Sunday, May 19, 2013

May Day Movie Marathon, Part III

The Ghoul (1933)
The early 1930s saw the release of a number of American horror films from Universal Pictures that are familiar to American and European audiences 80 years later (although precious few have actually taken the time to sit down and watch them). Dracula (1931) is usually credited with starting the trend, followed by Frankenstein in that same year. Subsequent films included The Mummy (1932), The Invisible Man (1933) (although more of a sci-fi film than a horror movie), and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Lesser known movies filled the latter half of the decade, including a second Frankenstein sequel: Son of Frankenstein (1939). A number of pseudo-sequels to The Mummy were released in the early '40s, although the most famous monster movie of that decade is probably The Wolf Man (1941).

While the Universal monster movies were seeing diminishing returns by the '40s, and were eventually reduced to self parody with films like Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), the earlier movies were very popular. (Those who think sequel-mania is a recent phenomenon might be surprised by how many monster movies of the late '30s and '40s were sequels of these original films.) It wasn't long before filmmakers on the other side of the Atlantic wanted a piece of the monster movie action, particularly in Britain, but the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC) had other ideas.

The BBFC was relatively lenient with imported American horror films (Island of Lost Souls (1932) being a notable exception), apparently believing that Brits wouldn't be overly influenced by the product of a foreign culture. However, they were a lot more strict on domestic movies, making it clear to homegrown filmmakers that American-style horror films would not be tolerated. This proved to be unfortunate for Gaumont-British Picture Corporation. Gaumont had been able to convince Boris Karloff, who had decided to vacation in his home country after the release of The Mummy, to star in a movie technically based on a crime novel but that included elements strongly influenced by Karloff's recent film. While The Ghoul clearly aspires to be a Universal-style horror film, it's undermined by the limits imposed by the British censors.

Our film starts with the confrontation between an antiques dealer and an adherent to an ancient Egyptian cult. (It's funny how many of these older movies, and even the 1999 version of The Mummy, suggest that significant numbers of modern-day Egyptians worship the ancient pantheon.) The cultist demands the return of a jewel called "the Eternal Light" to the tomb from which it was stolen. The dealer no longer has it, having sold it to a Professor Morlant for a sizable portion of his fortune.

When we finally meet Morlant (Boris Karloff!) we find that he's a true believer in the ways of the ancient Egyptians and believes that the Eternal Light is his key to immortality. As he lays dying, the Professor demands that his servant, Laing (Ernest Thesiger! a.k.a., Dr. Pretorius from The Bride of Frankenstein), wrap the jewel in his hand. Morlant believes that, after his death and burial, he will revive the night of the first full moon so that he can make his offering to Anubis. At "the first hour" (which turns out to be 1 AM rather than midnight as one might expect) he will place the Eternal Light in the open palm of a statue of Anubis. If Morlant is found worthy of eternal life, the statue will close its hand over the jewel, signifying that the offering has been accepted.

The deeply Christian Laing strongly disapproves of his boss's beliefs. Failing to pursade Morlant to give up on his pagan ways, he argues that burying the jewel in Morlant's ersatz-Egyptian tomb will deprive the Professor's heirs of their rightful inheritance. With Karloff's characteristic intensity, Morlant warns that any attempt to deprive him of paradise will cause him to rise from the grave with the full moon to wreak a murderous vengeance. Despite this warning, Laing removes the jewel from his master's hand not long after he expires.

Shortly thereafter, the doctor declares Morlant's death by heart failure. Several people notice that the dead man's hand has been recently wrapped, which raises the suspicions of Morlant's shifty-eyed lawyer, Broughton. While going through Morlant's papers, Broughton couldn't help but to notice that his client recently spent a huge sum of money, but that the item or items it purchased are nowhere to be found. That night Morlant is buried in his tomb where the statue of Anubis that had been watching over his death bed has been relocated. As the pallbearers leave, Broughton sneaks back into the tomb to take a look at the wrapped hand, but finds nothing.

Contrary to my expectations, Laing isn't the stereotypical unscrupulous servant who robs his deceased employer for his own gain. While he does take the jewel from the corpse, he does so because he truly believes that the dead shouldn't rob the living. After hiding the Eternal Light, Laing finds the address of Betty Harlon, one of Morlant's heirs. The servant surreptitiously hands Betty a message, but the paper is immediately stolen by Broughton, who had been shadowing Laing. Not long afterward, Betty is visited by the other surviving heir, Ralph Morlant. Although there is some bad blood between Betty's and Ralph's families, Ralph's meeting with the deceased's attorney earlier in the day has convinced him that Brougton is trying to rob both him and Betty of their inheritance. The two set off to Morlant's mansion with Betty's friend, Kaney. Kaney will be our odious comic relief for the rest of the picture. I still cannot understand filmmakers' insistence on including such characters. Even newer films fall into this trap; Transformers (2007) had at least two such characters, neither of whom accomplished anything except to earn the audience's loathing.

Betty, Ralph, and Kaney arrive at the Morlant house to find Broughton there. Of course, the three put little stock in the attorney's claims that he's simply putting his client's papers in order. These are joined by Parson Hartley, the clergyman who had been rebuffed earlier when he tried to give Morlant his last rights. It's not long before the Egyptian antiquities dealer is knocking at the door, claiming to be an associated of Morlant (which isn't entirely untrue). Meanwhile, the dealer's cultist companion skulks around the house looking for any sign of the Eternal Light.

As the mansion becomes the gathering place for various characters, all of them secretly looking for the same valuable object, I see my Mummy-inspired horror film turning into one of the dreaded "spooky-house mysteries". Past the halfway point, just as I'm starting to despair that Karloff's part at the beginning was just a cameo, we see the full moon rise. Despite his earlier disregard for his master's beliefs, Laing starts to show some trepidation. This turns to outright terror when he sees the door to Morlant's tomb open and its angry occupant stride out.

Oh how I wish we actually got what Karloff's character so chillingly promised.

Morlant stalks around and through the house for much of the rest of the film. Although the cultist is dispatched pretty quickly, Laing is spared when he reveals where he hid the jewel. The rest of the titular ghoul's rampage consists of almost killing several people, much to the disappointment of any viewer who is expecting the kind of body count that contemporary American pictures had. (Despite my desperate pleas, he doesn't kill Kaney.) With only minutes to go before 1 AM, Morlant finally obtains the Eternal Light and returns to his tomb. With a knife taken from the cultist's body, he carves a bloody ankh on his chest and places the jewel in the statue's hand. Betty and Ralph arrive in time to see Morlant's offering and watch in amazement as the statue's hand closes over the jewel. With a shout of joy, Morlant falls to the ground dead.

I wish I could say that this was the end of the movie. I wish I could say that Boris Karloff's Professor Morlant had really been an undead ghoul and that the hand of a "heathen image" really did accept the Eternal Light. The offering scene is actually very well done and had the blessed words "The End" appeared immediately after Morlant's death I would have a much higher esteem for the movie. But no, like I Bury the Living (1958), The Ghoul has to give us a "logical explanation" that's nearly as far-fetched as any supernatural one.

So, how does the statue of Anubis accept the jewel? Well, after Morlant's final death, the hand withdraws into the hole where the statue's stone hand had been originally. It turns out that Parson Hartely is a fraud and that he has spent much of the night chiseling off the hand so that he could hide inside the statue and "accept" the offering (since when did the Egyptians make hollow statues?). As the heirs try to stop the faux-parson, the antiquities dealer shows up and takes the Eternal Light. During the scuffle, a bullet damages the tomb's lamp, which is fed by an outside source (plot point!). The dealer makes his exit, locking Hartley and the heirs in the tomb.

In the meantime, a doctor and the police rush to the Morlant house in response to a phone call Ralph placed before entering the tomb. As expected, the doctor declares his belief that the Professor may have actually suffered from a fit of catalepsy so severe as to be almost indistinguishable from death. (I can't help but to mention that a believer in the ancient Egyptian religion would certainly have insisted on being mummified; a process that would definitely prevent a premature burial.)

While making his escape, the dealer drops the Eternal Light where Kaney can find it. Broughton confronts the fleeing Egyptian, who realizes that the odious comic relief has ended up with the MacGuffin. The villains demand the jewel from Kaney at gunpoint but are held at bay when she threatens to drop it in a well.

Back in the tomb, Hartley, Ralph, and Betty are trying to find a way out. Suddenly, the damaged lamp drops and starts an enormous blaze. Hartley reveals that he had previously installed explosives outside of the doors (obviously he hadn't expected the tomb's owner to simply open the doors for him). The advancing flames set the explosives off and Betty and Ralph escape the tomb while Kaney is saved by the timely arrival of the police (drat!).

As usual, watching Boris Karloff is a pleasure, although he should have gotten a lot more screen time. Thesiger is always fun to watch. And with the exception of the obnoxious Kaney, the other characters are completely forgettable and manage not to damage the film too much. But it's the ending that really brings this movie down. I hate a Scooby-Doo ending, especially when it's in a movie from an era known for its supernatural films.

American films from this period had been unashamedly invoking the supernatural with good results, both at home and abroad. The Ghoul obviously wanted to share in that success, securing an actor who gained his fame in American monster movies and filming a story involving Egyptian mysticism and revenge from beyond the grave. However, in The Mummy, this film's obvious inspiration, Karloff's Imhotep isn't a cataleptic or a thief in disguise. Imhotep actually is undead and he uses genuine mystical powers in an attempt to carry out his fiendish plot. It's possible that The Ghoul's filmmakers thought that a spooky-house mystery with a horrific angle would play better than an outright supernatural movie, although it's suspected that the BBFC's strong disapproval of domestic horror movies might have influenced them to take the path of least resistance; i.e., "logical explanations" and mortal villains who are inevitably brought to justice. It's also very likely that the few deaths we see at Morlant's hands reflect Gaumont's fears that the BBFC might not certify the film.

The worst part is that the supposedly logical explanation is completely ridiculous (I Bury the Living is also guilty of this). The Ghoul would have us believe that immediately after providing a very specific warning regarding what would happen if the Eternal Light wasn't buried with him, Morlant could go into a cataleptic fit that is mistaken for death by the attending doctor, just to conveniently come out of the fit and go on a murderous rampage on the night of the full moon; thus seeming to fulfill his threat in exact detail. Then, the movie wants us to believe that Hartley expects Morlant to place the Eternal Light in Anubis' hand and accordingly modifies the statue, even though Laing is the only one who is privy to the Professor's intentions. A supernatural explanation would have held up a lot better than these outrageous coincidences.

One final nitpick: it's obvious that the filmmakers only read enough about Egyptology to pick up a few names, since the movie's version of Egyptian theology is almost entirely unrecognizable. Although Anubis was the god of mummification and the afterlife, I don't believe that adherents of Egypt's ancient religion called upon him to grant eternal life. That was typically the domain of Osiris and Ra. This kind of historical license can be expected in even the best classic horror movies, though.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

May Day Movie Marathon, Part II

Vincent Price in his least
melodramatic role ever!
The Last Man on Earth (1964)
I first read Richard Matheson's 1954 novel I Am Legend shortly after seeing the 2007 film adaptation of the same name. As entertaining as it was, I Am Legend (2007) deviates significantly from Matheson's original story, particularly with regards to the climax and the meaning of the title. Despite having a totally different name, The Last Man on Earth is significantly more faithful to its source, to the extent that there are no real surprises for anyone who has read the book.

[Note that this review will contain spoilers for both the film as well as its source.]

Every day of Dr. Robert Morgan's life seems exactly like the one before it. Each morning he wakes up, checks his food supplies, makes sure his generator has enough fuel, does a little woodworking, and drives around the deserted city in his station wagon running errands. Those errands include picking up some fresh garlic, getting new mirrors to replace the smashed ones, throwing corpses into the endlessly burning pit on the outskirts of town, and breaking into homes to stake their undead inhabitants.

As far as he can tell, Dr. Morgan is the "Last Man on Earth", or at least the last living man on Earth. Everyone else succumbed to an invariably fatal disease three years ago... and then awoke looking for human blood. Every night these monsters congregate outside of his home trying to get in. Every night the vampire who was once his friend, Ben Cortman, shouts "Come out, Morgan!" The only thing between Morgan and the vampires are makeshift fortifications, strands of garlic, and mirrors. It also helps that the vampires are relatively weak and lack the intelligence they had in life.

A lengthy flashback reveals that our hero once had a wife and daughter. As the plague swept across the world, Dr. Morgan and others had worked feverishly but futilely to find a cure. Soon some of his fellow laboratory workers had contracted the disease while others like Ben Cortman whispered about the government's sinister reasons for burning the victims' corpses in the massive pit on the edge of town. When the plague hit his household, Morgan told his wife not to let the authorities know that their daughter was ill. While he understood intellectually that the government was burning the victims' bodies in an attempt to contain the disease, he couldn't bear the thought of his daughter being thrown into the smoldering pit. However, a desperate Mrs. Morgan broke down while her husband was at work and called the doctor. Morgan arrived from work later that evening to find an Army truck taking his daughter's body away.

When his wife came down with the disease, Morgan vowed not to let her end up in the pit too. The night after her death, he took her to a nearby field and buried her. In his exhaustion and grief he found himself unable to bury his wife more than a foot or two in the ground. Later that night, while preparing to go to bed, Morgan heard a hoarse voice calling his name. When he opened the door, Morgan found that the bizarre rumors that the plague victims were rising from the dead to prey on the living were most definitely true.

Three years after being forced to kill his undead wife, the last man on Earth has become utterly despondent, his singular immunity to the plague being a curse rather than a blessing. Day after day he searches houses for undead inhabitants and stakes them, but night after night the vampires gather outside his home and torment him. His first glimmer of hope in three years comes one day in the form of a stray dog; the first truly living creature he's seen since the plague completely enveloped the globe. When he finally brings the dog home, its odd behavior concerns him. A blood test shows that the animal isn't immune to the disease after all, and Morgan buries the staked corpse shortly thereafter.

Not long after burying the dog, Morgan finds an even more unexpected surprise during one of his daylight travels: a woman walking through an empty field. The woman, Ruth, startles and runs when he starts yelling, forcing Morgan to chase after her. She's understandably nervous when he takes her to his home near sunset and starts barricading the place. While ecstatic to be speaking to another human being for the first time in years, Morgan starts to suspect that the situation is too good to be true.

When Morgan finally pushes a string of garlic in her face, Ruth nearly vomits. Since one of the characteristics of the infected is an allergic reaction to garlic, the doctor insists that Ruth's blood be tested. She claims that a weak stomach caused the reaction, but other plague symptoms and the vial of vaccine and the syringe that she fails to conceal proves that she's lying. She eventually admits the horrible truth: her people sent her to spy on Morgan. Like herself, Ruth's people are infected but can keep the disease at bay with a vaccine, although many of them remain sensitive to daylight and are therefore nocturnal.

Now, imagine that you believe that you're the last human being on Earth and are convinced that everyone you come across during your daytime hunts is a vampire that must be destroyed. That's right; along with the undead, Morgan has also staked many diseased, but still living, human beings over the past three years. In the eyes of Ruth's people, Morgan is a monster that hunts down and murders innocent people while they sleep.

Soon a well armed mob shows up outside of Morgan's house, destroys all the undead surrounding it, and goes after Morgan himself. The doctor makes a run for it but is eventually caught inside of a church. Having seen that the fiend her people fear is simply a lonely man who didn't know what he was doing, Ruth asks for him to be spared. This goes about as well as can be expected in a movie like this and Morgan takes a few spears to the body. With his last breath, our hero calls his killers freaks and claims that he is the last man on Earth.

I knew beforehand that I would like The Last Man On Earth; it's a Vincent Price movie about a vampire apocalypse! Like Will Smith's I Am Legend, this movie has a strong first half featuring an engaging actor who is able to carry significant portions of the film by himself. While the older movie takes the easy way out and incorporates a lot of voice-over narration to let us in on the protagonist's thoughts, the fact that the narrator is Vincent Price more than makes up for it.

At the same time, I found it lacking in a few places, particularly near the end. By conveying the loneliness and horror of the hero's life as well as it does, it sets the bar for what follows a bit too high. For starters, this horror film isn't all that scary. Only once, when he loses track of time and arrives home late, do the vampires really threaten Morgan. But the creatures' clumsiness and weakness mean that he's able to get back to the safety of his home after only a brief and unsatisfying struggle. Scenes featuring hordes of the undead surrounding your house and calling you out by name should be frightening by their very nature, but the filmmakers present them in a static and unexciting way. The only truly creepy scene is during the flashback when Morgan's wife comes back from the dead. A few more moments like that one would have made The Last Man On Earth a much more effective horror film.

Another shortcoming is in the film's failure to discuss the nature of its sci-fi vampires. All we get from The Last Man On Earth is that the vampires are the result of a disease, that the victims (undead or not) are allergic to garlic and sensitive to light, and that Morgan's stakes are designed to hold open the wound so that "their body seal can't function". We don't get any elaboration on the vampires' self-sealing ability nor why other things like crosses or mirrors also ward them off. Matheson's novel, on the other hand, spends a lot of time explaining why his bacteria-spawned vampires behave according to the legends. The novel's Robert Neville (who isn't a doctor and does his research as a way to distract himself) finds that the vampire bacteria dies when exposed to air. To protect itself, the bacteria introduces a type of glue into the bodies of its victims. Narrow cuts or holes made by bullets seal too quickly for the bacteria to die, but stakes keep the wound open and allow enough air in to kill it. Mirrors and crosses (and Stars of David for those who had been Jewish) work on some vampires since the remnants of their personalities feel remorse or horror when reminded of what they have become. Unfortunately, The Last Man On Earth doesn't go into enough detail and the reason why Morgan feels compelled to replace the mirrors that the creatures smash each night remains unexplained.

Finally, we come to a significant philosophical difference between The Last Man On Earth and I Am Legend. When Neville finds out that he's been killing the living along with the undead, he's devastated. He makes no attempt to escape or hide despite having several weeks or even months between Ruth's warning and her people's attack. It's only when he sees the brutality with which the infected dispatch the undead that he attempts to defend himself, which results in him getting shot before he's captured. Since the infected are certain to execute him (possibly in a very unpleasant manner), Ruth gives Neville some pills to finish off what the gunshot wound started. As the pills do their work, he looks out his cell window at the mobs of the infected and realizes that, to them, he is as frightening and terrible an entity as any vampire had been to him. A being that could walk in broad daylight and killed their friends and family, Neville had become a legend among them.

Like Neville, Dr. Morgan also finds out that he has been killing the living, but if he feels remorse for it he doesn't really show it. Instead of empathizing with the fear and hatred of the infected as Neville does, Morgan calls them freaks and implies that they're no longer human. He had been a likeable character up to this point, but he loses the viewers' sympathy with his refusal to accept that he made a mistake that killed countless innocents.

(I won't go into detail, but even The Last Man On Earth's slightly disappointing ending is better than that of the theatrical cut of 2007's I Am Legend, which tacked an unimaginative Hollywood ending onto an otherwise good movie. The film's alternate ending, which preserves the general idea of Matheson's story, is a lot better.)

On a historical note, horror fans may notice that George Romero's zombie movies (e.g., Night of the Living Dead (1968)) have a lot in common with this film. It's not a coincidence; Romero admitted that he borrowed liberally from Matheson's novel.

Friday, May 3, 2013

May Day Movie Marathon, Part I

With the birth of Son of Atomic Spud II a couple weeks ago, I took a two week vacation from work. As I did with the original Son of Atomic Spud, I liked to spend a few hours holding the baby and watching old movies while Bride of Atomic Spud took a nap. After watching a few movies from my Netflix queue, I found that a number of movies were only going to be available for streaming until May 1st. Since I didn't want to miss them, I decided to work through all the soon to be expired movies on my list.

The dozen movies I watched over my vacation varied wildly in quality, release date, and plot. They ranged from an Orson Welles film noir (excellent) to a Larry Buchanan made for TV movie (wretched). The oldest was released in 1935 and the newest was released in 1967. Oddly enough, four of them were released in the '60s, which is unusual for me since I rarely watch anything made during the period from 1960 to 1976. While there was the usual smattering of American sci-fi pictures, there was also a British horror movie at least partially inspired by The Mummy (1932), an Italian film starring Vincent Price, a Korean kaiju film, and a joint Japanese/American production.

I'll be presenting the movies in the order I watched them (as best as I can remember, anyway). Since the newest of these films is about 46 years old, many of these reviews can be expected to contain spoilers.

The Giant neither comes from another
world nor is it from the unknown. Who
knew that '50s movie posters could
be so deceptive?
Giant from the Unknown (1958)
For whatever reason, an unusual number of my favorite movies were released in either 1954 (e.g., Gojira, Them!, Creature from the Black Lagoon) or 1958 (e.g., It! The Terror from Beyond Space, Fiend Without a Face, The Crawling Eye). Unfortunately, Giant from the Unknown will not be joining this list.

When animal mutilations in a small California mountain town are followed by the brutal murder of a local citizen, Sheriff Parker begins to unfairly suspect amateur geologist Wayne Brooks. Brooks pays little attention to the Sheriff's insistence that he not wander far from town and takes archeology professor Frederick Cleveland and his daughter, Janet, up to Devil's Crag in search of evidence for the existence of "the Diablo Giant". Legend has it that the Diablo Giant was a famous conquistador's lieutenant who went AWOL with several other soldiers. The Giant was purportedly an enormous and brutal man who may have passed through the area in search of fortune and glory. Although Brooks has yet to find any Spanish artifacts at the site, a recent thunderstorm removed a lot of the topsoil and may have uncovered something new.

After an apparently futile search, the three accidentally run across the bones and rusted armor of a number of conquistadors. As the sun begins to set, they find an enormous helmet and breastplate in better condition than the other pieces of armor. Brooks also finds an ax buried deeply in the trunk of a fallen tree that he's unable to remove. Since it's dark when they find the armor, they don't realize that the Diablo Giant himself is nearby and laying under only a few inches of dirt. Earlier Brooks had discovered that the rocks and soil of Devil's Crag have the unusual property of preserving living creatures such as the lizard he found in the middle of a rock. It's only a matter of time before he finds out that it also preserved a very large and angry Spaniard.

The Giant extracts himself from his shallow grave and goes on a small-scale rampage, which includes killing a young woman and kidnapping Janet. As expected, the Sheriff blames this new murder and Janet's disappearance on Brooks and takes him into custody. With the help of Professor Cleveland, Brooks makes his escape and goes in search of the kidnapped girl. When the pursuing Sheriff sees the Diablo Giant for himself, he and Brooks become fast allies and the Sheriff's posse is reassigned to monster-hunting duties.

This movie could have been a lot better. The Diablo Giant looks great as his makeup was done by Jack Pierce himself (Pierce did Karloff's makeup for Frankenstein and The Mummy). The acting is passable and the characters are likable enough. I don't much care for plots in which the local law enforcement persecutes the hero with little evidence, though, especially when it takes time away from the monster. As for the Diablo Giant himself, it's unfortunate that he turns out to be one of those slow and clumsy monsters who likes to commit mayhem off-screen and racks up a disappointingly low body count.

Worst of all, the Diablo Giant isn't really a monster in the traditional sense. Although the movie begins by suggesting that the animal mutilation and the first murder are the result of some sort of curse associated with the Indian burial ground at Devil's Crag, the fact that this is an American film from the '50s means that there's a "rational explanation" for the whole thing. (Well, it's as rational as the idea that an unusually large conquistador can be revived after being buried for 500 years can be.) Since the Diablo Giant doesn't represent any sort of supernatural threat, or even an unnatural mutation, he can be dispatched through relatively conventional means and is, in the end, simply a large man with an ax. That's not nearly as cool as the idea of an undead conquistador who has risen from his grave as the instrument of an Indian curse intended to wreak vengeance on the white man.

It would have been more entertaining
if it actually delivered the Ultimate in
Diabolism or Pure terror
Die, Monster, Die! (1965)
H.P. Lovecraft's The Colour Out of Space is one of my all time favorite sci-fi/horror stories. Die, Monster, Die! claims to be adapted from that story and shows evidence that the filmmakers were at least somewhat familiar with Lovecraft's writing in general and The Colour Out of Space in particular. However, the film completely abandons the central premise of Lovecraft's story and replaces it with something that had already been done better by other movies.

Immediately after arriving in the small English town of Arkham (the original story's backwoods American setting has been inexplicably transplanted to Britain), scientist Stephen Reinhardt realizes that he's going to have a hard time getting to his final destination. He's been invited to the Witley mansion, the home of his college girlfriend, but no taxis will take him there, the local bike shop won't rent him a bicycle to get there, and none of the locals will even tell him which way to go. After figuring out the general direction, Reinhardt sets out on foot.

While walking to the mansion, Reinhardt passes the "blasted heath" which is dominated by an enormous crater (enjoy it, Lovecraft fans, this is the most obvious reference to The Colour Out of Space you're going to get). The crater is surrounded by scorched and dead trees that disintegrate at a touch. The American eventually arrives at the Witley house just to find that no one will answer his knocking. When the door drifts open itself, Reinhardt invites himself in and quickly comes face to face with Nahum Witley (Boris Karloff!). The wheelchair-bound master of the house doesn't approve of the visitor at all and insists that he leave. He only relents when his daughter Susan greets Reinhardt and it's revealed that Susan's mother, Letitia Witley, invited the foreigner to the house.

Reinhardt is asked to speak to Letitia, who has come down with an odd disease that makes her sensitive to the light. From the shadows of her curtained bed, Susan's mother begs Reinhardt to take her daughter away from the house. Mrs. Witley doesn't really elaborate on her reasons, although she briefly mentions the disappearance of the Witley's maid, Helga. Reinhardt agrees to leave with Susan, but his girlfriend insists on staying until her mother gets better. Shortly after Reinhardt leaves the room, Nahum starts questioning his wife. Letitia laments the blasphemy of Corbin Witley (Nahum's father) and the fact that he was calling upon the powers of the "Outer Ones" when he died (a reference to many of Lovecraft's stories, although I don't believe the Outer Gods or the Great Old Ones are explicitly mentioned in The Colour Out of Space). Nahum declares that the Outer Ones' gift is a blessing, although recent events suggest that the master of the house is seriously deluded.

The butler's mysterious death and burial by Nahum, the locked greenhouse with its pulsing green glow, and the attack by an apparently insane Helga suggests to Reinhardt that something odd is going on at the Witley house. Susan shows Reinhardt a secret entrance to the greenhouse, which proves to contain enormous plants and vegetables. When they follow odd screeches and howls into an adjacent shed, they find a bizarre menagerie of misshapen creatures in cages. The chunks of glowing crystal in the plants' pots leads Reinhardt to conclude that the plants and creatures are radiation-spawned mutations. Susan reveals that Helga, Letitia, and the butler had all worked in the greenhouse before Nahum saw the need to padlock it.

Lo and behold, the "gift" that Nahum Witley believes was sent by the Outer Ones is in fact a radioactive meteor, the bulk of which is being kept in a pit in the mansion's basement. Shortly after Reinhardt and Susan return to the house, Letitia is found to be missing from her bed. The mutated and violent woman is finally found after a drawn out search involving various false scares. After briefly attacking her family, the matriarch takes a fall from a balcony and her horribly deformed body melts away in the rain.

Concluding that the meteor is a punishment for Corbin's sins rather than a gift to restore the fortunes of the Witley house, Nahum goes into the basement to destroy it. The patriarch is attacked by Helga who ends up falling into the meteor's pit. The radioactive crystal shatters, annihilating the mutant maid and transforming Witley into a glowing tinfoil fiend (I assume the monster is played by someone other than Karloff since the venerable actor could hardly walk by this point in his life). In a rare demonstration of heroic competence, Reinhardt defends himself from the monster with the axes decorating the walls of the mansion rather than miscellaneous items like breakaway chairs or tables. An ill-advised rush at Reinhardt sends Mutant Nahum through a guardrail and down to the floor below (there sure is a lot of falling in this movie). The creature's body shatters like stone and the resultant sparking starts a fire. Reinhardt and Susan emerge from the burning house, presumably to start a new life.

Die, Monster, Die! isn't necessarily a bad film, but it's a bit too slow. Worse, it eagerly deviates from its source material and heads off in a decidedly less interesting direction that had already been taken by dozens of movies before it.

Throughout his stories, Lovecraft eschewed the overtly supernatural in favor of science fictional horror. A "Lovecraftian Demon" is typically an ancient transdimensional being rather than a fiend from the Infernal Pit of Judeo-Christian belief. While many of his stories involve cultists who worship or attempt to summon beings such as Cthulhu or Yog-Sothoth, the subjects of the cultists' belief are invariably intelligences from distant galaxies or realms outside of our space-time continuum. If you removed the element of horror, these beings are not unlike something you might see on an episode of Star Trek.

While a basic knowledge of who the Old Ones are is often necessary to understand Lovecraft's stories, The Colour Out of Space never explicitly references them. Instead, this particular sci-fi/horror story involves an encounter between a family on a small, out of the way farm and an utterly alien intelligence or intelligences. The beings arrive on Earth by way of a strange meteor that lands near the farmhouse's well and gradually disintegrates. Shortly thereafter, the plant and animal life on the farm begin to transform; the crops grow early in the season and reach an enormous size, although their taste is horrendous. The family even swears that the trees near the meteor's impact site sway by themselves. After a season of riotous growth, the crops and trees turn to ash and the region is changed into what the locals refer to as "the blasted heath".

The plant life isn't merely dying; it's being consumed by the aliens. As lifeforms around the farm are reduced to dust, the intelligences increasingly manifest themselves as an indescribable "colour" that seems to live in or around the well. As they feed on the humans, the affected family members go insane and, like the plants and livestock, are slowly reduced to a gray powder.

Rather than taking advantage of Lovecraft's extremely original alien invasion story, the filmmakers decide to give us the standard radiation-spawned monster story that was ubiquitous in the '50s. Sure, they throw in a reference to the Outer Ones to justify their claim that this is a Lovecraft adaptation, but the film seems to be saying that Corbin's blasphemy and Nahum's belief that the meteor is a gift from the Outer Ones is merely a superstition. The true cause of the tragedy is the disastrous effects of radiation, which the Witleys don't understand but Reinhardt, the scientist, does.

Personally, I'd rather see a more faithful version of Lovecraft's story.


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