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Tuesday, 9 January 2007

Die, Monster, Die! (1965)

The swirling colours that accompany the title credits bode well, as does the outrageous title with its exclamation mark and the cool font used for the credits. However whenever a film takes pains to introduce us to an actress who I've never heard of, over forty years after her introduction, that really doesn't bode well at all. Who is Suzan Farmer? Well she did a couple of Hammer horrors but otherwise it looks like she's most famous for being married to Ian McShane. Anyway, this is loosely based on Lovecraft's The Colour Out of Space, because hey, if loose adaptations of Poe stories worked for American International then surely Lovecraft's would too.

American Stephen Reinhart arrives in Arkham, which has somehow found itself transplanted to England, but none of the locals want anything to do with him when he says that he's trying to find the Witley place. He gets there on foot, to see it fog shrouded and guarded by traps, locked gates and Boris Karloff who doesn't want to see any visitors, let alone any that come to see his daughter. Karloff is Nahum Witley, wheelchair bound and supposedly following in the footsteps of his dead father. His wife Letitia is scared of light and so hides behind the canopy of her bed. She's happy to see Reinhart, because she wants him to take her daughter away from Arkham.

For all the colour and lavish gothic sets, this would work pretty well as an hour long radio play. Simply keep the superb and well enunciated banter between Karloff and Freda Jackson, and get rid of the quiet scenes where Reinhart wanders around the creaking mansion. The sound effects would work wonderfully on radio. Only some of the more astute visuals like the charred shape of a corpse burned into a carpet or the glowing green glasshouse, full of giant plants, lend themselves better to film. Yet they, and even the 'zoo in hell' could be translated. Then again, why not just make The Colour Out of Space properly instead of turning it into something substantially different? Even the names were mostly changed to protect the innocent, let alone the plot and the motivations.

Nick Adams, who played Stephen Reinhart, died three years later through an accidental drug overdose. Then again he's one of the names associated with the Rebel without a Cause curse, one of four prominent amd mysterious deaths at a young age, the other three being James Dean, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo. He had a short but important career, notable in its decline through his becoming deemed unhireable. After starting out his career in major films like Rebel without a Cause, Mister Roberts and Sweet Smell of Success, he ended up in a downward spiral into genre filmmaking, where he made this one in between Frankenstein Conquers the World and Invasion of the Astro-Monsters.

He's solid here though Patrick Magee, in a lesser part as a doctor, holds his own against the volatile Oscar nominee. Karloff and Freda Jackson are excellent and I wish there were only more of them to enjoy, even though Karloff looks like an old Omar Sharif. And the hitherto unremembered Suzan Farmer is decent in a very decent way. I don't remember her in the Hammer horrors but I wonder if she ever played anyone with indecent depth, as she gives the impression that she could only play the squeaky clean good girl who believes understatements like 'I think something terrible is going to happen', not long after seeing her mother melt in front of her.

The terrible thing that really did happen was that the effects, along with the acting and the script, were excellent for the first half but dropped off noticeably in the second. Half of it's great fun, the other half is run of the mill blah.

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