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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Dunwich Horror (1970)


My Lovecraft marathon continues with this early ‘70s entry from American International Pictures. Considering how many of their Edgar Allen Poe movies weren’t really adaptations of his work I have concerns about how true to the material that this one will be. But hey Dean Stockwell is in it so that could be cool.

The aforementioned Stockwell plays Wilbur Whateley, a young man who is the latest in a line of strange members of the Whateley family. He appears on the campus of a local university where Dr. Armitage is lecturing about his research of the Necronomicon. Wilbur manipulates his way into seeing the book and even speaks with Armitage. But the good doctor refuses to allow Wilbur to study the book. While stymied in that he does manage to catch the attention of a young woman named Nancy. She becomes part of his evil plan to open the gateway to the other side and return the Elder Gods to our reality. It is up to Armitage and any allies he can assemble to stop this ceremony and save Nancy.

Sadly, I’ve made the story sound a lot more exciting than it really is. While there are things that I appreciated about the movie the pacing is deadly. To say this movie is slow would be an understatement. Most of the runtime is spent with Wilbur talking to and manipulating Nancy into following his plan. He either has her hypnotized or is using some supernatural ability to force her into doing his bidding. Despite being in complete control he still takes her for walks and shows her the sights. Why? I mean other than to pad the movie out to its ninety-minute duration. For extended periods of time nothing happens other than people strolling around.

The movie has two things going for it. First up is the performance of Dean Stockwell. He is onscreen most of the movie and delivers his lines in an almost monotone and rhythmic fashion. That initially seems odd but grew on me. It felt like his character was trying to almost hypnotize the audience along with Nancy. This adds an additional layer of creepy to the character that Stockwell is creating. While the movie isn’t likely to stick with me for long after watching it his performance will.

The other thing that I appreciated about the movie is the actual inclusion of the Cthulhu mythos. Unlike say a Cthulhu Mansion which used the name and nothing else, this movie is steeped in the writings of H.P. Lovecraft. It does a decent job of keeping in the spirit of the story it was based on, uses some familiar names of the Elder Gods, and actually has the Necronomicon in it! When I see on a DVD case that a movie is inspired by the works of Lovecraft this is what I want to see on the screen.

In the end, I’m not sure I can recommend The Dunwich Horror. It is a flawed movie that doesn’t give the audience much to chew on and what is there is lost in the terrible pacing. This feels like a movie that could have benefitted from a bit more work on the script and an editor that would have snipped fifteen minutes off the runtime. Unless you want to check out Dean Stockwell’s performance I’d pass on this one.


© Copyright 2017 John Shatzer

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