The Dunwich Horror


Year 1969

Sandra Dee as Nancy Wagner  
Dean Stockwell as   Wilbur Whateley
Ed Begley as Dr. Henry Armitage
Lloyd Bochner   as   Dr. Cory
Sam Jaffe   as   Grandfather Whateley  
Talia Coppola   as   Nurse Cora
 
Director - Daniel Haller  
Screenwriters - Curtis Hanson
  - Henry Rosenbaum
  - Ronald Silkosky
Short Story Author   - H.P. Lovecraft

The Dunwich Horror could be a candidate for ridicule, except for a few things. The acting is way above average, the outlandish plot holds together, the mood of gothic horror is maintained throughout the movie. This isn't a great movie and it isn't a perfect movie. But it is a movie dripping with an atmosphere of the surreal which is what you want from a movie based upon something written by H.P. Lovecraft. The movie goes so far as to flirt with greatness for the first eighty of the eighty-eight minutes of running time.

But those last eight minutes? They're hit an miss with a revelation that really isn't and a bit of a too neat wrap up.

In Dunwich, there's a shunned family by the name of Whately. In the short story of the same name, there's the normal Whately who nevertheless makes people uneasy. Then there's the house where he lives that is always having additions made to it. There's an awful lot of food being consumed, too. What's going on at the Whately Place, anyway?

In the movie, the house is still important but the resizing isn't mentioned. There's also sort of love interest in the movie but it's more of a Hellraiser love interest than a Love Story kind of attraction.

The movie has some nice camera effects based upon point of view. Want to see life from a crazy person's eyes? Stick around. How about using the vision of the horror? The director takes a shot at that, too. (Get it? Director? Takes a shot? Nevermind.)

In detail, Wilbur Whateley (Stockwell) visits Arkham University to borrow the dread book The Necronomicon from Dr. Henry Armitage (Begley). Dr. Armitage says no, but that doesn't stop Whately from drugging Nancy Wagner (Dee) and using her as the way to return the Old Ones to this dimension. He also steals the book to help him with the ritual.

Along the way we meet Grandfather Whateley (Jaffe) who flubbed his chance to perform the ritual, Elizabeth Hamilton (Donna Baccala) who is unlikable and you root for the horror when her number's up, and even Nurse Cora who is played by Talia Coppola. She later became Talia Shire and ADRIAN! in Rocky.

When I first saw this movie I was smitten with the acting. Even now, although the pace is slow, the acting is top notch. Dean Stockwell is burned into my brain, not as Admiral Al Calavicci from "Quantum Leap" or even Ben (a.k.a. Suave) from Blue Velvet, as Wilbur Whateley.

There's a scene that I just caught during this viewing that elevated my opinion of the writing for this movie. In one scene, Dr. Armitage is researching the Whateley's and finds a book where Wilbur Whately's birth is recorded. Even though they start reading the book in a room that's well lit, Dr. Armitage says, "Let's take this out in the light." The implication is that things related to the Whatelys are things done in darkness. Lines like this are what I meant when I wrote flirting with greatness.

Do you like eyebrows? This movie's got 'em. Stockwell, Begley, and Jaffe look like they had a contest to see who could grow the bushiest, wildest eyebrows. Jaffe even cheated in one scene with some glue on fly-catchers, but Begley won the contest by more just a hair. Stockwell won for Best Sideburns and Jaffe took Best Beard honors. Stockwell lost for Coolest Mustachea even though he had no competition. (Hair one either side of the philtrum (the dent above the lips) is considered one mustache. If you grow hair on both sides of the dent, then you have two mustaches. Which is what some people, mostly men, grow.)

Sandra Dee took the award for Killer Thighs. The DVD claims that there's a Sandra Dee nude scene. There's not. There are some Sandra Dee slinky outfit scenes, but no nudity...at least from her. And none of the nudity is erotic. The brief shots of female anatomy are more of a pagan or animal representation than anything resembling lust, which fits the movie.

The photography is convincing. The special effects aren't too bad. I especially liked the way the movie was true to the book when The Dunwich Horror was loosed. In both, the monster is invisible. This may or may not be evident if you're watching the movie for the first time, so let me tell you - The Dunwich Horror is invisible.

There're some intriguing visual interpretations that, if not fresh and new, are at least interesting.

I'd mentioned that the last few minutes are kind of a fast forward wrap up. The fate of The Dunwich Horror is never confirmed. How Dr. Armitage manages to stop Wilbur Whately is a little incredible. That Dr. Armitage and Dr. Cory get to Whately well ahead of the angry mob is a bit too convenient. And the truth about Wilbur's brother is provided as a quip. It should have been a revelation if the previous scenes hadn't already given the "twist" away.

No profanity but there's some blasphemy and brief (as in less than a second brief) shots of breasts that not arousing. There's a lot of sexual innuendo and some groping going on, though. It's a good take on a Lovecraft story but the chick flick potential is real low.


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