Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Dunwich Horror (1970)

Samuel Z. Arkoff was a man who produced many a genre picture. His credits are numerous (141 production credits according to IMDB) and the films he produced are sometimes notable-he introduced the world to Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon fer Christsakes! He also worked with the one and only Roger Corman, producing several of the directors Poe adaptations, and sharing a producers credit with Corman as well. One of those films is Daniel Haller's 1970 adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's "The Dunwich Horror."

Meet Wilbur Whateley (Dean Stockwell.) He's an attractive fellow who has an interest in Nancy Wagner (Sandra Dee-yes, from the "Gidget" movies, and whose character was never in the original story) and a book called The Necronomicon. Oh, and he wants to use said book to help the Old Ones break free. Can Dr. Henry Armitage (Ed Begley) stop him?

Though one of my favorite Lovecraft stories, Haller's take on the tale doesn't really work all that well. For one thing, it's biggest flaw is that it fails to capture the cosmic horrors of the authors work, instead opting for a psychedelic and dated visual approach the more resembles an acid head's nightmare than something evil. It's also to be frank, rather dull, with lots of talk taking over what should be atmosphere and dread. Then there's Dee and Stockwell. Sandy was obviously trying to break out with this role, but her performance is a bit wooden, while Stockwell just overacts as Whateley, coming off as goofy instead of frightening or imposing.

The movie does have it's charms though. Beagley does a fine job in his role, while Sam Jaffe does a very good job as Old Whateley, who manages to capture the feeling of the story better than Stockwell does. There is also one scene (involving something nasty in the house) that's the one moment that does manage to attain the level of cosmic horror in the story. The highlight though, is the awesome score by Les Baxter, which is at turns surreal and catchy as hell, especially the main theme (oh, and the title credits are awesome.)

As a whole, "The Dunwich Horror" is a missed opportunity, and one of the weaker Arkoff/Corman collaborations. I've seen worse (and I do mean worse) Lovecraft adaptations, but this sure as hell doesn't stand out as one of the best.

Rating: 5/10

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