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THE DUNWICH HORROR

A dumber-than-average H.P. Lovecraft adaptation from 1970, courtesy of the ever-exploiting American International Pictures, who naturally attempted to juice up Lovecraft’s writing with late sixties psychadelia and gratuitous sex appeal.  The results are every bit as nonsensical as you might imagine, although those with a yearning to see the infamously virginal sixties starlet Sandra Dee tied to a sacrificial altar (and wearing an extremely skimpy outfit) will not be disappointed! 

The Package 
     “The Dunwich Horror”, originally published in WEIRD TALES magazine, represents prime H.P. Lovecraft, shot through with otherworldly ambiguity and a sense of cosmic fear, not to mention one of Lovecraft’s patented “It’s-so-horrible-I-can’t-describe-it” descriptions (from the text: “The thing itself, however, crowded out all other images at the time.  It would be trite and not wholly inaccurate to say that no human pen could describe it…”).  It’s the tale of a strange young man looking to loose the “Old Ones” upon our world via the fabled tome Necronomicon.  The story is part of the “Cthulhu Mythos” cycle, which remains Lovecraft’s most famous creation.
     Such things clearly didn’t matter to James H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff, the heads of American International Pictures, or their then-protégée Roger Corman, who executive produced THE DUNWICH HORROR.  Somehow it took three credited screenwriters to come up with the paltry script (including a young Curtis Hanson, who’d go on make L.A. CONFIDENTIAL and 8 MILE), which introduces a sexual angle that would doubtless have enraged the famously puritanical Lovecraft, not to mention several cost cutting measures that detract immeasurably from the scope of the piece (the monstrosity of the title that in the story lived in a barn and devoured cattle was reduced to what looks like a man-sized octopus) and quite a few blatant lifts from the decidedly unLovecraftian--though extremely profitable--ROSEMARY’S BABY.  Being the unrepentant sleazemeisters they were, AIP’s proprietors would never let things like fidelity or coherence stop them from exploiting a previous success! 

The Story 
     Wilbur Whateley is a mysterious young man who, in the manner of his shadowy ancestors, spends his days pursuing dark secrets through black magic.  As the film opens he’s prowling a library in search of the fabled Necronomicon, a.k.a. “The Book of the Dead,” a fabulously rare volume that is kept under lock and key.  Wilbur manages to convince Nancy, a naïve young college student working in the library, to let him peruse the book.  That same day Wilbur makes the acquaintance of Dr. Armitage, who also knows something about the black arts described in the pages of the Necronomicon.
     Nancy unwisely allows Wilbur to take her back to the opulent seaside mansion where he lives, and, even more unwisely, enters into a relationship with this weirdo, who, it turns out, is looking for a sacrificial victim to commune with the “Old Ones” he plans to call back to reclaim their dominion over the Earth.  First, however, he releases his mutant twin brother from a hideaway in the mansion, who embarks on a rampage of wholesale destruction.  Armitage luckily gets wise to Wilbur’s dastardly machinations and sicks the cops on him; they manage to catch Wilbur just as he’s about to off Nancy at his sacrificial altar atop a high cliff, and send him sailing over the edge onto the rocks below.  However, they don’t count on the fact that Nancy may be pregnant with Wilbur’s baby… 

The Direction 
     The helming by Daniel Haller (who previously directed another Lovecraft adaptation, 1965’s DIE MONSTER DIE, which was even worse than this one) has little to distinguish it outside some unusually fluid camerawork (in keeping with executive producer Roger Corman’s oft-repeated mantra to always keep the camera moving) and ridiculous psychedelic interludes that were obligatory in low budget fare of the time.  These include a number of “trippy” dream sequences and infrared POV shots of Wilbur’s monstrous sibling--the filmmakers evidently lacked the funds to actually show the creature rampaging through the countryside. 
     Acting wise Sandra Dee makes little impression outside her almost-nude scenes (which apparently required the use of two soundstages, one for the scenes in question and the other for miscellaneous cast and crew members), but Dean Stockwell, in the lead role, deserves credit for managing to keep a straight face throughout--something I’ll confess I had trouble doing! 


Vital Statistics 

THE DUNWICH HORROR
American International Pictures 

Director: Daniel Haller
Producers: James H. Nicholson, Samuel Z. Arkoff
Screenplay: Curtis Lee Hanson, Henry Rosenbaum, Ronald Silkosk
(Based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft)
Cinematography: Richard C. Glouner
Editing: Christopher Holmes
Cast: Sandra Dee, Dean Stockwell, Ed Begley, Lloyd Bochner, Donna Baccula, Joanne Moore Jordan, Sam Jaffe, Talia Coppola, Michael Fox, Jason Wingreen, Barboura Morris, Beach Dickerson, Michael Haynes, Toby Russ, Jack Pierce
 


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