1910s & 20s * 30s * 40s * Pre-50s * Frankenstein * Atomic Angst * 1950 * 1951 * 1952 * 1953 * 1954 * 1955 * 1956 * 1957 * 1958 * 1959 *
1960 * 1961 * 1962 * 1963 * 1964 * 1965 * 1966 * 1967 * 1968 * 1969 * 1970 * 1971 * 1972 * 1973 * 1974 * 1975 * 1976 * 1977 * 1978 * 1979

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Die, Monster, Die

Horror/sci-fi hybrids are common. At the mostly horror end of the spectrum, Die Monster Die (DMD) has almost no sci-fi. DMD's thin claim to sci-fi rests on the unseen agent of the horror being a radioactive meteor. In the 50s tradition, if a movie had anything to do with outer space, or anything nuclear, it was deemed sci-fi. Boris Karloff stars in this combination horror / ghost story, as the wheelchair bound despotic head of the "cursed" Witley family. DMD double-featured with Planet of the Vampires, so audiences were probably in the mood for a double dose of horror with a dash of sci-fi.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Steve Reinhart arrives in the small english village of Arkham. He wants to go to the Witley place, but he can't rent a taxi, a bicycle or anything. In fact, the villagers all act angry or frightened at the mere mention of it. So, he walks. On the way there, he passes a desolate area where nothing lives. Old Mr. Witley (Karloff) is gruff and demands he leave. However, it turns out Steve was invited by Mrs. Witley (confined to her curtained bed). She wanted Steve to take their daughter Susan away. Susan is somehow blissfully clueless to the strange goings on in Witley mansion. These are abundant: odd moans in the night, a strange blue glow in the greenhouse, people who disappeared. When Mr. Witley's butler dies, Steve investigates. He discovers that grandfather Corbin Witley was into the occult, that bits of glowing green rock in planter pots make the plants grow huge, and a room full of mutant (but rather benign) animals. Despite all this, Susan doesn't want to leave her sick mother. Mother, however, has become so burned/mutated, that she trashes her room and attacks Susan and Steve as a hag monster. She dies, her face melting away. At the graveside, Mr. Witley finally realizes he must destroy the glowing meteor he has in his basement. He takes an ax to it, but is attacked by Helga (former housekeeper mutated like Mrs. Witley). Helga falls onto the meteor and dies. Mr. Witley gets so radiated that he starts to glow. As the glowing frankenstein-esque monster, he attacks Susan and Steve. He lunges for Susan but breaks through a 2nd story railing, falling to his death. His body bursts into flames. The fire eventually spread through the house. Steve and Susan get out, briefly discuss what happened, and decide to leave. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
Karloff is great and pulls DMD up from mid-B obscurity.

Cold War Angle
The original short story did not blame simple radiation, but in DMD, the traditional Cold War bugbear -- radiation -- is the cause of all the mutation and death. Pretty conventional stuff by the mid-60s.

Lovecraft Hijacked by Halloween -- The story upon which DMD is based (loosely) is H.P. Lovecraft's "The Colour Out of Space." (1927) In his story, told mostly as retrospective, about a rural New England farm family and a meteorite. Because the meteor caused plants to grow very large, the farm father kept the stone, thinking it would bring prosperity. Instead, the mysterious force within it, drains the life of his family, eventually causing him to crumble before his friend's eyes and leaving a many-acre dead zone. The force (or alien?), emitted an indescribable color. Once recharged with life, it flies back into space. Fans of Lovecraft's "Colour" story usually don't like AIP's adaptation, perhaps because the story is turned into more of a gothic ghost story than an alien encounter. Elements of the original story can be seen, but they're virtually lost in a sea of halloween standards: spiders, skeletons, skull-art, dungeons, mutant monsters, books of spells, stranger with big knife, foggy old mansions, etc. etc.

Startle-Fest -- Director Daniel Haller (a protege of Roger Corman) made frequent use, if not over-use, of the cinematic tool: "startle moments." These are where something jumps out at the viewers, or happens suddenly, but does nothing to advance the plot. Haller sprinkles in many such moments. The spider bite, the skeleton, the face in the window, the ubiquitous hand on the shoulder, etc. etc. It's as if Haller did not think the story was particularly frightening in itself, so he opted to regularly startle his audience instead.

Gothic Grab Bag -- DMD was not exactly part of AIP's "Poe Cycle", but the success of those films must have influenced the producers' view. Instead of a simple New England farm, we're given a spooky elizabethan-revival mansion shrouded in fog. Interior shots are filled with an grab-bag mix of anything "old". Medieval era carvings, renaissance furniture and baroque decorations. And, like any good haunted house, there are ample medieval weapons displayed on the walls of each room. Just about anything stereotyped as being in a "haunted mansion" was used as a prop.

Damned Amateurs -- Science should be left to the professionals. That's the final moral of the story, delivered by Steve in the final minutes. "In the proper scientific hands, your father's discovery could have been beneficial." All the trouble was due to an amateur botching things up. Nahum Witley thought his meteor, which made plants grow huge, might be beneficial enough to make up for his father (Corbin's) dabbling in the occult. This adds a layer to the already stereotypic naive scientist role (which Karloff played many times). The naive scientist thinks he's onto a boon for mankind, but creates a monster instead. In DMD, he's still that naive scientist (sort of), but with the added motive of trying to atone for the sins of his father.

Bottom line? Fans of the AIP/Corman Poe Cycle or Hammer's horror films, will probably be entertained. Not impressed, perhaps, but entertained. Karloff fans will see the master holding his own, despite his age. Fans of Lovecraft or sci-fi, may well be more annoyed than entertained. DMD feels like having ordered pancakes, but gotten eggs and sausage instead.

1 comment:

Randall Landers said...

A really entertaining film, oft-maligned because it bastardized a Lovecraft story. Karloff appears to be legitimately confined to his wheelchair, and he's a joy to behold. But I have to admit, I really like Nick Adams in this flick. He's a natural; tragic his life was cut so short.