The very essence of H.P. Lovecraft comes alive on-screen in this 1960’s horror classic.
Die Monster Die! is loosely based on H.P. Lovecraft’s timeless story The Colour Out of Space, which I remember reading as a young kid. It was the very first story from Lovecraft that I ever read, and as a youngster, it terrified the hell out of me. The idea of a color-like thing that no one could describe or replicate hit me deep; years later, this little story still remains my favorite out of Lovecraft’s many creations.
Creating an impossible “colour” isn’t possible for a movie, so instead we’re stuck with a greenish glow (standard operating procedure for the 60’s, natch.) Regardless of this inevitable problem, Die Monster Die! does an excellent job of translating Lovecraft’s unique atmosphere to the silver screen. There’re a metric buttload of movies based on Lovecraft’s work, but I feel like this one does the best job of capturing his particular brand of horror.
A young man arrives in the small town of Arkham, Massachusetts in search of a woman he met and fell in love with while enrolled in a college class. At the mere mention of the woman’s last name and house, the townspeople shun him, going so far as to refuse to even sell him a bike. The man eventually finds his way to the house, and as I’m sure you can guess, things go sour. People die, transform into abominations, get chased, etc…all the things you’d expect to find in a movie like this.
What ISN’T expected is the incredible sense of dread that permeates the entire film. Right from the very beginning, you know something is severely wrong with the townsfolk, as well as the house the main character is going to. Boris Karloff shines as a doting old scientist that’s following in the footsteps of his brother, and while he has his expected cheesy over-acted moments, his character comes across as genuinely conflicted and disturbed by the events he’s helped set in motion, going so far as to overly convince himself that he’s done nothing wrong. His wife (played by accomplished stage and film actress Freda Jackson) portrays the depth of her damnation perfectly, handing out raspy warnings like eldritch van candy.
The bulk of the film takes place in an old creeky house that has seemingly limitless mysteries buried deep behind its walls. It doesn’t have quite the same personality as the house seen in Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, but it still plays a vital role in establishing the unsettling atmosphere. Massive old fireplaces, noisy doors, dusty bookshelves, secret passages, and a huge main staircase all add to the ambiance.
The film also has some interesting camera work. I use the word “interesting” because that’s exactly what it is; it’s not the kind of stuff you would expect to see in a horror film, ESPECIALLY one from the 1960’s that takes place almost exclusively in and around a house. Many of the interior shots are sharp-angled low sweeps, while others are oddly-placed static shots that almost feel like someone gently kicked the camera stand before rolling the film. There’s a handful of really well done interior crane shots as well, presented with such subtlety you won’t even notice that your point of view is rising until it’s almost reached its peak. These aren’t artsy-fartsy Suspiria-style shots we’re talking about here, they’re just…they’re just interesting. Beyond that generic word, the cinematography is hard to describe, but suffice it to say, this film contains some really clever camera work.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the lighting. Die Monster Die! has what could possibly be the absolute worst lighting in any scene from any movie ever made. Two of the main characters are walking down the house’s large main staircase, using a candle to light their way. Even though they’re passing behind pillars, the light is coming from in front of them, casting shadows of the railings on the wall they’re sidling up against. The film also suffers from the dreaded “single candle with the brightness of a thousand suns” syndrome, wherein a character lights a small candle, and suddenly their surroundings are lit up like a nighttime baseball game. The green color used to represent the “colour” is also on the bland side. I realize there’s only so much they could do with it, but stereotypical radiation green feels like a cop out. It also seems like many scenes are a bit too dark, although I think that’s the fault of the DVD transfer, rather than the film itself.
Aside from the scenes with horrendous lighting and the slight darkness seen on the transfer, this is a fantastic little horror movie that you’ll probably enjoy quite a bit. It’s got a few big-name actors in it, some genuinely creepy moments, and some great special effects (the *REDACTED* in the greenhouse is especially well done.) Save this one for a rainy day, as the gloom will add to the already substantial atmosphere. It can be found in multiple DVD editions, but you’ll have an easier time just watching it on Netflix Instant.