Die, Monster, Die!/Dunwich Horror, The (DVD)

Starring Dean Stockwell, Boris Karloff, Nick Adams, Sandra Dee

Directed by Daniel Haller

Released by MGM

A Lovecraftian double bill! Two tales of wonderful weirdness by the wicked wordsmith are now available from MGM’s Midnight Movies line of double feature DVD’s. Unfortunately, both films serve to highlight the problems that have been plaguing Lovecraft’s more mainstream adaptations: A lot of people are intrigued by the writing of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, but few of them understand what makes it so very unsettling to begin with.

Die, Monster, Die! is the stronger of the two films shown here. It showcases a great performance by an aging Boris Karloff as the patriarch of a family of societal outcasts who are set upon by two important visitors. One of them, played by square-jawed Nick Adams, arrives at the beginning of the movie. The other visitor comes much earlier in the story from a planet or area of space far away. Die, Monster, Die! is based on the story “The Colour Out of Space,” in which a meteor lands in a small area of New England with strange results on the surrounding land and people who inhabit it. Die, Monster, Die! cuts the back story and just shows us the family and what happens to it as Nick Adam’s interloper watches.

There are some creepy moments within with silhouette monsters who lurk just outside windows. Karloff wows the audience with austere stories of metronomic mishaps and horrific happenings that have befallen the family. Karloff, with a soft yet demanding voice, fills the film to capacity with a lively performance. Combined with the eerie sets and visuals, the film keeps a true eye for an older age of cinematic class. Like colored versions of great Universal sets, the film takes advantage of them and creates a great feeling of escapism. Very worthy of its Midnight Movie status, Die, Monster, Die! begs to be viewed on a cool October evening with a persistent wind rattling the windows and leaves swirling about.

Lovecraft fans will balk a bit at the attempts to sensationalize the story. The horrid title change alone is the initial tip off, a feeble attempt to make the restrained tale a bit more brazen as if the studio didn’t have enough faith in the allure of the tale alone to bring in the audience. Instead they, and screenwriter Jerry Sohl, gussied up the exterior of the film with a snappy, firecracker title to “pack ‘em in.” Tweaks to the plot involving the finale between Karloff and the meteor are over-the-top and meaningless, as is the slight gore in the film. “The Colour Out of Space” is a masterpiece of horror on page begging to be brought to the screen. Die, Monster, Die! wants to fulfill a promise within Lovecraft’s prose but sinks due to its own overwrought sensibilities.

The Dunwich Horror is a travesty of the utmost proportions in the annals of Lovecraftian cinema. The men most responsible for this are Curtis Lee Hanson, Henry Rosenbaum, and Ronald Silkosky, the screenwriters of the film. Directed with no respect for the source material by Daniel Haller, Dunwich details a love story between a deranged man from a shunned family (catch a theme?) and a young virgin whom he comes to know over a strange set of contrived circumstances.

The young suitor in the film is played by Dean Stockwell. His performance begins eerily right on. He seems to have a preternatural quality to him, a very odd calm that permeates his scenes, layering the film with a dread that is singularly his. Sadly, Dean’s performance devolves into camp and over-acted silliness.

Daniel Haller apparently thinks that the terror in Lovecraft’s stories come out of mal-focused shots of trees and groups of horny hippies groping at the bodies of young blonde women. Lost is the sense of the greater beyond, the veil of mystery into other dimensions that lie just beyond our senses. Instead we get a sense of skewed perception and occultist oddity. Haller and the three screen-rapists pull their attempts at scares by focusing on the rites of sacrifice. Any and all tension in the film is murdered when Dean Stockwell holds his occult rings up to the sides of his head and speaks the horrible words “Yog-sothoth!” Anyone who has seen the film understands the amount of time wasted on the repetition of this phrase and the inane attempt to use it to instill terror.

Any subtleties glimpsed in Die, Monster, Die! are lost here in Dunwich. Oh sure, as in every Lovecraftian tale, greater hidden things are hinted at, but they are not done so enough to impregnate the viewer with any palpable dread. Alas, we are just pummeled with the images that Haller is trying desperately to unnerve us with, and in the end the film is remembered for its utter failure, scarring the world of HPL cinema with its very existence.

One fun thing is to see the American symbol of virtue and virginity, Sandra Dee, holding the great tome, the Necronomicon. There’s just something funny and ironic about her iconic image standing next to and discussing a relic that is misunderstood, shrouded in evil, and about as arcane as items in myth and lore can get.

I love the fact that MGM puts out these bare bone DVD’s for the enjoyment of the masses. Now, with the horror themed month of October galloping in on its dead horse, this aptly teamed set of titles would be a no-brainer to pop in and digest cerebrally on a chilly fall afternoon. The fun of Monster far outweighs the ills of Dunwich, and both serve to spark conversations about interpreting the works of Lovecraft, the successes and failures, and what state it’s in today.

Sadly enough, even the cover of the release fills in the gaps of stupidity on the studio’s part even to this day. On the “FUN FACTS” portion of the DVD case it reads:

“The film’s screenplay is based on horror writer H. P. Lovecraft’s novel with a far less terrifying title: The Colour Out of Space”


3 out of 5

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