‘The Dunwich Horror’
Tom Doty Times Columnist
An evil book is all that a twisted academic needs to kick start the end of the world in this goofy adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s classic story.
First off, it helps to have a working knowledge of Lovecraft to appreciate this effort. He was a contemporary of Edgar Allen Poe’s who enjoyed writing tales of terror. His style comes off as stilted today (come to think of it, he was pretty stiff for his period as well) but brave readers are urged to give him a chance.
Lovecraft created a whole mythology that theorized Earth had almost been destroyed by ancient beasts (from outer space) . These monsters (the unnamed ones) are trapped in another dimension now but are always seeking to break back into our realm and unleash their savage fury on every one of us. Their secrets are all spelled out in an ancient book called ‘The Necrinomicon.” That same tome features heavily in this picture.
The film centers on Wilbur Wheatley. He is one weird mama-jama. He’s the kid that got Jello poured down the back of his pants at recess and he is about to make everyone pay. Turns out, Wilbur has a plan to steal “Necrinomicon” and use it to bring back the Cthulu gods who almost destroyed earth over a million years ago. Whoever Jelloed this guy has a lot to answer for, folks.
For his scheme to succeed, he intends to sacrifice a beautiful young lady to these Ancient Ones. Unfortunately, a childhood of getting dunked in the water fountain has not left him with the social skills to snare a beauty like Nancy Wagner (as played by Sandra Dee). Luckily, his skill at hypnotism make Nancy putty in his twisted hands.
Plot-wise, there isn’t much else going on here, but this one is all about creating a creepy atmosphere and that mission is accomplished. Luckily, the filmmakers read some Lovecraft and they manage to include a few touches he would have approved of that up the weird factor. My favorite is having Wilbur be the product of a tryst between a human woman and a Cthulu creature. The scene where you glimpse his half-human brother hints at how awesome this film could have been by having bro be an amorphous blob of eyes and tentacles.
The film is all just a set up for the final scene, wherein Wilbur tries to complete his ceremony while villagers storm the hillside with torches and shotguns. Suffice to say, the ceremony doesn’t go off as planned and we are all safe — for now.
This film gets the spirit of Lovecraft right, even though they fumble most of the material. The cold New England setting is perfect and Dean Stockwell makes for the eeriest” uber-nerd” in movie history as Wilbur. You know that bringing on Armageddon is going to be tough when the main villain can’t even overpower a museum security guard.
There is also a nice turn by Sam (“Gunga Din”) Jaffe as Wilbur’s sorcerer Dad, and look for Talia Shire in an early role as a nurse. Here is hoping a studio puts up the money to let Guillermo Del Toro (“Hellboy”) make his Lovecraft film, “At the Mountains of Madness.”
Best line: “A strange chant echoed through the night — Yog Sothoth, Yog Sothoth.”
1970, rated R.
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