DOUBLE FEATURE RETROSPECTIVE – Die, Monster, Die! (1965)/The Curse (1987)

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Die, Monster, Die! (1965): SUMMARY
Stephen Reinhart, an American scientist (Nick Adams), pays a visit to the estate of his British fiancée’s family. He finds a scorched area of countryside near an enormous crater. Local townspeople are hostile toward him and refuse to either drive him to his destination or talk about the family that lives there. The source of all these problems is later revealed to be a radioactive meteorite kept hidden in the basement by his girlfriend’s father, Nahum Witley (Boris Karloff), who has been using the radiation to mutate plant and animal life, with horrific consequences to his subjects and to members of his family. Nahum’s wife, Letitia, mutated by the meteorite and driven insane, dies in an attack on Steve and Susan. After Helga, a maid who has been mutated and driven mad by radiation, comes after Nahum, he is mutated after his attacker falls on the meteorite and is killed. The Nahum monster attacks Steve and Susan, but falls from a balcony and bursts into flame when he hits the floor, setting the entire Witley mansion ablaze. Steve and Susan escape from the burning mansion, and never look back.

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DEVELOPMENT
The year was 1965 and Boris Karloff was now 77 years old. At a time that most actors have long since retired or found that Hollywood has left them behind, Karloff was still in demand. Only his health was keeping him from the busy schedule he once had. His arthritis and emphysema were crippling at times, leaving him wheelchair bound and on oxygen. Yet, there were days when his stamina was high and he would move about as well as a man of 77 could. Still under contract to American International Pictures, his next effort would be Die, Monster, Die!

Daniel Haller
Daniel Haller

Interview with Director Daniel Haller

Are you treating Lovecraft differently from the concept of American-International’s Poe films?
Daniel Haller: Yes, the Lovecraft film is contemporary, and, as a result, there is more emphasis on the scientific aspect.

Apart from the change in locality, how close is Die Monster, Die! to Lovecraft’s Colour Out of Space?
Daniel Haller: Quite similar, but more up to date. The scientific emphasis means that the fantasy now derives from the science.

The science-fiction theme comes out strongly?
Daniel Haller: Yes. In HPL’s story this meteorite comes out of the sky. It had a character of its own which we are unable to show. We have made it radioactive. In the film it could be radium.

Do you think this approach will be taken as a symbol of thermonuclear fears?
Daniel Haller: Yes. I think quite a lot of people will believe that. I felt it strongly-not so much now though.

In the story, much of the atmosphere derives from Lovecraft’s description of the unearthly countryside. How did you show this?
Daniel Haller: Stephen, the hero, has a long walk through the woods which we hope gets this over. There are charred stumps, matted growths….

Daniel Haller on set
Daniel Haller on set

What is it like working with a veteran like Boris Karloff ?
Daniel Haller: Very enjoyable. He’s not one of these people who always argue that a scene should be done another way. He does it as the director sees it. I think the great thing about Boris is his look; he puts over so much in a slight shift or lean of the head.

Does it bother you to know that critics will no doubt compare your film with Roger Corman’s Poe movies?
Daniel Haller: No, not really. I think we both have our own style. …

Corman has spoken of his interest in Freud. Is there symbolism of this nature in Die, Monster, Die?
Daniel Haller: Although I’m a great admirer of Freud, I’m not consciously using symbolism —Freudian or otherwise. Even so, Die, Monster, Die! has its “sub-text” as should any film.

CAST/CREW
Directed by   Daniel Haller
Produced by Pat Green
Written by     Jerry Sohl
Boris Karloff as Nahum Witley
Nick Adams as Stephen Reinhart
Freda Jackson as Letitia Witley
Suzan Farmer as Susan Witley
Terence De Marney as Merwyn
Patrick Magee as Dr. Henderson

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The Curse (1987): SUMMARY
Teenage boy Zack lives on a farm in Tellico Plains, Tennessee with his mother Frances, younger sister Alice, stern and pious old stepfather Nathan Crane and unpleasant, dim-witted stepbrother Cyrus. One night Frances sneaks out of the house while Nathan is asleep and begins having sex with Mike, a farm-hand who lives in a nearby shack. Suddenly a large meteorite crashes onto the property, emitting an eerie glow. Next morning, Alan Forbes, a physician who lives nearby, visits the crash-site, examining the meteorite which is a large sphere with a hard shell from which a noxious liquid oozes out. Before long, the object dissolves into glowing gelatinous liquid which seeps into the soil. Forbes wants to contact the authorities but is dissuaded by Charlie Davidson, local realtor and head of the chamber of commerce, who worries that the event will discourage the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) from building a new reservoir in the area. Forbes’ bored wife Esther also manipulates her husband into keeping quiet, worried their house will lose its value.004

The mysterious liquid soon begins to affect the farm. The water from the well grows cloudy and tastes unpleasant, fruit and vegetables grow invitingly large but are rotten and inedible inside and the livestock begin to behave violently and show severe signs of infection. Alice is attacked and injured by infected chickens and Cyrus is nearly killed by a horse. Frances begins to have large boils growing on her face which soon grotesquely alter her features. She becomes mentally unstable, physically harming herself and attacking her own family. Believing the blight affecting his farm to be a punishment from God for his wife’s infidelity, Nathan locks her in their bedroom, not allowing Zack to tell the doctor. Zack keeps himself and Alice free from the infection by consuming clean water and food he steals from Forbes’ house.

Forbes secretly obtains a sample from the Cranes’ well and has it analysed at a nearby lab. The water is found to contain a strange, unknown element which is altering its metabolic properties. Carl Willis, a TVA representative who is surveying the local area for the planned reservoir, enters the Cranes’ house looking for a glass of water. Helping himself from the kitchen faucet, he has just started drinking when he is attacked and nearly killed by Frances, who has gone insane and is horribly mutating. Worried that Forbes is going to alert the authorities, Davidson and Esther arrive at the Crane farm looking for the doctor but are attacked by infected dogs who have turned feral. Esther is mauled to death and Davidson hides himself in the cellar only to be killed by Frances who had been locked in there by Nathan.

003

By now Nathan and Cyrus are also infected and beginning to go insane. A guilt-ridden Forbes enters the house, hoping to rescue Zack and Alice but he is surprised and murdered by Nathan who then barricades the door. Cyrus attacks Alice but Zack fights him off, hiding his sister in a closet. Nathan corners Zack and is about to kill his stepson when he is stabbed by Willis who has just arrived. The ground begins to glow and heave beneath the house which starts to fall apart. Zack locates his mother just in time to see her mutated corpse dissolve into liquid. Willis gets Zack and Alice out of the house before it collapses and a dying Nathan and Cyrus are both killed by falling debris. Willis drives away from the farm, taking Zack and Alice with him.

Some months later, a heavily-bandaged Willis lies in a hospital bed, having become infected more slowly because he only drank a small amount of the farm’s water. He is watching a news report on how authorities are promising that the blight from the farm will be eradicated. Later, at a location in the nearby countryside, ground and trees begin to heave and break apart at night, revealing more of the alien glowing liquid spreading onto the surface.

DEVELOPMENT/PRODUCTION
Distributor Trans World offered Keith an acting job on a movie named Blood Hunt, but he also insisted on directing. So the company called him in for a meeting, he says, “to talk me out of directing.” But the Southerner went in prepared. He laid out in detail how he would direct several major scenes in Blood Hunt, and walked out of the meeting with a three-picture deal: to direct The Farm, to star in and direct Blood Hunt, and to helm another movie.

Keith expresses no particular fondness for the horror genre. “I’m much more in love with Woody Allen movies, to tell you the truth.” He did Firestarter because I love Stephen King,” and he is now doing The Farm because of Chaskin’s tight script. “The scariest horror movies are the ones that, if you left out the horror, would still be a good movie. So that’s what we are trying to do with The Farm, make it realistic with well-rounded characters and real situations, so that when the meteor lands, it’s a device of the gods, from ancient theater tradition.”

01

Principal photography began on September 29, 1986 under the title The Farm, after being announced previously as The Well. David Keith, a native of Knoxville, utilized his farm property in Tellico Plains, Tennessee for the film, while the interiors were shot in Rome. Many of the crew members, who were Italian, were billed under American names, including associate producer Lucio Fulci. Actor Treat Williams was reportedly set to star in the film, but was not involved with the film itself.

02

Perhaps the greatest danger facing the $1.5 million production is Keith’s drive to make The Farm more than just a good, entertaining horror film. Horror mixed with “social relevancy” usually smacks of pretentiousness. “This movie is about the dying of the family farm. That’s the problem that these people face on this farm long before the meteor comes-the family farm is America has no chance any more. Which is something that kills me. I love the fact that we’re touching on that topic. I have dilated that plot aspect since I became involved.”

04

And Keith has another problem to deal with. Most of the technical crew are Italian and do not speak English. Everyone loves the Italian crew; they are very professional, having worked a great deal together in the past. Shooting generally goes very smoothly, but there are occasions when communication problems bring a pronounced comic relief to the location. At its funniest, it goes like this: All communications pass through recent University of Tennessee graduate Anna Rebori, the interpreter. When Keith wants something done, he tells Rebori. She tells the crew. The crew talk it over in Italian between themselves, then they tell Rebori why they cannot do it. Rebori tells Keith. Keith explains very carefully, to Rebori, just exactly what he wants and why he has to have it. Rebori tells the crew. And so it goes, on into the night.

Screenwriter David Chaskin jokingly hopes that maybe, if he refrains from changing the Lovecraft classic, the director will likewise refrain from changing his script. But the original story, as with much of the Lovecraft canon, relies on very heavy description to set mood. “It would make an arty Twilight Zone episode,” says Chaskin. So he created a history for the characters and added a number of subplots, such as a hired farmhand named Dog who has an affair with Frances (Kathleen Gregory), the wife of the farm owner, Nathan (Claude Akins). Chaskin also created a conflict between Frances’ two children from an earlier marriage, played by Wil (Stand By Me) Wheaton and Wheaton’s real-life younger sister Amy, and Nathan’s son, Cyrus (Malcolm Denare). Finally, Chaskin updated the story and set it in the real town of Tellico Plains, Tennessee.

03

The “meteorite syndrome” is a progressive affliction. First it destroys the farm crops, then the trees start waving when there is no wind. Next it affects the farm animals. Pretty little Amy Wheaton, in her first movie role, is attacked and mauled by killer chickens. Finally, the toxins reach out from the well to the residents. Frances is the first to succumb, followed by Nathan and his son Cyrus. Frances’ kids are the only ones to escape.

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The first thing to go is the mind. “It’s like in Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” offers Chaskin. “The little boy tells the doctor, ‘She’s not my mother!'” Then they turn mean, and they go crazy. By this time, it is affecting their bodies as well. We see a malignant growth here and there, eventually distorting their faces into bloated, throbbing, grotesque imitations of the meteorite. Their suffering is ultimately terminated by disintegration into a gray dust.

05

The FX makeup is being executed by Franco Ruffini in Rome. But the makeup was actually designed by Keith himself, who described it to a designer like a crime victim detailing his assailant to a police artist.

Keith is very much the dominant force in The Farm, and he will deserve full credit for the outcome, whatever that outcome may be. He walks the location charged with energy, exclaiming, “I’m so fired up. I’ve never been so happy on a job in my life.” This is what Keith has been working toward throughout his entire career; he originally pursued acting as a first step in someday taking the director’s chair.

CAST/CREW
Directed by David Keith
Produced by Ovidio G. Assonitis
Written by David Chaskin

Claude Akins as Nathan Crane
Cooper Huckabee as Dr. Allen Forbes
John Schneider as Carl Willis
Malcolm Danare as Cyrus Crane
Wil Wheaton as Zack Crane
Amy Wheaton as Alice Crane
Steve Carlisle as Charlie Davidson
Kathleen Jordon Gregory as Frances Crane
Hope North as Esther Forbes
Steve Davis as Mike

CREDITS/REFERENCES/SOURCES/BIBLIOGRAPHY
Fangoria#066
Cinefantastique v17n02
Castle of Frankenstein#07

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