Sunday, August 08, 2010
Insomnia Theater--H P Lovecraft Movies
Die, Monster Die (DMD) was Mr. Haller's first movie, filmed in 1965. He did a few others, motorcycle gangs and car racers, and then returned to the difficult to film Lovecraftian universe. He did one other after The Dunwitch Horror (DH), filmed in 1970, and then tried hard with a trendy subject (musical priest falling in love) with Pieces of Dreams, which failed on almost every level and he retreated to television direction until his retirement in 1988. Haller didn't just jump into directing; he was the art director/production designer (I have no idea what the difference is between those titles) for most of the so horrible they're good Roger Corman movies with Vincent Price and Poe titles. That explains why he relies so much in DMD on the outward appearance of the house and delivers so little else. It is a fatal reliance. Whatever horrific effect a strangely decorated mansion might once have held in the mid-60s, it is long vanished, especially for those raised on well designed video games. However, even though he spends too much time in the less palatial but somewhat creepy home of the eccentric family in DH, he handles the monster so much better in the later film. The blasts of sound and color, the tiny bits of detail of the monster as it disrobes and does something bad to the interloper, Elizabeth, are nearly the highlight of the movie. You don't know until the end that it is a ring of fanged snakes around a lumpy yellow fleece face.
Haller has a lot more to work with in the second movie's script too. The DH screenplay was written by Curtis Hanson. It was his first, but he later wrote the quirky Canadian movies The Silent Partner and Never Cry Wolf. He directed the great L A Confidential and satisfying Wonder Boys, and he's not finished yet. And even though Haller wasted the talents of an aging Boris Karloff in DMD (and did what he could with Nick Adams, which was next to nothing), he was very lucky to have former child star Dean Stockwell and Ed Begley (father of the tall 'purer than thou' ecco-nut) in what was about Begley's last film. The girls are pretty good too, Talia Shire looks real good, and beautiful former teen throb Sandra Dee has the right touch of innocence if a lack of intensity. Stockwell throws himself into a barely human role with gusto. He convincingly seems merely to ape human manners but has mad skills at the rituals. The stylized turning of the knife, the rings to his temples, the heartfelt chanting, are all brilliant details. Sam Jaffe is nearly perfect as the eccentric grandfather, who tried to bring back the old ones (a Lovecraft leit motiv) but failed and backed away.
Lovecraft, an American (don't let his spelling of color fake you out) said that the source of horror in the modern age (he began writing at the start of the 20th Century) must be science, not old myths of vampires and shape shifters. And then he created a new, non scientific set of myths about old gods (beings from another dimension). Go figure. Still, his invention of the Necronomicon, the book which can call back the old ones, seems to have had a lasting influence. Sam Raimi certainly thanks him. The quintessential fear we have of science, at least ever since Mary Shelley wrote her famous book, is that we will open a gateway to a new, worse world, that we, like Wilbur Whateley, can take knowledge from a book and, merely by repeating it, we can create horrible things.
There's even another ancient dichotomy explored by DH. The forces of good, God in particular, wants us to be part of Him consciously, but through love and a willingness. The forces of evil, all the demons in particular, want us to be part of them but they will take us by force, by possession, but entering us and taking us over or through the more common, human means of rape and ingestion. The other worldly brother clearly used the latter methods, but did the Dean Stockwell character actually woo Sandra Dee to him? What's with the crystals in her tea? Indeed, for Lovecraft, the doorway to another world was clearly through a never used vagina. The educated men, the doctors of medicine and philosophy, stopped it with just a few words.
The ending was a little bit abrupt and a letdown, but where was it to go if not interrupted and then a serious flaming failure? Were the hippie types in Ms. Dee's dream the old ones or something else? Would her baby succeed where all the Whateleys had failed, when the "shalls" in the Necronomicon came to pass?
See, not that bad a movie at all.