Die, Monster, Die! (1965)
Studio: Scream Factory
Release date: January 21st, 2014
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
AIPís horror output was obviously defined by Corman, Price, and Poe, but it certainly was not confined to that trio, as the studio was actually quite infatuated with the works of H.P. Lovecraft as well, having had a hand in adapting a handful of the eccentric authorís works (Corman and Poe were around for The Haunted Palace, a grab-bag effort that melded both Poe and Lovecraft, thus making it a definitive representative of the era). In fact, AIP was responsible for bringing Lovecraft to the screen before anyone else, and their first proper treatment came in Die, Monster Die! (aka Monster of Terror), a fairly loose translation of the ďThe Colour Out of Space,Ē here reconfigured into typical your typical AIP jaunt, complete with madmen and dungeons.
The setup is all Lovecraft, albeit a bit transplanted: whereas the story set up shop in a typical New England haunt, the film moves across the pond to regular old England, where American scientist Stephen Reinhart (Nick Adams) has been invited to the Witley estate. The mysterious estate also proves to be foreboding when no one in town dares to help him get there. Shrugging off their warning as silly superstition, he trudges his way to the mansion and finds the Witley patriarch (Boris Karloff ) standing guard and barring entry. At the behest of his daughter Susan (Suzan Farmer), who fell in love with Reinhart while away at school, Witley allows the young man to stay for one night.
Thatís plenty of time for him to discover why the place has spooked the locals, of course. The surrounding heath (described in great detail by Lovecraft but a bit shortchanged here) is eminently spooky, shrouded in a mist that cloaks shadowy, humanoid figures that lurk around the edges of the film. Within the mansion walls is a more pitiful creature, as Susanís mother (Freda Jackson) has become afflicted with a mysterious disease. Somethingís rotten in Arkham, and Die, Monster, Die! predictably unfolds as a mystery that tasks Reinhart with investigating the strange events, which also include a vanished maid and a sick butler.
Much of the proceduralís effectiveness lies in the set dressing and Karloffís performance. Due to his age and declining health, the actor is confined to a wheelchair, but heís no less lively in a turn that echoes both the demented maniacs and the tragic souls from his early career. Witley is trapped somewhere in between both, and his slippery personality might be the most intriguing puzzle box the film has to offer. A descendant of a doomed lineage littered with early deaths and madness, he buys into a family curse that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The truth (which is spoiled by Lovecraftís title) takes the film from that well-trodden, thoroughly AIP territory to something a little more cosmic and sci-fi, so Die, Monster, Die! represents an interesting fusion of the 60s retro-gothic aesthetic with the previous decadeís radioactive preoccupations.
Which is to say, the movie looks fucking awesome. Visually, it doesnít miss much of beat without Corman at the helm, as frequent collaborator/production designer Daniel Haller makes his directorial debut. Given that AIP didnít exactly break open the coffers for Corman himself, itís not surprising that Haller has to make due with some limited resources; most of the action is restricted to the Witley mansion, but itís a suitable decrepit old place thatís decked out with a dingy, cobwebbed dungeon and other creepy corners. Some films suffer when the lid is pulled back to reveal a crypt of horrors. This isnít one of themóonce Die, Monster, Die! is unloosed from your standard ďsquare-jawed leading man and his arm candy/fiancťe creep around a haunted mansionĒ angle, it gives Haller and crew the opportunity to relish in Lovecraftís imagination with a bevy of effects that give birth to overgrown vegetation and various mutants.
The candy-colored climax especially taps into the sheer weirdness of Lovecraft; between bodies and flora disintegrating into ash, itís surely visceral enough. However, itís the quiet moments precluding it and the somber aftermath that best capture the authorís fascination with the interaction between superstition and science. Admittedly, Die, Monster, Die! isnít overly concerned with this stuff (as the title suggests, itís a monster flick at heart), but thereís an enjoyable irony resting on that philosophical divide. The demons haunting Witley arenít what he expects, and itís fitting that Karloff is undone by good intentions that once again transform him into an inhuman creature. He looks to the heavens but gets hell instead.
Die, Monster, Die! was among the earliest Midnite Movie titles way back in 2001, which makes it ripe for a Blu-ray upgrade from Scream Factory. It also helps that the film features a lush visual palette that makes the update worthwhile; the filmís atmospherics benefit from the enhanced resolution, and the colors bring a pop to the transfer thatíll leave you hoping that Scream is primed to raid the AIP vaults (their final and most trippy Lovecraft joint, The Dunwich Horror, would look spectacular). The lossless mono track is faithful and robust and features at least one well-placed cue that jolted me from my seat. Unfortunately, no extras accompany the presentation upgrade, but this is still a worthy addition to oneís library, especially if you consider golden-age AIP to be among the most deserving candidates for a high-definition makeover. comments powered by Disqus Ratings:
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