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).
Nick 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!