What I'm Watching: The Dunwich Horror

I found a cheap Bluray two-pack of The Dunwich Horror (1970), and Murders in the Rue Morgue (1971), great classic weird horror movies. I'll see Murders later.

The Dunwich Horror looks great, that vibrant '70s color, sets with disorienting angles and weird lighting. Sound's not fantastic, music has a few repeated stingers but not a long soundtrack. Long stretches are silent, waiting for someone to speak.

Dean Stockwell's a charming but weird motherfucker at any time, but here as Wilbur Whateley (the presentable Whateley brother) he was at his peak. He's smooth but kind of square, with raving weirdo shit a millimeter beneath the surface. Just perfect casting and acting for the role. I don't care for his corduroy jacket style, but it was the '70s.

Sandra Dee as the naïve Nancy is certainly vapid enough, but maybe a little plump and matronly at 28 to be a college girl. She wears maybe the weirdest slit overcoat/cape thing I've ever seen, not explicable even by the '70s. Later when she's drugged out and just writhing around in a nightgown, there's no "acting" but she's a useful prop, and her vag doubles as a bookrest. The film does not pass the Bechdel Test, either with her or her girlfriend.

Ed Begley as Professor Armitage, mortal enemy of the Whateleys, uncomprehending owner of the Necronomicon, is as stuffy, closed-minded, and foolish as he should be. What I don't know is what kind of lecture he could possibly give; he doesn't understand the Mythos, and the book would destroy all of his precious Christian delusions.

It's an age-old story, boy looks for the Necronomicon, meets girl, seduces girl, steals Necronomicon, summons Yog-Sothoth with girl as sacrifice.

Unfortunately there's a very long stretch of no Wilbur and Nancy, just Armitage questioning people in his slow, "let me put it like this" "you may find this hard to believe" fussing around, with equally old, doddering fools who waste a scene filling a pipe. The girlfriend who wanders around is pointless. Unbearable and most of his scenes should have been cut completely.

The "good Christian folk" of Dunwich are the same bigoted, murderous mob that killed Wilbur's great-grandfather; justified perhaps but no less loathesome. They really do make you sympathize with Wilbur's desire to bring back the Old Ones and replace Humanity.

The Old Ones here are not Cthulhu and kin, but mere body-painted pagans who dance and orgy in the meadows, but Yog-Sothoth and the other Whateley brother are Lovecraftian enough. Most scenes of him are just weird camera angles, light & sound effects, and a wind machine, but a couple good shots of the being.

And then the shittiest rap battle in history ends with the sanctimonious idiots winning. But there is another…

There's a lot of room for improvement, and the middle stretch is dull, but it's a good film that's also a good Lovecraft adaptation, rarest of things.

★★★★☆

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