22
Oct
14

The Dunwich Horror (1970)

For Day 18 of 31 Days of Horror, I finally broke the seal on The Dunwich Horror. Roger Corman, Dean Stockwell, Sandra Dee, Ed Begley, the Necronomicon, psychedelic nightmares, satanic impregnation and bulging eyes aplenty, this movie is pretty damn amazing. Again I have to wonder: what took me so long? Fans of Lovecraft will be disappointed with this loose interpretation of one of his stories, which I suspect is why so many people seem to hate this movie. Having never read a lick of Lovecraft myself, I am more than content with the psychedelic smear Corman brings to the screen in this film.

Dean Stockwell wants you to watch The Dunwich Horror. Don't you?

Dean Stockwell wants you to watch The Dunwich Horror. Don’t you?

It’s just another normal day at Miskatonic University; local coeds Nancy Wagner (Sandra Dee) and Elizabeth Hamilton are finishing up at the library, casually putting the Necronomicon back in its glass case. Out of nowhere, a handsome man with compelling eyes, curly hair and what must be a fake mustache (right?) walks up to them requesting to see the book… just for a few minutes, he promises. Elizabeth outright refuses, but there’s something about this man’s eyes Nancy can’t resist, and she allows him to take the book. When their professor, Dr. Henry Armitage (Ed Begley) discovers the book is not where it should be, he is rightly concerned and promptly goes over to the young man, demanding he return it. But his anger turns into joy when he discovers the young man interested in one of the world’s most powerful books is none other than Wilbur Whateley, the youngest in a family known for their connection to the book, among other things…

Nancy's psychedelic dream bed. Do they sell those at Ikea?

Nancy’s psychedelic dream bed. Do they sell those at Ikea?

It seems as though Nancy has no control over herself when she is with Wilbur, so when he misses the last bus back home, she insists on giving him a ride. Though Nancy intends to return home after dropping Wilbur off, it seems he has other plans, and he convinces her to stay for tea and take a rest before getting back on the road. Of course, Wilbur has more than just tea in mind; after drugging her and ripping vital parts of her engine out of her car, he can now be sure that she will stay the night, if not forever… mwahahahaha!

More psychedelic nightmares... nothing scarier than primal, painted humans, right?

More psychedelic nightmares… nothing scarier than primal, painted humans, right?

Though there are a host of very strange things going on (Wilbur’s grandfather, a crazed old man always spouting nonsense; the locked door upstairs Nancy is forbidden to explore; the hallucinations; the hatred the locals have for the entire Whateley family), Nancy is too drugged-up and entranced to give any of them a second thought. Elizabeth and Dr. Armitage come looking for her, but she sends them away saying she is staying the weekend with Wilbur. Everything is going as Wilbur had planned, now if he can just get his hands on that Necronomicon, his plans for the return of the “Old Ones” will finally come to fruition.

Nancy at the altar of the Old Ones.

Nancy at the altar of the Old Ones.

Don’t go into The Dunwich Horror expecting a faithful Lovecraftian horror adaptation. This is Roger Corman we’re talking about; this is all psychedelic hallucination and exploitation, and it is god damn glorious, people. I am pretty certain there are no legitimate scares in this film, and there are plot-holes-aplenty, but that’s part of what makes this such a joy to watch. Everyone hams it up here, but Dean Stockwell is just the best! There is no subtlety to his grand gestures and bulging eyes, but with a mustache like that, who would have expected subtlety? When he’s calling the Old Ones to Earth, he holds his hands up to his cheeks exposing his wonderful pinky rings for the whole world to see. It is just fantastic.

Dean Stockwell will be upset if you don't watch The Dunwich Horror!

Dean Stockwell will be upset if you don’t watch The Dunwich Horror!

But maybe even better than Stockwell’s performance are the psychedelic scenes, where we get a vague sense of monstrous beings and writhing primitive human bodies, but never a full picture of what this “horror” actually is. It is unfortunately difficult to capture this in a still; it works best in motion. These scenes definitely make the movie unique and are the most fun to watch: flashes of light interspersed with action seemingly from another dimension; hell yes! What better way to make up for a low budget than just confusing the hell out of your audience with shit like this? I love it.

I don't even know. I don't even care. Is that Zardoz?

I don’t even know. I don’t even care. Is that Zardoz?

The bottom line is, if you are the type of person who prefers a coherent plot and legitimate scares in your horror movies, you aren’t going to like The Dunwich Horror. Instead, what Dunwich offers is ham, style and psychedelia, which I will take over substance any day of the week. If you go in knowing what to expect, this movie will offer you the perfect thrill a horror flick should.

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