The Dunwich Horror (1970)
In Dunwich Massachusetts, Wilbur Whateley begins to carry out his nefarious plan to bring back the "Old Ones" and destroy the human race.
Spoiler Level: Mild
Based on the 1929 H.P. Lovecraft horror novella of the same name, the 1970s The Dunwich Horror was the first movie to attempt to adapt the tale into a film. Staring Dean Stockwell, Sandra Dee and Ed Begley, the film modernizes and changes a few aspects of the story but keeps with the major plot points and general feel from the source material.
While lecturing at Miskatonic University in Arkham (never actually called this in the film, but referred to as Arkham College), Doctor Armitage (Ed Begley) and his student Nancy Wagner (Sandra Dee) encounter Wilbur Whateley (Dean Stockwell) who would like to borrow the only known copy of The Necronomicon, a book believed to hold the secret to opening a dimensional doorway and allowing the “Old Ones” to return to Earth thus destroying mankind. Armitage rejects Wilbur’s request and the dejected Wilbur, having missed his bus, returns to Dunwich with Nancy who was kind enough to offer him a ride. Once they arrive at the Whateley estate, Nancy is drugged and hypnotized into remaining in Dunwich. For what nefarious reasons is Wilbur keeping her? Can Dr. Armitage save Nancy and the whole of humanity? You will have to watch to find out.
It is often considered that this adaptation is the closest and most successful translation of the source material. Film Scholar, Alain Silver believes The Dunwich Horror to be “the first geographical and architecturally apt transliteration of Lovecraft.” Although there are some major changes. Dean Stockwell plays the character of Wilbur as both seductive and mysterious, with charmingly good looks, who is easily able to woo Nancy. But in the Novella the character is described as “goatish” and uncharismatic with a foul smell. Nancy was added to the movie to insert sexuality and romance but does not appear as a main character in the source material. The film does hit many of the major plot points, but not always with the same results as the original. The stealing of the Necronomicon, for example, has a much larger implication in the novella then it does in the movie. Overall, though, it is believed to be a very successful adaptation of Lovecraft’s story.
For the 1970s, the production value is actually pretty good for what would be considered a low budget movie particularly praised for its use of Psychedelic posterized imagery to convey and depict the disembodied creature that attacks the characters and town within the film. The direction is good with some great visuals and camera shots. The music is well composed by Les Baxter, but the same melody is overused within the film and becomes monotonous. In a similar vein, Dean Stockwell’s performance feels flat at times, possibly trying to be too creepy or mysterious, leaving his performance unemotional at times and Sandra Dee felt a bit ineffectual. The pacing of the movie was good for me, but it hails from the 1970s when movie pacing was a bit slower, and I am not sure how today’s audience would feel. Overall, I really enjoyed seeing this film for the first time (not sure how I have never seen it before now).
Several other adaptations have been attempted with a SyFy channel film in 2009 being the most notable. Also starring Dean Stockwell, but this time as Doctor Armitage. There is rumored to be a new version in the works by director Richard Stanley and possibly Alec Baldwin as Armitage, but no word on its status, if or when we might see it.
If you enjoy 1970s horror films, this is a good watch, with some well known actors and some clever visual effects.
The Dunwich Horror (1970): Yog-Sothoth, Yog-Sothoth!
- Writing - 8/108/10
- Storyline - 8/108/10
- Acting - 7/107/10
- Music - 8/108/10
- Production - 8/108/10
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