anti­quar­i­an atmos­phere nice­ly.  He achieves some real­ly impres­sive visu­al effects for the time with the help of English FX whiz Wally Veevers, espe­cial­ly in the sequences involv­ing the green­house (wait ’til you meet the crea­tures in its hid­den room).  Haller is also atten­tive to pac­ing, deliv­er­ing a feature’s worth of cheap thrills in under 80 min­utes.

In the end, Lovecraft would have to wait until Stuart Gordon hit the scene to get the freaky, unnerv­ing adap­ta­tions he deserved but Die Monster Die! deserves a look from hor­ror buffs for being the first to exper­i­ment with ele­ments of his approach to hor­ror. It’s a fun “sec­ond bill” sort of movie that deliv­ers enough shocks and weird­ness quick­ly enough to be enter­tain­ing in an unpre­ten­tious way — and the right thing to fol­low one of Corman’s Poe shock­ers with when cre­at­ing your own home video 60’s dri­ve-in hor­ror dou­ble bill.

Blu-Ray Notes: this title just made its American debut on blu-ray via a new disc from Scream Factory.  The trans­fer is of com­pa­ra­ble qual­i­ty with the company’s work on The Vincent Price Collection, deliv­er­ing a sharply-detailed image with impres­sive col­ors (the green­house scene is real­ly eye-pop­ping in that respect).  The orig­i­nal mono sound­track is pre­sent­ed in loss­less style for this pre­sen­ta­tion and the mix is rock-solid, with clear dia­logue and plen­ty of heft to the score and sound effects.  The one extra is the trail­er — and neo­phytes are advised to watch it after the film, as it is essen­tial­ly a 2-min­ute high­lights reel that gives away all the film’s note­wor­thy spe­cial effects!