The Dunwich Horror
I like my Dunwich with the crusts cut off
Why? Why is it so hard for Hollywood to make a good H.P. Lovecraft movie? The stories are there. The built-in audience is there. The merchandise is there. Just get a competent director and actors who can talk without accidentally swallowing your tongue and you're halfway there. Hollywood managed to crank out plenty of Harry Potter and Twilight movies, but we can't get a good “Beyond The Wall Of Sleep” “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” or “Cool Air”? We're getting a freaking 50 Shades Of Grey movie faster than At The Mountains Of Madness. I've reviewed a few Lovecraft-based movies and for the most part, they've been terrible. Like riding a bicycle, sometimes you just have to keep trying with horror, so I might as well try with The Dunwich Horror.
The Dunwich Horror is a 1970 horror movie starring Dean Stockwell (Air Force One, The Langoliers) as Wilbur Whateley and Sandra Dee (Come September, Rose!) as Nancy Wagner. At Miskatonic University in Arkham, Massachussetts, Dr. Armitage (Ed Begley, Sweet Bird Of Youth, 12 Angry Men) is giving a lecture on local history and the very rare book The Necronomicon. He gives the priceless book to his student Nancy Wagner who is to lock it up in the school library. There she meets Wilbur Whateley who asks to see it before she puts it away. His hypnotic gaze overcomes Nancy allowing him to look through the book and discover a certain passage. Dr. Armitage catches him, but Wilbur's gaze also overtakes the doctor and all three end up having dinner together. Nancy, still under Wilbur's power, agrees to drive him to his home in Dunwich where he disables her car, forcing her to stay overnight. At the house, Nancy encounters the strange Old Whateley, Wilbur's grandfather, who warns her that she should not be in the house. When Nancy is not found the next day, Armitage and her friend Elizabeth find her at the Whateley home. Nancy refuses to leave, saying she wants to stay with Wilbur for the weekend. Armitage begins to investigate Wilbur and discovers that his mother Lavinia is still alive and currently living in an asylum. She actually had twins, but apparently one was stillborn. The father was unknown and the birth was so painful and traumatic that Lavinia lost her mind. It is revealed that Wilbur plans to use Nancy in a cult ceremony that would bring the Old Gods back to our dimension. Will Dr. Armitage be able to stop him and what exactly lives in the locked room of the Whateley house?
"Soon, Justin Bieber....very soon!"
Holy crap on crust was this bad. My love of Lovecraft's work is no secret. I even visited his grave at the fantastic Swan Point Cemetary in Providence, Rhode Island. I really enjoy his short story “The Dunwich Horror” and was hoping that the movie would be able to do it justice. While the movie does retain some of the names and some plot details, there's very little connecting it to the story. Instead of mystery, intrigue, and a dark, creeping atmosphere, we get a B-movie with bad acting, goofy special effects, and extended sexuality. It all makes sense when you see that one of the producers was Roger Corman, the king of schlock. I understand that stories need to be tweaked and adjusted for the big screen, but The Dunwich Horror creates the Nancy character and goes off in a completely different direction. Gone are the Lovecraftian touches of horror, replaced with a story that doesn't really go anywhere and super-cheap special effects. We get a multi-colored strobe effect that washes over entire scenes. The first few times it was kind of neat, but then it kept happening. And happening. And happening. It was harsh on the eyes and just plain annoying. When we finally see what is in the locked room it looks like it fell off the set of H.R. Puffinstuff.
It doesn't help the movie that the acting is especially bad. Dean Stockwell gives an awkward, sweaty performance that makes me want to register him as a sex offender. He gives creepier stares than that guy in his 40's going to high school basketball games by himself. Sandra Dee isn't given much to work with as she's essentially hypnotized for most of the film. This was Ed Begley's last film which is a shame. He does his best, but it's just not enough. The direction is shoddy at times and the camerawork could have been better. There is a fight scene in the library that had to have been done in one take it's so bad. Combine the bad fighting with absolutely no music and it's just a trainwreck of epic proportions. Nothing in the movie is scary (well beyond Dena Stockwell's molester stare) which is too bad because Lovecraft can be quite terrifying.
"So...my cult or yours?"
Lovecraft fans will be disappointed with The Dunwich Horror. Hell, horror fans will be disappointed with with The Dunwich Horror. The story only retains a few details from the original story and some basic plot points. The acting is not good and makes the bad story even worse. There is a serious lack of atmosphere or any real horror, replaced by 1960's sex and psychedelia. It also doesn't help that the movie is supposed to take place in Massachusetts, but it's clearly shot in California. It's unintentionally funny and certainly different from a typical movie at the time. If you're morbidly curious, check it out, but if you're looking for a good movie, stay far away.