With a title that seems to promise the most hysterical kind of low-budget horror (in both senses of the word), Die, Monster Die! (aka Monster of Terror) is in fact a moody, slowly-moving effort that, while it never forgets its horrific purpose, provides pleasures almost incidental to the action.
Based on an H.P. Lovecraft story somewhat similar to Poe’s “Fall of the House of Usher,” Monster follows Steve Reinhart (Nick Adams) a young American who arrives in a remote English village at the invitation of Letitia Witley (Freda Jackson), mother of his girlfriend Susan (Suzan Farmer). He gets his first hint that something is amiss as soon as he gets off the train since no one in the village will help him reach the Witley home. The second sign that something is very wrong comes when, proceeding on foot, he passes through an area in which everything has been reduced to ash. Received coldly by Nahum Witley (Boris Karloff), Steve is really nonplussed when Letitia implores him to take Susan away.
In other words, the horror element is initially secondary to why Nahum is hostile, why the locals are frightened, and why people have disappeared without a trace. In fact, while occasionally punctuated by sudden, hyperbolic details like screams in the night or black cloaked figures appearing and disappearing, Monster is a good example of how filmmakers use horror’s irrational ruptures as an excuse to experiment with techniques inappropriate for more “realistic” material.
In the opening credits, for example, amorphous patterns of color ooze and flow across the Panavision frame in a kind of formalist play of which any experimental filmmaker could be proud. Such explicit experimentation has to be abandoned to get on with the action, of course, but there is still an unusual degree of visual ornamentation. Director Daniel Haller and his technicians turn the Witley home, the standard foreboding horror mansion, into an intricate labyrinth of color, lighting and decor that registers well in excess of any simple plot purpose. The house is not exactly frightening in itself, but it certainly invites the eye to explore the nooks, crannies, pools of colored light and shadows, strongly suggesting that the arty rendering is its own justification. (Haller, in fact, began as an art director.) Even the rubbery victims of the horror (above) seem more like academic visions of grotesque distortion or sketches of how best to gross out the viewer than active threats since they never actually do anything.
This experimentation proves appropriate for the explanation of the mystery, since the cause of the horror is not supernatural, despite heavy hints to the contrary. Instead, the nightmare results from a combination of human frailty and scientific ignorance. The ornate camerawork and decor are thus obliquely justified because the thrills in Monster are just as much a product of the kind of technological thinking blamed for the horror. So while the story moralizes against utilitarian thinking, the filmmaking exploits it.