After the bonanzas of 1963 and 1964, 1965 was a comparatively lackluster year for horror and exploitation flicks, with a few exceptions at both ends of the spectrum. Boris Karloff, Nick Adams, Suzan Farmer, and Freda Jackson starred in Die, Monster, Die, directed by Daniel Haller, which was one of the first big screen attempts at an H.P. Lovecraft adaptation. Released by AIP for the drive-in double feature circuit along with Mario Bava’s cult fave, Planet Of The Vampires, Die, Monster, Die has more kinship to that studio’s Poe product than to Lovecraft. It also has a distant relationship to Hammer HorrorJackson previously appeared in Brides Of Dracula, and Farmer went on to do both Dracula, Prince Of Darkness and Rasputin, the Mad Monk for the studio the following year. Additionally, elements of Die, Monster Die are clearly related to Universal’s Man-Made Monster(1941) and Columbia’s mad doctor series.
With Universal horror icon Karloff and Rebel Without a Cause heartthrob Adams as the two leading men, Die, Monster, Die feels like a queer hybrid. The aged Karloff, suffering the effects of emphysema, is wheelchair bound (and will be for the rest of his career and life), but he evokes formidable English mystery from his blanket and chair. In sharp contrast is all that pent-up, pushy, youthful American angst from Adams, who is aptly vulgar and a standout in his Jersey accent.
Stephen Reinhart goes to visit Susan Witley at her parents’ home in the English village of Arkham. Stephen had met Susan at the college they attended together in the States, but when he stops at a local pub, he discovers the entire village paralyzed with fear in regards to the Witley estate (calling to mind Ed Wood’s daffily delivered dialogue from 1955’s Bride Of The Monster, “stay away from the old Willow’s place!”) Poor Stephen can’t get anyone to give him transportation and is forced to walk. Upon finally arriving at the Witley estate, he discovers that the surrounding plant life has all mysteriously died. He is greeted with hostility by Susan’s crippled father, Nahum (Karloff), who demands that Stephen leave at once. Nahum is interrupted by a beaming Susan and introduced to her mother, Letitia (Jackson), who is bedridden and hidden behind a veil. Letitia intercedes for Stephen and asks him to take Susan away from this charnel house. A short while later, Nahum’s servant, Merwyn (Terence De Marney) collapses and dies. After Merwyn’s late night burial, followed by a phantom-like figure appearing at the window, Stephen and Susan make their way into Nahum’s greenhouse and discover abnormally enlarged plant life and mutated critters. “It looks like a zoo on hell,” declares Stephen. After some Sherlock Holmes/Watson sleuthing, he and Susan unlock the dreadful secret: Nahum has been “experimenting” with radioactivity from a meteorite. Hoping to undo an ancestor’s evil deeds (whatever those were) Nahum plans to help feed the world with mutated plant life! Of course, things go awry and everyone who worked in the greenhouse has been either mutated or killed. The phantom figure turns out to be a former maid, now a butcher knife-wielding mutant. Both Letitia and Merwyn were victims, and now it’s Nahum’s turn as he transforms into a green thing with an axe, leading to a fiery climax.
The opening plot sounds like a number of the Vincent Proice/Roger Corman screen treatments of Edgar Alan Poe. Despite the ho-hum overfamiliarity, Die, Monster Die has rich cinematography (by Paul Beeson), delightfully dated FX (including Karloff’s green thing stand-in), a vibrant score (from Don Banks), and a crackerjack performance from Karloff. Performances like this explain how an almost eighty-year-old, handicapped actor kept getting parts personally tailored to him up until his death four years later. Even Adams is pretty good (much better than his other ’65 performance—see below). With a zippy pace and Gothic sci-fi milieu, Monster is perfect drive-in fodder and must have made a helluva cinema-under-the-stars bargain when paired with Planet of the Vampires. First released for home video as part of MGM’s Midnight Movies series (coupled with 1970’s Dunwich Horror, also directed by Haller), it has been upgraded to Blu-ray in a gorgeous transfer from Scream Factory and looks better than ever. Primarily criticized on its release for straying too far from it’s source story, “The Colour out of Space,” it has since has garnered a cult reputation as a fun mix of nostalgic Gothic horror and science fiction.
Elsewhere in 1965, Freddie Francis double-teamed with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee for Hammer’s The Skull and for Amicus’ first horror anthology, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors. Fellow Hammer alumnus Don Sharp kept just as busy with Lee in the first and best of producer Harry Alan Towers’ Fu Manchu efforts, The Face of Fu Manchu. However, Sharp couldn’t generate much interest in Curse of the Fly, probably because it was more related to Lovecraft than to its predecessors, and feels like a sibling to Die, Monster, Die. Nick Adams further distanced himself from Rebel Without a Cause in a thoroughly embarrassing performance in Frankenstein Conquers The World. Roman Polanski produced a genre masterpiece in Repulsion, starring Catherine Deneuve, while scream queen Barbara Steele became increasingly confined to lower budget productions with Nightmare Castle (directed by Mario Caiano) and Terror-Creatures from the Grave.The latter was directed by Massimo Pupillo, who managed two additional misfires that same year with the Bloody Pit of Horror and La Vendetta di Lady Morgan. Not to be left out, Ed Wood returned with Criswell for Orgy Of The Dead. By this point, both Ed and his Plan 9 host were heavily nipping the sauce on a regular basis so the Wood-penned script was left for Stephen C. Apostolof to direct, with none of the amateur enthusiasm that our favorite angora-wearing cult celebrity once had.
Herschell Gordon Lewis also seemed to have lost his amateur enthusiasm with Color Me Blood Red and Monster A Go-Go. The former is the third and final of Lewis “Blood Trilogy,” and is an unofficial remake of Roger Corman’s Bucket Of Blood (1959). Unlike its source material, Blood Redsuffers from a sense of fatigue, making it an insufferably dull affair. Lewis also took over the filming of Terror at Halfday seven years after its original director, Bill Rebane, abandoned it. Unfathomable as it may be, Rebane was even more incompetent than Lewis; which hardly means that Lewis was able to salvage the project, even under its new title Monster A Go-Go. Quite the contrary, its reputation as one of the worst movies of all time remains quite secure. Originally, it was about a giant alien (Henry Hite) crash landing, but Lewis tried to transform it into… well, something else. There’s a missing astronaut and a girlfriend (I think) who is worried. Meanwhile, a giant mauls a rubbernecking couple. It’s so cheap and tawdry that someone actually recorded their own voice mimicking a telephone ring. Did they not have a phone on set? Although it may sound entertaining in a bad way, it’s not, and the 69 minute running time feels like 690 minutes. Pity the drive-in audience on whom Lewis unleashed this.Undoubtedly, they’re still reeling a half century later.
One of the year’s oddest film was Incubus, which was once believed lost. Known as the only film (to date) made in the language of Esperanto (!), it was directed by Leslie Stevens (creator of “The Outer Limits,”) and stars Willam Shatner. Theories abound as to why Stevens filmed it in a constructed language. Some say he was a fanatical advocate for the new language; others that it was an aesthetic excuse to make the film more surreal and exotic.
“In the village of Nomen Tuum, an ancient Deer Well is reputed to contain healing waters… For this reason the area has attracted the vain, and the corrupt, as well as the infirm. As a place of dark miracles, the village has become a searching ground for demons. Manifesting themselves as young women, the Succubi lure tainted souls into final degradation, claiming them at the end for the God of Darkness,” begins the narration. Yes, this is yet another variation of the ancient misogynistic “Curse of Eve” myth. After the Succubi gather on a beach, succubus Kia (Allyson Ames, Stevens then-wife) complains to her superior, Amael (Eloise Hardt) that it’s too easy luring lustful, tainted souls like the one she has just crushed in the ocean. Kia wants to entrap a noble, pure-hearted man as a gift to the God of Darkness, who will then surely promote her to demon status. Kia runs off, despite being warned not to (“noble men have love, something you cannot understand, Kia”).
And who is this paragon of morality that Kia will tempt? William Shatner’s Marc, of course, which is almost as amusing as Frank Sinatra playing a priest. Determined, Kia finds Marc chopping wood for his sister, Arndis (Ann Atmar). Even in the Esperanto language, Shatner (who previously worked with Stevens on an “Outer Limits” episode) can’t resist his infamous Shatnerisms. Once Kia locks lips with Shat, she sees the light. After the Shat takes Kia to church for a sacred wedding (!), she flees the Holy place and runs to Amael, who calls on the Incubus (Milos Milos). Milos goes after Arndis first and hands her over to the Succubi, who sort of gang rape her to the point of death. Locking lips with Shat for a second time, Kia is a goner. He takes her to the church on time this time and, together, they make a sign of the cross, forever warding off the Incubus and Succubi. The End. Despite all that, it’s dull going, with few of the qualities Stevens brought to “Outer Limits.” Of course, it’s a masterpiece compared to Monster A Go-Go, but its entertainment value probably depends on how much one values seeing Shat doing Shat in Esperanto.
- Like his friends James Dean and Elvis Presley, Adams would die prematurely, in 1968, from a drug overdose at the age of 36.