Die, Monster, Die!
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The first credited film adaptation of a story by influential horror and fantasy writer H.P Lovecraft ("The Colour Out of Space"), American-International Pictures' Die, Monster, Die! hit drive-ins in 1965 at the peak of the studio's popularity thanks to a glut of beach pictures and colorful Vincent Price vehicles. Though he teamed up with Price for a handful of films like The Terror (1963) and The Comedy of Terrors (1964), fellow terror icon Boris Karloff found himself quickly in demand as a leading solo name for AIP projects ranging from the stylish to the silly, with this one falling somewhere in between. Here Karloff assumes the role of Nahum Witley, a paraplegic scientist whose remote estate (with an enormous crater nearby) is visited by milquetoast American Stephen Rinehart (TV's former "Johnny Yuma" and Japanese monster stalwart Nick Adams), an old college paramour of Witley's daughter, Susan (Suzan Farmer). The locals don't take kindly to the Witley family, and weird vegetation seems to be growing everywhere. As it turns out, Stephen was summed by the scientist's ailing wife (Freda Jackson), who wants her daughter to escape. A mysterious glowing greenhouse, eerie howling within the house, and malevolent vines all figure in the horrific goings-on, linked to a radioactive meteorite which threatens to consume them all.
By 1965, American-International had already established Edgar Allan Poe as a reputable box office name thanks to Roger Corman's string of stylish, surprisingly ambitious adaptations beginning with 1960's The Fall of the House of Usher. One of the most notable talents behind these films was gifted production designer and art director Daniel Haller, a visual magician at wringing atmosphere from such simple devices as velvet curtains and dripping red candles. As the Poe films became more psychedelic and outrageous, Corman decided to take an unofficial stab at Lovecraft's "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward," which was then camouflaged as a Poe title, The Haunted Palace (1963). The ruse worked well enough to give Rhode Island's most famous scribe his official due with this film, and Haller was given the opportunity to make his directorial debut with what was obviously very tricky material. Lovecraft's track record on film has been notoriously problematic, and while Die, Monster, Die! is no exception, it represents a noble attempt all the same. Haller's visual flair is evident throughout with the usual cost-saving, "far out" visual tricks involving swirling paint and chromatic lighting, and despite being confined in a wheelchair, Karloff still gives a committed performance. (The official production design was officially credited to one-shot Colin Southcott, but Haller's fingerprints are all over the look of the film.) Interestingly, the shadowy scope photography was handled by English cinematographer Paul Beeson, a veteran Disney cameraman who made this his inaugural "adult" title in a career soon populated with a variety of credits ranging from To Sir, with Love (1967) to Starcrash (1979).
The relative success of Die, Monster, Die! on a string of double features prompted Haller to give up production design and assume directing full-time with AIP. His next films offered a dramatic change of pace (1967's Devil's Angels and 1968's The Wild Racers), but he decided to tackle another Lovecraft adaptation in 1970 - The Dunwich Horror, a wild modern extrapolation of visual and thematic motifs from this film with Sandra Dee and Dean Stockwell put through the mutated paces. Afterwards Haller focused almost exclusively on television, most notably with one of the most visually striking episodes of Rod Serling's Night Gallery, "I'll Never Leave You Ever."
As for Karloff, he remained in his wheelchair for AIP's third and least successful Lovecraft adaptation, Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968, an attempt at "The Dreams in the Witch House"), and he continued acting steadily until his death in 1969. Oddly enough, the much younger Adams died a year earlier at his home under mysterious circumstances, usually cited as an accidental prescription drug overdose.
As for the durable Mr. Lovecraft, his work's public domain status ensured plenty of filmed adaptations for decades to come, though his suggestive monstrosities proved difficult to convey in visual terms. Two of the best efforts in the immediate wake of Die, Monster, Die! came from television via Night Gallery adaptations ("Cool Air" and "Pickman's Model"), while director Stuart Gordon triggered a new wave of interest with his outrageous and acclaimed cycle of Lovecraft projects including 1985's Re-Animator, 1986's From Beyond, and 2001's Dagon. Meanwhile "The Colour Out of Space" inspired a second, far more gruesome interpretation during the Gordon-Lovecraft renaissance, 1987's The Curse, which adhered more closely to the source material by locating it in an American farming community. However, the Karloff original will never lose its place as many moviegoers' first horrific glimpse of one of literature's most diabolical imaginations.
Producer: Pat Green
Director: Daniel Haller
Screenplay: Jerry Sohl, based on "The Colour Out of Space" by H. P. Lovecraft
Cinematography: Paul Beeson
Art Direction: Colin Southcott
Music: Don Banks
Film Editing: Alfred Cox
Cast: Boris Karloff (Nahum Witley), Nick Adams (Stephen Reinhart), Freda Jackson (Letitia Witley), Suzan Farmer (Susan Witley), Patrick Magee (Dr. Henderson), Paul Farrell (Jason).
by Nathaniel Thompson