Die, Monster, Die! Blu-ray Review (originally published 2014)
An English scientist (Boris Karloff) entertains a young American visitor (Nick Adams), serving up tea, terror and a beautiful daughter (Freda Jackson) – who is soon torn between her father’s evil ways and her need to protect the man she loves from a diabolical end. (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)
Die, Monster, Die! (aka: Monster of Terror, 1965) is only the second official film adaptation of an H.P. Lovecraft story, following producer Roger Corman’s own The Haunted Palace (1963). Earlier films, like the Quatermass movies, owed something of a debt to Lovecraft, but were not actual adaptations. Screenwriter Jerry Sohl, a veteran of The Twilight Zone, built his screenplay on The Colour Out of Space (1927), which was also the basis of David Keith’s The Curse (1987), Ivan Zuccon’s Colour from the Dark (2008), Huan Vu’s The Color Out of Space (German: Die Farbe, 2010), and an upcoming Richard Stanley film, among others . It was also the inspiration for the Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill section of Creepshow (the one where Stephen King finds a meteor and turns into a sort of plant, 1982). Like most of Lovecraft’s stories, The Colour Out of Space is nearly impossible to adapt directly, in part because it deliberately refuses to describe the horrible things that are happening in purely visual terms. Sohl does a good job finding a cinematic story within Lovecraft’s framework, even if he’s a little too reliant on the conventions of the Poe movies, especially Fall of the House of Usher (1960) (outsider protagonist falls in love with a fragile heroine against her family’s wishes), Pit and the Pendulum (1961), and Haunted Palace (both of which also feature scary basements hiding family secrets and antagonists haunted by their familial lineage). The characters are also particularly flat, minus the special brand of camp Vincent Price brought to so many of the Poe films. Even Boris Karloff coasts through his performance, leaving only Patrick Magee’s brief appearance as a drunken doctor to add any texture to the proceedings.
Director Daniel Haller spent the majority of his film career as an art director and production designer for Corman’s American International Pictures. His incredible work on the Corman-directed Poe flicks, including The Pit and The Pendulum, The Raven (1963), and, yes, The Haunted Palace, eventually allowed him the chance to take the director’s seat and Die, Monster, Die! was his first time in charge. It is very much an extension of the Poe movies in terms of its visual language and Haller is sure to capture every inch of its gorgeous production design. Bereft of Corman’s patented Technicolor nightmare sequences, Haller does a fantastic job ushering the film from its gothic beginnings into its more oddball sci-fi conclusion without the two parts feeling out of balance. Like Corman, he also takes some visual cues from Mario Bava, specifically the bone-chilling image of a shadowy figure peering through a frosted window (this would presuppose a similarly famous image from Bava’s 1966 film, Kill, Baby, Kill!) and the monster’s cloaked appearance. AIP obviously understood the connection and coupled Haller’s film with Bava’s Terrore Nello Spazio (retitled Planet of the Vampires, 1965) for drive-in double features. Following Die, Monster, Die!, Haller made a biker movie, Devil’s Angels (1967), a racing movie, The Wild Racers (1968), and another Lovecraft adaptation, The Dunwich Horror (1970), all for AIP. Eventually, he settled into a cushy job as a television director. The Dunwich Horror doesn’t have the pedigree of Karloff or the opulence of the Poe-era Corman flicks, but it is another vastly underrated effort, anchored by a fantastic performance from a young Dean Stockwell. MGM saw fit to combine the two films for a ‘Midnight Movies’ DVD collection and I kind of wish Scream Factory would’ve done the same. Oh well.
Like the films in Corman’s Poe cycle, Die, Monster, Die! is a B-movie that deserves an ‘A’ Blu-ray treatment. It’s a very decorative, lushly photographed motion picture experience. Scream Factory’s new 2.35:1, 1080p Blu-ray appears to match the HD print that was making the rounds on Netflix for some time, minus the compression effects the streaming process offers (this is becoming a pattern at this point: if you see a horror movie owned by MGM on Netflix in HD, the odds are that it will become a Scream Factory Blu-ray within a year). This isn’t a perfectly cleaned image – there is plenty of minor print damage, like scanning lines, flecks of dirt, and water spots, but it’s more of a ‘natural’ image. There are issues with the consistency of grain and short periods where there is an uptake in artifacts. This doesn’t seem to coincide with shot types, so I imagine some reels were just in better shape than others. Haller and cinematographer Paul Beeson do their best to keep the frame busy with details, pushing their wide-angle, anamorphic lenses to their limit to capture every inch of the moody production design in every shot. Occasionally, the deep, dark shadows blunt the impact, but the majority of shifts are brimming with tight textures and shapes, very few of which feature sharpening effects or haloes. The Pathécolor hues are vivid, especially during the swirling water and pigment of the opening titles. The pulsing grain levels and brownish base palette make for some duller shots here and there, but the more horror/sci-fi-infused sequences – those featuring the mysterious, glowing greens, Suzan Farmer’s pink sweaters, and the poppy red cushion of Karloff’s wheelchair, for example.
Die, Monster, Die! is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and its original mono. It is an expectedly thin track in terms of aural depth, but is clean enough to give the occasional incidental effects (chugging trains, chirping birds, the eerie, bassy vibration of the greenhouse) a solid, dynamic boost. The audio matches the video in terms of its inconsistency. On average, the sound is sharp, but there are spans of time where volume levels are suddenly lower or, at worst, there is a muffling effect on some of the dialogue. Don Banks’ score is the loudest element, loud enough to produce some distinctive distortion on its higher registers. The cymbal crashes during the opening titles are especially shaky.
The only extra is a trailer, which is another reason to assume that Die, Monster, Die! was originally intended to be part of a double-feature release.
Note: I haven’t kept all of the discs I’ve reviewed over the years, so some, like this one, will not include screen-caps. The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray’s image quality.