The Dunwich Horror (1970)
Director: Daniel Haller
Writers: Curtis Hanson, Henry Rosenbaum, and Ronald Silkosky
Starring: Dean Stockwell, Ed Begley, Sandra Dee, and Talia Shire

The Plot: Our film begins at the prestigious Miskatonic University, where Dr. Henry Armitage (Ed Begley) resides as an expert on folklore and history. Within the school library, there lies a book with many ancient secrets. It is the Necronomicon. After Dr. Armitage speaks about this book, he has one of his best students, Nancy Wagner (Sandra Dee), return it to the library for safekeeping. However, she encounters a strange man named Wilbur Whateley (Dean Stockwell). Whately, using some form of hypnotic stare, convinces Nancy to allow him to see the Necronomicon despite it being against policy. Dr. Armitage breaks up Whateley’s cram-session with the necronomicon, returning it to its proper display within the library. Dr. Armitage tries to warn Nancy about Whateley, but it falls on deaf ears. Nancy instead decides to give Whateley a ride back to Dunwich after he misses his bus. Unknown to Nancy, however, is that this is all part of Whateley’s goal. He realizes there is something special about the girl, and he plans to use her in order to unleash an evil entity upon our planet.

The Review
I must confess, I am among the least most knowledgeable people out there when it comes to H.P. Lovecraft’s work. While I have some vague knowledge of his mythos, the few times that I have tried to read his work, I completely tuned out. Yet, I must confess, when I read the CliffsNotes versions of his books, and the ideas that are spread throughout his work, I find myself very intrigued. The outer gods and his old ones make for such remarkable reading because Lovecraft went into such great detail about the world that his characters inhabited. He was in depth that many have devoted their lives to continuing this literary world and helping to flesh out his stories. There are diagrams compiled by fans that point out the exact lineage of the old ones, taken from Lovecraft’s massive library of work, as well as numerous stories by published authors that basically amount to glorified fan fiction. Because of all this, it is rather surprising that his work hasn’t been further explored in the realm of cinema. Although his work is continually referenced throughout horror film history, there are few films that share the same name as his books or try to follow the plots found in his books. Unfortunately, The Dunwich Horror is not a great example of seeing his work come to life on the big screen, as this movie basically nixes most of the plot for the original Dunwich Horror, but it is one of the few films featuring a credit for Lovecraft that manages to have spoken lines of dialogue featuring words like Yog-sothoth, Miskatonic University, and Arkham. For that, it surely becomes a must-watch for Lovecraft fans. I’m sure that many fans of the book will likely hate the movie, but for someone who isn’t a huge mark for Lovecraft’s work, this actually isn’t that bad of a movie. Even if it completely butchers Lovecraft’s original work, there are a few interesting elements at play making this a thoroughly entertaining watch.

While I won’t go so far as to say that the movie is ridiculously stylish, it is quite a spectacle. Making good use of quick consecutive edits, the movie actually keeps true to an idea that Lovecraft is famous for: tell the reader/viewer a lot, but always keep the monster well hidden. Although Dunwich Horror is unable to hide its monster via flowery words, it often hides the more psychotic elements of the film with rapid-fire editing and very strange content that can’t easily be determined when things are sped through so hastily. Many of the dream sequences within the film are covered by textures that are placed over the film, or are done in a very abstract manner. In one of the most chaotic and nightmarish of scenes in the film, where one of Lovecraft’s monsters is finally revealed on the screen, we actually see almost nothing. In the scene, we see a young girl walk up the stairway at the Whately home, then when she reaches a room where she believe her friend might be staying, we get a small glimpse of the monster behind the door as she opens it. The scene becomes a jumping collage of colors with the only discernible elements being the tentacles of the creature who is attacking the girl, and the girl herself. While the technicolor lighting immediately dates the movie, it is also rather stylish and is enjoyable for its insanity and nostalgia.

If there is any standout element within The Dunwich Horror, it has to be the performance put in by Dean Stockwell. Perhaps creepier than his character in Blue Velvet, Dean Stockwell is very sedated throughout much of the movie, and he using his eyes he manages to show the psychosis hiding behind his placid demeanor. His blank stare and creepy demeanor sets the tone for the film, and he shows the same sort of melodic and atmospheric take on the horror genre that this movie hopes to showcase. To give you a better idea, this is the sort of horror film that firmly believes in the use of a solid smoke machine. Within nearly every creepy scene in the movie, smoke fills all of the surroundings, and it becomes relatively easy to get absorbed into this world of black magic. While I do think that the synopsis for Lovecraft’s original story sounds like it would have been a far more interesting piece of work, the atmosphere and morbid theatrics at work within The Dunwich Horror isn’t something to be looked down upon.

Many of the key elements from the book are certainly to be found in this story. All of the references are made, but some of the stranger aspects of Whately’s life seem to have been replaced. Certainly, they’ve made him a more human character, but they have also made him into the movie’s main protagonist. He ultimately is the horror of Dunwich, as he is the one who brings upon a reckoning of destruction into this town, but in the book it seems that a trans-dimensional being was the one who defined the “horror” of the book’s title. So, while the two works are completely different, both have interesting ideas about how to bring about doom on the poor town of Dunwich via a raging outer God by the name of Yog-Sothoth.

The Conclusion
Atmospheric, creepy, and darkly entertaining, The Dunwich Horror has a lot to like about it. it is a movie that seems like it was guaranteed to polarize audiences, but there is some decent craftsmanship behind the camera on this one. It gets a four out of five. This is perhaps a little high for this one, but just know that it is somewhere between the 3-4 range.

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