DIE, MONSTER, DIE! (1965) (Blu-ray)
Director: Daniel Haller
Scream Factory/Shout! Factory

One of the earliest motion pictures based on the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, DIE, MONSTER, DIE! (known in its native England as MONSTER OF TERROR) is a pleasing adaptation of the short story “The Colour Out of Space” as produced by American International Pictures (AIP), giving us one of the masters of the macabre, Boris Karloff, one of his better genre pictures of the 1960s. Previously available as an MGM “Midnite Movies” DVD, the film is now looks better than ever on Blu-ray.

Traveling by train to the small English town of Arkham, a young American man named Steven Reinhart (Nick Adams, FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD) is about to embark on the Witley estate to greet a young woman he met at university, Susan (Suzan Farmer, RASPUTIN THE MAD MONK). After he gets off his train, the locals will not answer his inquiries or provide transportation once the name Witley is mentioned, so he makes his way to the house by foot, observing that most of the surrounding trees and plant-life have been totally dried out. When Reinhart arrives, the wheelchair-bound Nathum Witley (Boris Karloff, BLACK SABBATH) requests that he leave at once and forget about seeing his daughter, with a warning of big danger if he stays. Reinhart is soon reunited with his sweetheart and manages to make his way in as a guest, but her bed-ridden mother Letila Witley (Freda Jackson, BRIDES OF DRACULA), who keeps her appearance hidden, requests that he take her daughter away from the house as soon as possible. The dark secret of Witley house, and the reason why the town wants no part of them, is that old Nathum has been experimenting with a glowing, green, radioactive meteorite (kept in a boxed off pit in the cellar of the house) which causes plants to grow to enormous proportions. After the young lovers investigate the strange wailing noises coming from inside the house, they discover not only mutated vegetation and some very odd-looking living mutants, but it is learned that a similar unearthly fate is falling upon the household.

Even though it took its title from a Poe story, AIP’s THE HAUNTED PALACE was more or less and adaptation of Lovecraft’s novella “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward”, with Roger Corman in the director’s seat. So for AIP’s follow-up Lovecraft film, Corman’s set designer/production designer for most of his extravagant Poe outings, Daniel Haller, made his directorial debut with honorable results. Shot in England on location and primarily at Shepperton Studios, Haller’s knack for gothic set designs are on full display with the opulent interiors and its macabre family portraits (in the images of Karloff), the decaying dungeon-like cellar and the resourceful matte paintings used to enhance a number of shots. The film is quite stunning to look at, especially for fans of 1960s British gothic, with a majority of the camera work carefully framed (and several looking like they came right from a comic strip) and ample use of color, making it appear far more expensive than its actual budget dictates. The film mixes traditional horror with far-out science fiction elements, evidenced in a great scene where Reinhart and Susan break into the Witley hothouse, with all its enlarged plants and vegetables and a caged ensemble of shapeless, indescribable creatures (prompting Reinhart to declare, “It looks like a zoo in hell”!

Despite some awkward dialogue, DIE, MONSTER, DIE! is an entertaining chiller, worthy of being in class with AIP’s similar-feeling Poe films of the period, and it’s just-under-80-minute running time is chock-full of the ingredients that make for good drive-in horror films (even if there are a few cliches) and the expected fiery climax and the the young survivors pondering why all this hokum just happened. Although he’s bound to his wheelchair for most of the film's duration, Karloff is in great form here, and still an awesome screen presence, and although the actor never worked for Hammer, this film might be the closest thing to it. Not only were his two leading ladies in Hammer movies, but the rousing score was by Don Banks (THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN), the effects were by Hammer vet Les Bowie (here assimilating corpse decompositions with crumbling sunk-in faces) and the long-shot identity of many Hammer gothics -- the awesome Oakley Court -- substitutes for the exterior of the Witley house. Several familiar Hammer character actors (including FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED’s Harold Goodwin and NIGHT CREATURES’ Sidney Bromley) can be seen as villagers and Patrick Magee (DEMONS OF THE MIND) has a brief but memorable bit as an unhelpful doctor who loathes the Witleys.

Having Nick Adams as the lead might seem like a case of miscasting from the onset, but his tough-guy exterior and his heavy New Jersey accent is a welcomed contradiction to the stuffy English villagers (he’s supposed to be an outsider from a distand land, something he totally pulls off) and this carries over to his interaction with Karloff, as the two actors couldn’t be more unlike. Director Haller would go on to do another more psychedelic Lovecraft-inspired tale for AIP with 1970’s THE DUNWICH HORROR, and one of Karloff’s final films would be the 1968 AIP/Tigon British production of THE CRIMSON CULT (aka CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR) which co-starred Christopher Lee and Barbara Steele (hopefully both titles are under Scream Factory’s radar for future Blu-ray releases, as CULT was never even issued on DVD in the US!).

First released on DVD by MGM as one of the earliest of its “Midnite Movies” series in 2001, DIE, MONSTER, DIE! was re-issued a few years later as a double-feature disc with the aforementioned THE DUNWICH HORROR on the flip side. Scream Factory starts 2014 with a bang, presenting the AIP classic on Blu-ray from a gorgeous HD master in 1080p and preserving the original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The old Midnite Movies release has dull colors and looks rather lifeless next to this impressive new HD transfer, which is beautiful to look at. Colors are now robust and detail is remarkably sharp, and the fleshtones that appeared white-washed in the old DVD transfer now look spot-on. Aside from a few minor blemishes in the original elements, the image is very clean and free of excessive grain; an extremely smooth and attractive transfer which is sure to please even the pickiest of classic monster movie fans. The mono DTS-HD Master audio fares very well here, with no noticeable hiss or distortion. The original theatrical trailer is included, but it’s the usual one (found on the previous DVD) without any on-screen titles or narration. (George R. Reis)