... aka: Monster, The
... aka: Monster of Terror
Though Roger Corman's The Haunted Palace (1963) is still to this day grouped into the director's eight-part Edgar Allan Poe series, it was actually based primarily on H.P. Lovecraft's short story "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward." Despite how it was initially promoted, Palace was in fact the very first feature-length attempt at bringing Lovecraft to the big screen. Die, Monster, Die! (UK title: Monster of Terror) was the second attempt and is based on Lovecraft's wonderful short story "The Colour Out of Space." Screenwriter Jerry Sohl has altered many things from the story and added new ideas and characters, but he at least honors the general premise of the tale here. Director Haller, making his directorial debut, had previously done splendid economy-class art direction on many of the Corman-Poe films (including Palace) and brings that same kind of attention to detail and atmosphere to this one.
Honoring a request for a visit from his girlfriend's mother, American Stephen Reinhart (Nick Adams) arrives via train to the small British village of Arkham. Once there, he's unable to get a taxi ride or even rent a bicycle to transport himself to his destination. Seems the folks round those parts have a problem with the same family Stephen is planning to visit. He's forced to walk a good piece to his destination. Along the way there, Stephen must ignore no trespassing signs everywhere, sidestep strategically placed bear traps and, strangest of all, pass by a huge empty crater and a forest full of charred trees. Upon arriving at the Witley home, Stephen is given a cold, rude reception by wheelchair-bound patriarch Nahum (Boris Karloff), who immediately asks him to leave. His girlfriend Susan (Suzan Farmer) greets him warmly, however, and takes him upstairs to meet her mother Letitia (Freda Jackson). Mum's not doing very well it seems.
Not only is Letitia sickly and bedridden, but she's also strangely light-sensitive and refuses to be seen. She warns Stephen about the family history (Nahum's father apparently dabbled in Satanism) and tells him her maid went crazy and has since vanished. She also begs Stephen to take her daughter out of the home. Because of her mother's illness and her father's erratic behavior, Susan refuses until she finds out just what is going on. At dinner that evening, servant Merwyn (Terence de Marney) - forced to wear dark glasses because he's inflicted with the same malady effecting Letitia - collapses and then later dies. Strange screams are frequently heard throughout the home but seem to have no source and a shrouded figure lurks the grounds brandishing a knife. Stephen goes to a local doctor (Patrick Magee) for help, but he's a drunk who has been driven half mad himself by whatever's going on at the Witley estate and is of no help.
If you're familiar with the story or have seen any of the later film adaptations, such as THE CURSE (1987) or the recent Italian adaptation Colour from the Dark (2008), then you already know that a fallen meteor is responsible for everything odd that's been occurring. Nahum keeps a huge chunk of it down in the cellar and has it spread throughout his greenhouse and who knows where else. Enough exposure to the radioactive alien mineral leads to excessive growth in plants (plus enables them to attack) and madness and mutation in both plants and animals.
Despite the old school Gothic setting (large castle, fog-shrouded forests and graveyards), this seems strangely modern at times in terms of character actions, pacing and sound design. Haller and his crew make it all quite atmospheric, there are some interesting aural and light effects used at the finale, nice use of matte paintings throughout, some mildly icky make-up fx (such as a face melting down) and an interesting metallic-looking meteor monster that shows up at the very end. It runs just 75 minutes.