Disc Jockey: 1965′s ‘Die, Monster, Die!’ turns H.P. Lovecraft into drive-in trash

Boris Karloff gets the axe in the 1965 H.P. Lovecraft adaptation "Die, Monster, Die!" Credit: Shout! Factory
Boris Karloff gets the axe in the 1965 H.P. Lovecraft adaptation “Die, Monster, Die!”
Credit: Shout! Factory

Despite being one of the preeminent horror writers, H.P. Lovecraft has been rewarded with too few notable film adaptations. (The 1985 gore classic “Re-Animator” is the most prestigious, but it’s a very loose transfer; Lovecraft never dreamt up a disembodied head performing a certain sex act, for one.) His singular power doesn’t easily lend itself to cinematic thrills. Lovecraft’s work is filled with creeping insinuations, choking mood, deep conspiracies and — the main problem — too few thrills.

Nevertheless, when it’s come to film adaptations, many have tried and many have failed. The first were sleaze titans Roger Corman and Samuel Arkoff. Through their low-budget American International Pictures, they had scored surprising successes, starting with 1960’s “House of Usher,” of turning the work of Edgar Allan Poe into a run of faux-tony (read: still cheap and lurid) horrors, usually with Vincent Price (and sometimes with a young Jack Nicholson). They figured Lovecraft would be next, and they adapted “The Case of Charles Dexter Wild” into an episode of the 1963 omnibus horror “The Haunted Palace” (which also featured a Poe tale, to make the transition easier).

Arkoff gave Lovecraft his own feature with 1965’s “Die, Monster, Die!,” billed elsewhere as “Monster of Terror.” (Lovecraft’s more somber title was “The Colour Out of Space.”) Little of it is particularly Lovecraftian, and the film tries to hammer the author into a more familiar horror movie shape. Indeed, the opening is a familiar one, with Nick Adams — more famous as friend to both James Dean and Elvis Presley, and who would be dead three years later of a drug overdose — as an American who arrives in an English village, only to be told that the house he’s looking for is so feared no one will take him to it.

Instead of an elegant vampire, Adams finds a wheelchaired (and very grumpy) Boris Karloff, who likes to retire to the basement to do vague experiments involving a glowing green source. Karloff’s wife (Freda Jackson) is contained to her bed and, suspiciously, visible only through a thick veil. Perhaps creepiest of all, their daughter (Suzan Farmer) seems to be completely well-adjusted (and hot).

As in many Lovecrafts, there’s a hidden secret, this one involving some mad science. It winds up getting silly, in a drive-in movie fashion. But it’s not without its charm, some of it even slightly Lovecraftian. Opening with a credit sequence of swirling paint, it emits an almost comforting sense of foreboding: an overly quaint English countryside that can only house danger; a creaky mansion with a family of eccentrics; and lots and lots of fog. It does its best to dilute its source into something any teenager in the 1960s could have enjoyed, and this faithlessness is both its downfall and its salvation: it’s a so-so Lovecraft movie (which is to say it’s better than most) but absolutely serviceable trash.

Streaming

‘The Square’
Netflix Instant

The grassroots Egyptian revolution that began in 2011 is still going, so there will one day be a distanced, purely expository (and frankly pretty dry) doc about the whole thing. Till now, there’s current Oscar nominee “The Square,” which may already be dated, but feels very much in the moment, due to it featuring footage shot during protests.

Also out

‘Ender’s Game’
Remorseless homophobe (and sci-fi writer) Orson Scott Card tried to ease an increasingly non-homophobic country’s anxieties by saying he’d be seeing none of the profits from the splashy adaptation of his signature 1985 novel, about kids sculpted into warriors against an alien foe. Of course, he still gets money from book sales. So if you must, do the opposite of what you should do and see the (not bad, not very good) movie, not read the book.

‘Death Wish’
Novelist Brian Garfield wrote “Death Wish” as a subtle critique of vigilante violence. The movie ignored his subtleties, instead giving us Charles Bronson at his mustachiest as a liberal architect turned annihilator of creeps. As reprehensible entertainments go, this has nothing on “Death Wish 3,” which finds the then-sixtysomething Bronson killing a large chunk of New York.



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