DECEMBER 28, 2013
It's a shame actor Nick Adams just sort of looks like an asshole, because it made Die, Monster, Die! harder to get on board with at the beginning, when his character is trying to find a ride to the Witley House. After a cab refuses to drive him there, he starts asking to rent a car or a bike, but still explains where he's going even though he should have already figured out that the town hated the place and wouldn't help him out. So why does he keep saying that's where he's going? Just say you're going for a leisurely drive, man! It makes him come across as a moron as well as a guy you'd probably want to smack, so it's not until Karloff shows up that you can start getting into the movie.
And you can get into it even more if you haven't seen House Of Usher, since it's pretty much the same scenario: a guy comes to a spooky, giant house seeking his fiance, only for her relative (also played by a horror icon) to try to keep him out and send him away. There's even a wall of portraits, where a character explains who everyone is and lets us know that there's seemingly a curse on the family, hence why they've become hermits and why the town fears them. Luckily, it starts taking its own path (though it still ends in a fire), and isn't vague with the source of the family's problems.
Well, not AS vague, I should say. Whereas Usher leaves it up to you to decide if Usher was crazy or correct, this one lets you know what it is: a green rock from a meteor that they've cut up and used in their greenhouse to grow giant tomatoes and also some weird creatures that just sort of sit there waving back and forth ("Jim Henson's Cthulhu", is what I'd say if I was writing for MST3k). As to WHY the rock had such a varied number of effects (it also turns people into glowing monsters), I can only assume that it makes more sense in the short story, but then again it's a Lovecraft story so maybe not, as being perfectly clear wasn't exactly his thing.
That said, based on what little I know of his story (titled "The Colour Out Of Space") from its Wiki page, it sounds like one of the more film-ready entries in his bibliography, with a team of scientists and a full family at the house (a farm in the story) to provide the action - it sounds like it could have been molded into a Quatermass sequel, actually. The film, on the other hand, just offers a three character piece for the most part, unless you count Karloff's wife who spends the movie behind a sheet in her bedroom, plus drops the scientific angle down to almost nothing. The story was adapted again in 1987 as The Curse, and was much more faithful from what I understand - I'll give it a look someday. Here, it's clear that AIP wanted it to fit the mold of their successful Corman/Poe cycle (which included The Haunted Palace, which took Poe's title but used a Lovecraft story for its narrative), so the farm had to go. Incidentally, first time director Daniel Haller was the production designer on most of those Corman movies, so it's no surprise that it looks so similar. All stately manors, all the time!
But it's still kind of fun. Karloff is always great to watch, and does a fine job playing a character who isn't exactly the hero but not an outright villain either; sort of like Usher but more sympathetic (being in a wheelchair helps!). The various makeup FX for the "cursed" family members are also effective for their day, particularly the glowing super-monster guy during the climax, though I'm sure the full reveal of Karloff's wife caused a few nightmares to any kids who snuck in during its run (which was with Bava's Planet of the Vampires! Moviegoing was so much more awesome in the 50s and 60s). And while Haller is certainly no Corman in the directorial department (it's not much of a surprise he only did a few other features before settling into the world of episodic television; his last credit of note was directing a few episodes of Matlock), he delivers some nice atmosphere at the beginning when Adams is making his way to the house, and the fire sequence is impressive.
He also shot it in 2.35 (again, like the Corman films), which makes a peculiar effect of the film all the more noticeable. Whenever there's a lengthy tracking shot, the left and right sides of the frame are noticeably squeezed; the objects become thinner as they pan on or off the screen (it's most obvious during a cemetery scene around 2/3s of the way through). I'm not sure if it's the transfer or the type of lens that they used, but it's very distracting, and since there's nothing really that requires the wider image, I almost wish it was just 1.85 like most movies of the day so it wouldn't be an issue. I looked on Youtube to see if it was on any of the clips, but the only one I found was presented at the wrong aspect ratio anyway, and the trailer didn't have any of the shots where it'd be noticeable.
Speaking of the trailer, which is the only bonus feature on Scream Factory's new Blu (not even a scene selection! Come on guys), it's one for the ages. Not only does it spoil most of the movies kills and reveals (including the villain's death), but it neglects to include any sort of information about the film - no title, no "Coming Soon" or "AIP Presents"... not even a "Starring Karloff!". Just completely blank. Maybe that's why it spoils so many of the film's surprises? Figures the audience won't know what's being spoiled? Weird.
This is the sort of movie you'd expect to find on a budget pack rather than a stand-alone Blu-ray (one with a pretty good transfer to boot), and it's not memorable enough to really justify a solo release. But maybe Scream can repackage it with other Karloff films and do a nice boxed set like they did with Vincent Price last fall - these are the sort of movies that are great to throw on around Halloween time and just enjoy the simplicity and low-key charm of this era's genre output. I remember a couple years ago, Nic Cage tried getting a studio interested in funding a film that would be in this vein (with Corman attached to boot!) but none of them would bite. Perhaps now, with the success of (heavily 70s inspired) The Conjuring and the Hammer entry The Woman In Black, he can try again? I'd be all for it. Even when they're not great, they're harmless, the sort of thing we can show our kids and enjoy ourselves.
What say you?