Director: Daniel Haller
Cast: Boris Karloff, Nick Adams, Freda Jackson, Suzan Farmer, Terence De Marney
Length: 80 min
Label: Scream Factory
Release Date: January 21, 2014
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English: Mono DTS-HD
- Original trailer
Back when I was a kid, there were some movies I watched based solely on the title. Usually, this was because those titles were ‘titillating,’ to say the least, to my imagination. Creature From Black Lake (1976), The Island Of The Burning Doomed (1967), Octaman (1971), and The Crawling Eye (1958) — all of these movies had me wondering if I’d actually be seeing a lake that was black, an island where people randomly and spontaneously combust, a man who was half octopus, or whether I was about to see some kind of giant eye crawling around.
When I came across Die, Monster, Die!, in the TV guide, my first thought was: a movie had been named after a phrase someone might utter? That’s strange. It was the word ‘monster’ that really got me to watch it; as with those aforementioned movies, I was taking it at its word that it would be about an actual monster someone wants to make die. Die, Monster, Die! actually turned out to be a unique viewing experience; one that I like to think had me first contemplating the term ‘science fiction-horror movie,’ or was it vice versa?It was my first experience with a movie that makes you believe it’s of one genre, but then introduces a staple from another genre. From the outset, Daniel Haller’s movie appears to be something in the vein of a Roger Corman Vincent Price vehicle, but as the story progresses a science fiction element suddenly gets introduced, and for some reason, it just blew my mind.
It also helped that Nick Adams was cast in the film, for up until then I had associated him with Godzilla Vs. Monster Zero (1965) and that episode of The Outer Limits titled “Fun And Games.” So, I associated him with monsters and thought, well, if he’s in this movie, it must actually be some kind of “monster movie.”
I remember my mother watching it with me. After it was over, I stood up and either said, “That’s the first science fiction-horror movie I have ever seen,” or “That’s the first horror-science fiction movie I have ever seen.” I can’t recall in what order I was saying it. And my mother had this perplexed look on her face, and I had this weird, profound feeling as if I was coining and using a new term, for the first time in history.
Of course, I was about 9 or 10.
Despite how Die, Monster, Die! appears, the movie’s origin is actually based on a short story written by H.P. Lovecraft called, “The Colour Out Of Space,” and not by anything Edgar Allen Poe may have written. Incidentally, Roger Corman made a movie with Vincent Price which looks just like any of his other Poe based films, but The Haunted Palace (1963) is mostly based on “The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward,” another short tale written by H.P. Lovecraft.
To date, Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out Of Space,” has been attempted three more times on screen — The Curse (1987), Colour From The Dark (2008) and the German movie, Die Farbe (original title, 2010). Out of all those adaptations, Haller’s version is the one that bears the least resemblance to the source material, but is my personal favorite to watch (and, for the record, I have never seen Colour From The Dark nor Die Farbe).
The original tale is about an “alien menace” that decimates a farm. In Die, Monster, Die! that “alien menace” angle is jettisoned, but its effects on the surrounding property and organic life it comes in contact with is retained to a degree. And it’s not a farm, but a creepy looking mansion and greenhouse that are the setting. Boris Karloff plays head of the household, Nahum Witley. When Stephen Reinhart (Nick Adams) arrives in Arkham to visit the girl he met at college months before, Susan (Suzan Farmer), by invitation of Nahum’s wife, Latitia (Freda Jackons), he learns from the brief contact he has with the townsfolk the Witleys are not well liked, feared mostly.His forced walk to the house reveals even more mysteries. Traversing the heath on the way there he comes across an immense rupture in the earth with the surrounding land reduced to petrified ash. Something has been affecting the Witley’s for some time, making them sick and turning some into deformed killers. So far Susan seems to be the least affected. What we eventually find out is a meteor fell from the sky and Nahum had it moved to the cellar where he’s been using it’s deceptive powers to create a greenhouse of immense vegetables, sentient foliage, and freakish mutations. But there’s a cost, the “radiation” the meteor constantly gives off is mutating and killing his family and butler.
Lovecraft’s tale is similar except an “alien presence” came with the meteor, one that hides within the family’s well and it’s this well the family has been drinking from, watering the fields with, giving to the animals, etc. It’s an ephemeral presence that gives off a color never seen before on earth. Despite the exclusion of this element from Haller’s movie, it’s still a sumptuous viewing sci-fi-horror experience.
Die, Monster, Die! initially hit DVD way back in 2001 as part of MGM’s Midnite Movies line, it then got paired with Daniel Haller’s other Lovecraft adaptation he did 5 years later, The Dunwich Horror (1970), in 2005 when MGM decided to double feature a lot of the Midnite Movies. It now finally comes to blu-ray through Shout! Factory’s horror sub-label, Scream Factory on January 21st.
The 2.35:1 HD presentation makes Die, Monster, Die! look the best I’ve ever seen it look. Details of fabric can be made out, and until now I had no idea it was starting to rain in a scene when Nick Adams gets off the train in the beginning. I can now see the drops hitting his coat. The restoration itself is very minimal, as there are still occasional specs, dirt and scratches present, but these are mostly visible during the opening scene and credits. Once you get past that, the rest of the print is actually is very good shape. Colors are rich and mostly stable, natural film grain is always present, and there are no signs of DNR filtering. Yet the image is pleasingly sharp, with nice detail and image depth. Some have noted a sort of fish-eye effect in certain scenes, where objects look vertically squeezed in the right and left periphery of the frame. This anomaly is mostly visible during the opening train station scene and once the film gets underway, is not really a bother. It was also present on MGM’s old DVD and is a byproduct of the type of lenses used during filming.
The audio is mono DTS-HD only, and reproduces the original soundtrack faithfully, without digital gimmickry. Hiss is not an issue; dialog is nice and clear, and the Hammer-esque music score by Don Banks sounds suitably pungent.
Scream Factory’s Die, Monster, Die! release is truly bare bones; the only extra included on this blu-ray is the original theatrical trailer. This is a shame, for genre historian David Del Valle had wanted to record a commentary track with the 87-year-old Daniel Haller (who was not just a film director in his own right, but was also Corman’s Art Director on many of his Poe films), but the project somehow never materialized. So this represents something of a missed opportunity. There are no subtitles as well.
Despite the lack of extras, this is a great release of an overlooked classic, one that I loved in my childhood and triggers a lot of great memories. Highly recommended!