This is the fourth in a reoccurring series I will be doing to highlighting obscure, unknown, forgotten and underrated horror movies. The goal is to bring to light great horror of yesterday and today that just is not on most people’s radar. Just assume spoilers will be included. Enjoy.
“It was just a color out of space—a frightful messenger from unformed realms of infinity beyond all Nature as we know it; from realms whose mere existence stuns the brain and numbs us with the black extra-cosmic gulfs it throws open before our frenzied eyes.”
HP Lovecraft certainly had a way with words and with horror. For this reason, there have been numerous adaptations of many of his works from the Stuart Gordon adaptations in the 80’s and 90’s with Re-Animator, From Beyond and Dagon to the numerous cosmic horror movies which draw direct influence from Howard P. like The Void and Annihilation.
What many people do not know is the first film adaptation of an HP Lovecraft story is the 1965 gem Die, Monster, Die! which is an adaptation of Lovecraft’s A Color out of Space starring a horror legend in one of his last roles before his death in 1968. This film is a colorful gothic nightmare with all the classic horror aesthetic that fans love, unfortunately, this film is relatively obscure so not many fans have watched.
Have you ever watched Die, Monster, Die! No? OMG, let me tell you about it.
The movie opens with an American scientist Stephen Reinhart arriving in a small British town to meet his fiancé at her parents’ house. As he exits the train and tries to find local transportation for the final leg of his journey he finds none of the townsfolk willing to help him get to the Witley Manor. Everyone including the town’s bicycle shop owner refuses to provide him any means of transportation so Stephen resorts to walking all the way to Witley Manor and on his walk, he discovers a gigantic crater in the ground with decaying vegetation all around.
I absolutely love old horror, and when I say old I mean pre-1970’s. Comparatively they are exceptionally beautiful movies, it’s like directors finally got a hold of color film and said, “Let’s use all the colors in this movie” and this couldn’t be truer than in Die, Monster, Die! As Stephen arrives at the Witley house the viewer is bombarded with colors. From flicker candelabras, green velvet curtains, red drapes and paintings with ornate frames adorning the walls, everywhere you look there is something interesting going on in the background, far different from a modern movie which would have the Whitley manor be a dark, gray-toned, characterless mansion.
Shortly after his arrival Stephen is confronted by wheelchair bound father Nahum Witley played by the ever-amazing Boris Karloff who warns Stephen that he should leave, and he doesn’t know why his daughter would have invited him to their house, but Stephen tells him it was not his daughter who invited him, it was Nahum’s wife Letitia. Shrouded in mystery she informs Stephen that not all is what it seems and that something is driving everyone crazy.
Older movies have a very interesting way of clearly and loudly tell you “SOMETHING STRANGE IS GOING ON” but then very subtly and quietly let the story progress so you the viewer can figure out what exactly that strange thing is. And once all the cards are on the table the movie will then exclaim “THIS IS WHAT WAS GOING ON THE WHOLE TIME, WOW!” and then they queue the climax. Modern movies on the other hand tend to hold the viewers hand. Instead of a verbose proclamation of the story at the beginning and the end, modern films have a constant muttering dialogue that accompanies them, almost like a subliminal director commentary that runs the duration of the movie telling you, “Ok, something is going on and it’s this specific thing. See, look over here, clearly, it’s the thing that’s going on and here is the reason why. And OBTW, the only logical conclusion is this so expect that towards the end” BORING. Discovering older movies is great because the more blind you walk in the better. Sure, the pacing may be much slower, and we have been desensitized to the violence, gore and frights that these older films have because of MTV and Violent Video games (kidding) but what they lack for in jolts they make up for in painting a fantastic picture of the story and living little to no loose ends upon completion.
Die, Monster, Die! continues its tale of mystery in unique fashion. A creepy creeper lurking in the shadows, spooking our heroine Susan. A mysterious death of the caretaker which Nahum tries to cover up in the middle of the night and that he refuses to inform the police about. Stephen does inform the police but much like everyone else in the town, they are unwilling to go to the Witley manor. They inform Stephen that this is not the only mysterious death/cover-up in the Witley home as the elder Witley, Nahum’s father, also died but no one ever saw the body. There’s a locked greenhouse door, random shrieking about the stately manor, a giant metal skull in the basement with a weird glowing box underneath it, the greenhouse also glows strangely in the night.
Stephen and Susan go to investigate all this weirdness only to find a cage full of weird, deformed booger monsters which are probably related to Belial from Basket Case based on their appearance. In the greenhouse they also find humongous plants and at each of their bases is a shard of an emerald meteor. They are attacked by the creepy creeper who turns out to be Letitia who is killed by rain? Or something? I don’t know, she runs out into the rain and then melts like the wicked witch.
A grief-stricken Nahum, buries his wife and explains that just like the booger monsters and the plants, she too was impacted by the meteor which although was dangerous he planned on keeping in hopes of using its powers to bring prestige back to the Witley name. Later that evening he decides to destroy it with an axe but falls victim to the meteor’s power and in a fantastic scene with 1960’s special effects magic he transforms into a bizarre aluminum foil faced monster complete with gleaming lens flare years before JJ Abrams and Zack Snyder perfected the shot. He chases Stephen and Susan around Witley manor before finally falling to his death, the fall causing a chain reaction that lights the Witley manor on fire, leaving it a smoldering heap just like the hole the crater left.
Die, Monster, Die! Is one of my all-time favorite horror films. A tight, clean script and premise that fits neatly into the 72-minute run time. All the thrills, chills and atmosphere one could come to expect from a mid-60’s horror film with a literary past. I love all the Universal classic actors like Boris, Bela and Lon, its wonderful to see them in films outside of their monster fame, you can really see their diversity as actors. It’s a testament to them being the legends that they are. The atmosphere is spooky on this one, typically my kids don’t get spooked by older movies but this one certainly gives them the chills. Great special effects, way ahead of its time, as you watch this film you can tell that recent cosmic horror films like Annihilation really draw some of the aesthetics from this movie. Couple all of that with an outstanding score, I don’t know when horror decided to go violin only, but this movie proves a full orchestral score can build tension as well.
Die, Monster, Die! is certainly a must watch. Pairs well with Annihilation for a bit of something old, something new. Alternatively, you can pair this with the 1987 film The Curse which is also a Color out of Space adaption. Or, if you want to be authentic, go old school and pair this with the 1965 Sci-Fi horror classic Planet of the Vampires directed by Mario Bava and is the feature that Die, Monster, Die! was original released with.
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