Friday, March 30, 2018

Die, Monster, Die!



*** / *****
I guess you could say Die, Monster, Die! (1965) checks all the boxes. It has its English village tight-lipped and rude-to-the-extreme at the mere mention of the estate an outsider from America (Nick Adams) requests travel to and directions for. That estate has a number of secrets and increasing disturbances that this outsider becomes aware of the longer he’s there. The manor owned by a infamous scientist (Boris Karloff) with a name that is a sour taste in the lips of the villagers not far from the estate tries as he might to persuade the unwanted guest (invited by the owner’s afflicted wife (Freda Jackson), knowing Adams was dating her daughter, played by Suzan Farmer) to leave. The “heath” in and around Karloff’s manor is a magnet for fog, and there are atmospheric  including goodies such as a cemetery and “glowing” greenhouse. There are the portraits of ancestors of the Whitley name hanging on Karloff’s wall up the stairs for Farmer to release their backstories to Adams (providing some slight exposition to us). The usual and customary Gothic decorum give the manor its personality, with plenty of cob-webby corners and age-defined walls giving the dungeon (which houses the meteorite later determined to cause radioactive “maladies”) its foreboding texture. Included in the dungeon (or basement, although it looks like a place you don’t want to wind up locked away), is a cultic mural. The dungeon is what I think Karloff intimates deservedly curses his family to Adams, although the real culprit behind all their miseries is the kept meteorite material, located in a type of concrete hold with an enclosure lifted from a rope harness when its use is needed. Adams rightfully questions why Karloff would keep this obviously dangerous material so close to them under the manor, considering the livelihoods of his wife and daughter.

With the butler ill and eventually dropping dead, and the wife gradually succumbing to physical and mental deterioration due to radioactive effects of the meteorite, Karloff continuing to house the material in the dungeon is quite hard to grasp. Adams wants to get Farmer out of there, of course, but the film needs them to remain until Freda is a hideous, raving lunatic lunging at them and Karloff eventually a radioactive menace will bad intentions. Green handprints as breadcrumbs and a glowing Karloff at the end trying to grab hold to Adams and Fisher (and I guess Freda’s eventual mad scramble to attack them could also be construed as another example…) could conclude the “monster” of the film’s title. I could see audiences disappointed in expecting a real bonafide monster, having to settle with humans turned into infected maniacs, enduring a change in their bodies.

Freda’s face becomes a radioactive fallout that bursts into flames when she eventually collapses, and Karloff’s fall from the stairwell leads to fire and electric sparks! Anyone watching this can read the influence of a Corman Poe film all over it, and this being an AIP presentation (and Karloff’s history with AIP) further echoes a familiarity to the past while watching it. Like the opening credits with the painted colors and the manor going up in flames as Adams and Fisher narrowly escape (well, the woman rarely escapes, with only the male lead often fortunate enough to escape the trappings of horror nearly prevailing against him)…Corman’s identity is practically stamped on Die, Monster, Die!

Karloff in the wheelchair, trying to conceal his dabbling with the meteorite’s growing capabilities (food in the greenhouse grow into enlarged produce, including a tree with vines latching onto Farmer, and animals sending off unnerving shrieks lead Adams to investigate them, responding with his description of a “zoo from hell”), and refusing to leave paints him as anything but of sound mind. Reasoning with him Adams and Fisher try, but Karloff is just too far gone to leave behind what has ruined his family’s name and reputation. This is where he was born and where he would die an old man with nothing eventually left to even remotely recognize as a legacy.

Adams has an assertive personality to him in the lead and Fisher is often either oblivious to what is going on or na├»ve. Adams is refreshing because he doesn’t take too kindly to the villagers being assholes and goes to the doctor (played by an underutilized Patrick Magee) needing to talk to him about Karloff’s father’s death, not taking no for an answer. And with Freda hiding behind a shrouded bed, blood-curdling screams and strange noises in and out of the house, dead property near Karloff’s manor, a green-glowing greenhouse with large-vegetable plants; Adams eventually will no longer tolerate the secrecy as it puts Fisher in danger.












You get Freda and Karloff exploding through doors (locks barely hold them), bats nearly flying right into Adams’ face in the dungeon, Karloff burying his butler’s body near the greenhouse, and Magee unnervingly downing liqueur with little propensity to reveal anything about what he had seen at the Whitley Manor.

And forget about Adams getting even a bicycle from the village to ride to the manor, with even the taxi driver quickly turning from friendly with immediate offers for a ride to leaving him in haste. And those at the pub just laugh within their morning drunken idle at him when Adams requests directions. The village is as cordial as the meteorite that melts your face off.

Karloff and this film's setting and Gothica are clear attractions for viewership. I had forgotten actually how brief the running time is, especially noticing it on this Good Friday viewing. There really isn't anything substantive, but Haller was more than capable of appealing to the specific audience, ready to geek out to his arresting treasures. Haller knew his audience, using his specialized art direction background to desirable effect. A few Sunday evenings have been spent with this film, as it does kind of serve as an addition to the genre without necessarily competing with the upper echelon. It doesn't tickle the intellect or attempt to raise its profile beyond a B-movie colored by a real talent set decorating its locale with significant detail and enriching his canvas with a quite a brush. Content is just not this film's reward...Haller nonetheless equipped a crew to help bring the Whitley Manor to vibrant life.

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