Friday, November 15, 2013

The Dunwich Horror (1970)



If you have a hard time envisioning a supernatural-horror flick starring Sandra Dee, you’re not alone. After all, the pint-sized cutie is so synonymous with wholesome Americana that her image was invoked by “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee,” a tune from the stage musical (and later film) Grease. Nonetheless, Dee is indeed the top-billed star in this sexually charged phatasmagoria based on a short story by H.P. Lovecraft, the godhead of 20th-century occult fiction. Dee plays Nancy, an assistant to college professor Dr. Armitage (Ed Begley). The doctor’s prized scholarly possession is a copy of the infamous “occult Bible,” The Necronomicon. One day, a strange young man named Wilbur (Dean Stockwell) shows up at the college and hypnotizes Nancy into letting him handle the book. This upsets Dr. Armitage until Wilbur reveals he’s a member of the Whately family, which has historical associations with black magic. Eventually, Wilbur woos Nancy into returning with him to the (fictional) Massachusetts town of Dunwich, the Whately family’s ancestral home. Psychosexual intrigue laced with Satan worship ensues—can Dr. Amitage save poor Nancy from Wilbur’s clutches? By five minutes into this silly movie, it’s so obvious that Wilbur has nefarious designs on Nancy that her inability to sense danger becomes annoying. Compounding this problem is a confusing storyline that toggles haphazardly between locations—and, for that matter, planes of reality. Especially when the movie starts employing gonzo visual flourishes (flash cuts, solarized images, and such) to simulate a demon’s point of view, The Dunwich Horror drifts into incoherence. At its most laughable, the picture features a Rosemary’s Baby-style rape hallucination featuring body-painted hippie types clawing at and/or licking the camera lens. Predictably, the flick concludes with a ritual rape/sacrifice/whatever that takes place on an outdoors altar during a lightning storm. Begley and Dee both sleepwalk through The Dunwich Horror, and on some level it might have been preferable for Stockwell to do the same, since his over-the-top performance is unintentionally comical from start to finish.

The Dunwich Horror: LAME

2 comments:

Will Errickson said...

Aw, no love for the Lex Baxter score or the animated opening credits?!

Bruno Mac said...


The original Wicker Man evokes Lovecraft more than any film based on his works ever did. Lovecraft "heroes" are nebbish bookworms or clueless schleps against a backdrop of everybody else knowing what's really going on.

I'm fairly sure, as a long time Lovecraft fan, that his works can't really be faithfully translated to movies. The main characters tend to be so frail as to faint dead away at the smell of a fart. They might do better as a TV anthology series or something, or maybe extrapolated for original characters in the way True Detective Season 1 did (it's "Yellow King" has Lovecraft Mythos ties).