Boris Karloff plays host to a monstrous meteorite in this dubious adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft.
Color Out of Space became the latest film to adapt Lovecraft’s cosmic horror tales. It wasn’t the first time the story had seen life via film; that dubious distinction belongs to 1965’s Die, Monster, Die! Despite the presence of horror icon Boris Karloff, DMD! is nowhere near as watchable as Color Out of Space.
Die, Monster, Die! (1965)
Stephen Reinhart (Nick Adams) responds to a request from his college sweetheart to visit her family’s aging, British estate. Reinhart gets the cold shoulder when asking for a ride to the estate, as the townspeople all fear and loathe the Whitley family.
On foot, he discovers the land surrounding the mansion to be blasted as if by radiation. Mr. Whitley (Karloff) tries to run the young man off, but his daughter (Suzan Farmer) intervenes and takes him to see her mother. The matriarch of the family, sequestered in a shrouded bed reveals that she was behind the letter; she wants Stephen to take her daughter away from the Whitley estate, where something evil has taken hold.
What Kind of Picture Are We Making Here?
American International Pictures was rather notorious in the 60’s for their genre films, both for their low quality and prolific quantity. The fodder of drive-ins and double-features, AIP pandered to the tastes of teenage boys, featuring horror, titillation and popular music. Think such “classics” as I Was a Teenage Werewolf, The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini, and Girls in Prison.
Another genre AIP traded in was Gothic horror, specifically Roger Corman’s series of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, frequently starring Vincent Price.
From these two influences, we arrive at Die, Monster, Die! From the title alone, you’d expect dedicated B-Movie schlock. Unfortunately, the experience is much more in line with Corman’s Poe films: ponderous, unsexy affairs frequently derided as “two hours spent walking around a mansion.”
Director Daniel Haller got his break in AIP films doing set design for, you guessed it, Roger Corman on his Poe films. Given the director’s chair, he grabbed another noted horror author as his starting point and put Lovecraft through the AIP film mill.
The settings are intricate and layered, a feature that is well served by frequent shifts in perspective from the camera. As the focus re-aligns, the sets spring out at you like a Gothic pop-up book. Forced perspective helps to create a sense of alienation and personal insignificance. This could really drive home the cosmic horror of Lovecraft’s work: humanity is just a speck compared to colossal horrors that only refrain from destroying us because they don’t notice us.
Sadly, Haller forgoes developing any of Lovecraft’s themes in favor of stock Gothic elements.
The Color Out of Shape.
Lovecraft’s story gets scant treatment, becoming just a pretext to get a hunky lead and a curvy gal into a haunted house. From there, any cosmic or existential horror evaporates. The alien presences of the story becomes just space voodoo: a rock that slowly turns everyone in the Whitley house into bogeys and ghouls. The meteor itself hides in a medieval torture room in the basement, complete with giant skulls and leering gargoyles.
The film, relying on the tastes of the 1960’s, reduces its malevolence to easily explicable causes, removing any tension. Despite Lovecraft explicitly showing science fail to reckon with the meteorite in the story, Die, Monster, Die! rides high on the can-do, “science solves everything” jingoism of the US mainstream. Stephen, with just an undergrad education, diagnosis the situation with ease. While the townsfolk and Whitleys believe in demonic forces, Stephen sees that its just radioactivity causing mutations and madness. So much for blind, cosmic horrors!
Trapped in the Dungeon.
There really isn’t much value in watching Die, Monster, Die! The film certainly doesn’t ever work up the energy implied by the exclamation point in the silly title. I can see why they didn’t title the film after the story: there’s no mention of the ethereal color or sensory effects caused by the meteorite in the story. Pretty much every other element of Lovecraft’s work and aesthetic likewise goes missing. In their place you get a plodding, dull Gothic film you would be hard pressed to call horror.