Author Archives: Bill Wilkinson
Well, well, well, what do we have here? Is it an awesome 60s horror movie, starring Boris Karloff and based on an H.P. Lovecraft story, or some lame, generic attempt at terror? Will it make you piss your pants in fear, or bore you to death with a malformed plot? Let’s get started, and find out.
Die, Monster, Die! is brought to us by the enviably prolific Roger Corman and his American International Pictures, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that Corman had a hand in the production. Unfortunately, he did not. This was the first feature film for director Daniel Haller, who is probably more well known for having designed the opulent sets of Corman’s Poe films. The story is a loose adaptation of the H.P. Lovecraft short story “The Colour Out of Space” and does, in fact, star Boris Karloff.
Yeah, that guy!
Mr. Karloff has one of the most memorable and iconic voices in all of cinema. His reading of How the Grinch Stole Christmas is perhaps the only role that eclipses his portrayal of the monster in the original Frankenstein. But let us not forget that he appeared in over one hundred fifty films and serials. Some of which are fantastically awesome. Hell, even his lisp is cool.
A solid performance by Nick Adams and the usual Karloff awesomeness, with a hint of Frankenstein’s monster, added enjoyment to the film. As did the rich set design and cheesy 60s effects.
There’s a strong sense of “what the hell is going on?” at the start of the film. Nick Adam’s character, Stephen, arrives in the village of his fiance’s family and starts asking everyone for a ride to the family estate. Well, no one will take him and they won’t even tell him why. They won’t even let him rent a bicycle, for God’s sake. Unfortunately, the viewer should become accustomed to the feeling of bewilderment.
Um, what’s going on?
Stephen finally makes it to the estate, meets his would-be in-laws, and shows us how nosy he can be. He spends most of the second act trying to find out what’s going on with the Witley’s, to no avail. He snoops here and there, even returns to the village to ask around, but is met with outright hostility. You’d think that if the villagers don’t want someone dicking around, they’d at least have a valid excuse. Even a lie would help.
Like: “Those people molest goats, damnit!”
We finally make it to the third act, where all will be revealed. The only problem is that we still never find out about the mysterious Corbin Witley, who ruined the family name and brought on the outrage of the villagers. We have to make do with Karloff’s Nahum Witley explaining that all he wants is to restore the family name. Just how he intended to do so using the giant meteorite in the basement is anyone’s guess.
What, exactly, does this thing do?
The meteorite in the basement has deformed everything. Plants, animals, people, you name it and it’s been mutated. But the problem is, there’s no real terror in this. Some of the people go mad, but they are horribly ineffective at killing anyone else and they die of the radiation pretty quickly. Nahum does decide to destroy the meteorite, once it’s too late, and only succeeds in burning down the house.
For a film with good sets and decent acting it turned out to be pretty boring. Not bad, just boring. If you’re a huge fan of Boris Karloff I can recommend it to you, since that was my basis for watching. Otherwise you can find much better examples of actually terrifying films.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for every time a villager refuses to answer questions
Take a Drink: for every time you see anything mutated
Drink a Shot: when Boris Karloff becomes a mutated monster
Comic book stories that get film spin-offs have a varied past. For every Superman or The Watchmen there is a counterpoint, or two, such as Spiderman 3 or Batman & Robin. Hardware just happens to fall into the latter category. It hails from 2000 AD, the same comic that spawned Judge Dredd, but we can’t really call that a rousing endorsement. Or can we? Unfortunately, this may just be another in the myriad of post-apocalyptic films that cinephiles have been subjected to over the last few decades.
As Bond girls go, Honey Ryder was the original, and one of the best. She was brought to life by the always beautiful Ursula Andress, who went on to become a 60s sex symbol and fantasy of men the world over. With that said, sure she’s unarguably hot, but whether she can act is an entirely different question. Perhaps the role of Susan Stevenson can provide us some insight.
Before Christopher Lee became a staple in big league franchises, like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, he starred in more horror films than you can shake a stick at. Throughout the 60s and 70s, he was the go-to villain for Hammer Productions, and the role suited him perfectly. With his piercing, dark eyes and stark features, he could scare the bejeesus out of anyone. His portrayal of Father Michael Rayner is one such role.
After ex-communication from the Catholic church, the brazen Father Rayner sets up his own heretical church, the Children of our Lord. And while this church may appear Catholic to the naked eye, they practice Satanism quite devoutly. Even for their nuns, bringing the devil to Earth is top priority.
Yes! Satan’s got nuns!
After raising a sacrificial child, as a nun, for eighteen years, the time has come for Father Michael to cash in his demon chips. But first, he allows her to go and see her father for her birthday. Her father, wise to the satanic plot, has her picked up by an author who has no idea about the situation. The author proves to be a little more wily than expected and sets off to ruin the Satanic hijinx. Question is, can he compete with Christopher Lee’s awesomeness?
Christopher Lee’s Satanic villainy is without question, fierce and dark. He and the supporting cast, featuring personal favorites Denholm Elliot (Dr. Marcus Brody, to Indiana Jones fans)
and Honor Blackman (Pussy Galore), made for an interesting film. Besides, who knew you could keep a demon in an incubator? And the creepy demon baby effects were quite good, for the times.
We are plunged, head-first into this story with very little information. The first scene is of Father Michael’s ex-communication, for which we are given no reason. What happened? Did he openly worship Satan, or fart in the Pope’s hat? We won’t find out until we no longer care. Father Michael has to tell us it’s an ex-communication ceremony, anyway, because it’s all in Latin. Exposition through dialogue, that’s just lazy screenwriting, kids.
Flash forward eighteen years and Father Michael has allowed Katherine, the sacrificial nun, to leave the island of his church. Anyone else getting a Scaramanga vibe here? Anyway, Katherine is off to see her father, played by Denholm Elliot, who has pawned her off on an author with occult leanings. Exactly how the author is talked into this, we may never now, since that scene never happens. Richard Widmark plays John Verney, the valiant author, and pretty well at that, but his sole motivation to help is gathering material for a new novel. Really? That’s the best we can do? The first act of this film feels like it was thrown together by a monkey with no understanding of character development or plotting. Okay fine, a chimp.
The story continues with Verney bringing Katherine into his home, with no real idea of what’s going on. A feeling the viewer can relate to. While in his home, Katherine has a strange dream, of being born, that coincides with Father Michael overseeing the birth of a demon child. Well, we have to assume it’s a demon, because it’s never shown and it’s placed in an incubator, straight away. Besides, we wouldn’t have a story if this was just some boring human baby.
Aww, there he is!
The remainder of the second act meanders along with about the same level of quality as the first. We get a murder, or two, here and a hallucinatory old man there. The only real highlight was the introduction of the symbol of Father Michael’s church. Laughable as it is, it looks like some kind of Jesus gymnast on an upside-down cross. Yeah, not scary.
Wow! That’s all I’ve got.
By the time we get to act three, Father Michael has managed to abscond with Katherine and Verney is on his way to save the day. The problem here is that she couldn’t care less. She’s perfectly happy to rebirth some hell-spawn. But hey, we need a happy ending. Verney arrives at the sacrificial altar in the nick of time and dispatches the evil priest by, wait for it… throwing a rock at him. Unbelievable. The world has been saved by a man hurling a rock. See, stop telling your kids to quit throwing rocks. That skill may come in handy.
If you’re a big fan of Christopher Lee, into poorly portrayed Satanism, or just like average horror movies, I can recommend this to you. Otherwise, there are much better Hammer films out there. The only other interesting thing about this film is that a portion of the opening dialogue is used in the White Zombie song, “Super Charger Heaven”. And while that usage may seem like a good endorsement, this may be the exception to the rule.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for every time you wonder what’s going on
Take a Drink: for every time you see Catholic regalia, even if it’s imitation
Drink a Shot: when you see the Jesus Gymnast!
Among the many weird and varied roles of Vincent Price, Dr. Anton Phibes may just hold the title of most interesting. A very tragic figure, Dr. Phibes has spent his life searching for a way to resurrect his beloved wife, Victoria. Poor guy doesn’t even have a face, but guess what, his mask looks just like… That’s right, Vincent Price, all powdered up and everything.