Die, Monster, Die! (Blu-ray)
Directed by Daniel Haller
Distributed by The Scream Factory
Though the man’s imagination and catalogue of work are a veritable treasure trove of astounding creatures, fantastic imagery, and a truly creepy mythology that binds all of his work together, for whatever reason H.P. Lovecraft’s tales have seldom received the quality or quantity of film adaptations one should imagine might spring forth from a literary giant of his standing. Sure, there have been filmed versions of his stories, and movies inspired by his mythos (and many of them have been quite good), but there has yet to be a decidedly definitive piece of Lovecraftian cinema. Perhaps if some brave studio would cojone up and bankroll Guillermo del Toro’s long mooted take on Lovecraft’s masterpiece At the Mountains of Madness…but I digress.
Still, attempts have persisted in bringing Lovecraft’s brand of cosmic horror to the screen for decades, going all the way back to 1963’s The Haunted Palace, an American International Pictures release directed by Roger Corman and based upon Lovecraft’s “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward”. One more such film from this early era was another AIP flick titled Die, Monster, Die!, a Boris Karloff vehicle produced in the heyday of AIP’s gothic Corman/Edgar Allan Poe films. Fresh out on Blu-ray from the good folks at Scream Factory, does Monster hold up to its contemporaries and other attempts to mine Lovecraft’s work for the silver screen?
Taking place in the town of Arkham (an oft-used Lovecraft setting which has been curiously relocated here from Massachusetts to England), Monster introduces us to Stephen Reinhart (Adams), a young American who has just arrived in town to visit the Witley house - specifically to see his lovely young fiancée Susan, played by Hammer starlet Suzan Farmer. Reinhart faces a good deal of hostility from the townspeople when he reveals he has business with the Witleys, and faces further hostility still when he meets Susan’s father Nahum (Karloff), a grumpy recluse who attempts to usher Reinhart away before he makes contact with Susan. Events turn stranger still when the film introduces Letitia (Jackson), Susan’s mother, who is bedridden and hidden behind drapes which prevent people from seeing…
Well, saying any more would be spoiling it. Suffice it to say that the film does eventually introduce some monstrous elements, while ladling in some surprisingly effective chills and jump scares throughout. Nevertheless, though the movie does loosely follow Lovecraft’s story and pays the occasional bit of homage to him (one imagines “Witley” is a nod to “Whateley”, the family from Lovecraft’s fantastic tale “The Dunwich Horror”), it fails to properly capture the tone of cosmic dread that his tales usually bring to the reader. Criticism has been leveled at the film for tonally adhering more to the AIPoe cycle and less to its source material, and that’s a fair knock. Still, director Haller (a set designer who worked on those Poe films for Corman) manages to marry his gothic style to the Lovecraft story well enough, creating a fun and spooky film which, while the pacing may lag here and there, should entertain fright fans with an interest in this era of horror filmmaking (and hey, Karloff fans should be happy to see the aging actor commanding the screen as the film’s villain).
Scream Factory brings Die, Monster, Die! to Blu with a good transfer and perfectly adequate audio. The picture bears some print damage and occasionally looks soft, but overall looks pretty great throughout (save for some moments where the image looks “pinched” on either side – likely a result of the film’s scope photography, and not the transfer). The DTS-HD audio track is presented in mono, with dialogue, music, and effects all sounding quite clear. Unfortunately, the only bonus feature to be found here is the film’s quite awful, quite spoilery theatrical trailer.
Is Die, Monster, Die! a definitive Lovecraft adaptation? No. Oh, no. Not even close. But it is an enjoyable and good-looking film featuring a beloved horror icon and some nifty scares. If you can put this movie’s source material out of your mind, you might very well find yourself enjoying what charms this picture has to offer.
3 out of 5
1/2 out of 5