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The Dunwich Horror

'The Dunwich Horror', directed by Daniel Haller is a fun bit of 70's psychadelic horror. Like the Lovecraft story of the same name, we begin in Miskatonic University in Arkham, Massachussetts. A warlock named Wilbur Whately is visiting the library hoping to borrow the Necronomicon, an ancient tome that supposedly contains instructions on how to 'bring over' the 'Old Ones' -- a race of supernatural beings that once ruled the Earth.

Wilbur (Dean Stockwell) is from Dunwich, a remote town located deep in the countryside. His great grandfather was also a warlock, and was hanged by the locals for trying to sacrifice a young girl on a satanic altar. His family worships the 'Old Ones' (a race of evil, extra-dimensional deities that feature prominently in H.P. Lovecraft's stories) and Wilbur lives in a creepy old house with a doddering grandfather, and something locked in a room, trying to work the doorknob...

Sandra Dee is Nancy, who works at the library and against the wishes of her more sensible female co-worker allows Wilbur to read the evil book. Wilbur is upset, naturally, when Professor Armitage (Ed Begley) demands he give him back the book. Despite knowing Wilbur's family background, Armitage is delighted to meet a Whately and the four go to a cafe together.

Right from the start we see that Nancy is smitten with the very weird Wilbur, who comes across as very cynical, pompous and aloof - exactly what most women want in a man, right? This is the 70's, so maybe it makes some sort of sense. Just toss around the word 'bourgeoisie' a few times and you could score back then.

At one point he says something along the lines that all humanity is pathetic and fearful, while sharing drinks with Nancy's friends in a bar. Soon after everyone but Nancy and Wilbur have left, driven away by Wilbur's charm. He replies, "I'm sorry I've put a dampener on the evening... it's just that I loathe pomposity." 

By all rights, Nancy should not be attracted to Wilbur, but he's using magic of some kind, which is implied by intense closeups of Wilbur's oily T-zone. So when he misses his bus, Nancy offers to drive him home. Once she makes it to Wilbur's creepy, antedeluvian home (look the word up, Philistine) her car promptly stops working so she spends the weekend. While in Wilbur's house she is freaked out by Wilbur's creepy grandfather, who carries around what looks like a Native American-style flyswatter.

At night she has weird nightmares of being accosted by naked hippies. It's all shot in a 'freak-out' psychadelic style, with a fish-eye lens and creepy electronic sounds. Throughout the dream sequence, Nancy looks around in a confusing way, as if to say: "Why am I here, and what's up with these hippies?"

Granted, I put 'hippies' just under 'clowns' on the creepy scale. Did I mention these hippies are wearing body makeup? It's supposed to be trippy, and it is, but it's not particularly scary. Who are these people? Are they the 'Old Ones' - because if they are, then let Wilbur summon them back unto Earth, where we have soap. I'm assuming they must be cult members, perhaps, but they're still not very scary. Maybe if they were chanting, "Are you hiring?" I could muster some fear, but instead they just reach out at the camera and jump around.

Despite all this, Nancy feels very comfortable around Wilbur, who impresses her with detailed stories of how his great grandfather was strung up and then burned at the stake, etc. I know that's always a big turn-on for women - regale her with tales of ancestors who were evil maniacs, you Casanova, you!

We all know where this is going - Wilbur needs a virgin sacrifice to bring back the 'Old Ones' and guess who gets to lay back on a granite altar? The ending of the movie is the funniest part of the film, because it isn't very long before Dr. Armitage starts to worry about Nancy and begins a deeper investigation into the Whately family. He discovers that Wilbur's father was one of the 'Old Ones' and that he had a twin brother born with him, but who 'died' in childbirth. Wilbur's mother, Lavinnia, is in a mental institution with ghostly white hair -- being raped by an extradimensional deity takes its toll, apparently.

One of Nancy's friends becomes so concerned for her friend that she pushes her way past Wilbur's grandfather and into the Whately house. She searches for Nancy, and opens the door with the doorknob that sometimes rattles as if something is trying to get out. It turns out to be Wilbur's brother's room - and he doesn't like visitors. The co-ed valiantly fights against psychedelic strobe lighting and a rubber monster, and within seconds she's naked, somehow, and it is all very unscary. The monster is just a bunch of tentacles that flail around.

Meanwhile, Wilbur has stolen the Necronomicon from the library and has mesmerized Nancy. He leads her up to an evil temple overlooking the sea, and lays her back on a stone altar. She's wearing a flimsy black robe.

The good news: we get to Dee Myers writhe around a bit and moan. There's no nudity, but you can see her hinder a bit.

The bad news: listening to Dean Stockwell drone on in Cthulu-speak for a very long time and perform an evil ceremony that seems a bit doofy. Wilbur makes the most ridiculous hand gestures.

Instead of feeling dread, I felt like I was watching someone playing Dungeons & Dragons... alone. 

Sandra Dee makes a better-than-average bookrest. I just wanted to point that out.

Wilbur calls out to his monstrous brother to help him finish the ceremony, and we see some local people become monster meals. There's no gore whatsoever - the victims just scream at the camera and the screen goes into 'monstro-vision' - which is what the monster from 'Predator' might see if he were color-blind, near-sighted and used red Kool-Aid as contact lens solution. You would think that a monster's vision would be sharp, but it's considerably worse than a human's.

How is Wilbur's evil plan to summon the Ancient Ones back to earth foiled? Dr. Armitage finally figures out what's going on and confronts Wilbur, and tries to stop the ceremony by ... speaking magic gibberish! Wilbur, undeterred, speaks more gibberish right back at the old professor! Triumphantly, Wilbur gets back to the ceremony, but Armitage just keeps saying the same gibberish, and then Wilbur musses up his hair and looks worried. The elderly professor screams the same gibberish again, bugging his eyes out, and Wilbur (failing his saving throw against gibberish) screams once, bursts into flames and a flaming mannequin in some other part of the world promptly falls into an ocean.

His more monstrous brother becomes visible, and is revealed to be just a bunch of rubber snakes with a weird face in the middle. Thank goodness for Dr. Armitage and his magical gibberish. The original story 'The Dunwich Horror' is slightly different in that there is no love interest, and Wilbur never even manages to start the ceremony. In the story, Wilbur tries to get the Necronomicon, and is killed by a guard dog, and Wilbur displays his otherworldly ancestry in his unusual height. From the story:

The thing that lay half-bent on its side in a foetid pool of greenish-yellow ichor and tarry stickiness was almost nine feet tall, and the dog had torn off all the clothing and some of the skin. It was not quite dead, but twitched silently and spasmodically while its chest heaved in monstrous unison with the mad piping of the expectant whippoorwills outside. Bits of shoe-leather and fragments of apparel were scattered about the room, and just inside the window an empty canvas sack lay where it had evidently been thrown. Near the central desk a revolver had fallen, a dented but undischarged cartridge later explaining why it had not been fired. The thing itself, however, crowded out all other images at the time. It would be trite and not wholly accurate to say that no human pen could describe it, but one may properly say that it could not be vividly visualized by anyone whose ideas of aspect and contour are too closely bound up with the common life-forms of this planet and of the three known dimensions. It was partly human, beyond a doubt, with very manlike hands and head, and the goatish, chinless face had the stamp of the Whateley's upon it. But the torso and lower parts of the body were teratologically fabulous, so that only generous clothing could ever have enabled it to walk on earth unchallenged or uneradicated.

'The Dunwich Horror' s best points are (in order) Dee Myers, the unintended comedy of overlong satanic rites, and an eery soundtrack during the opening credits. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone unless you can enjoy a crappy film or simply must watch every movie based upon a Lovecraft story.

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