The Dunwich Horror (USA 1970)

I reviewed this on April 30, 2015. Now I’m doing it again. Before you steal a forbidden grimoire from a library and writhe nude on a Druid’s altar, hear me out. Why revamp an old post? Because its there! What I love about the Dunwich Horror is that its an overly long episode of Night Gallery. Lovecraft’s stories, with their references to tentacles and other undulating protuberances coming in and out of things at all angles, were certainly sexual – in a mad way – but they were never sexy. He would have hated this sexing up of his story but who cares? This is a unique work: where else will you see a feminist raped to death by a male chauvinist cabbage from an outré dimension? Exactly. Plus the ocean is used throughout as symbolic of timelessness and eternity, and Wilbur Whately’s Twin’s presence is made known by a combo of a heart beating audio clip and the sound of water slushing. Its quite groovy.

Dean Stockwell and Sandra Dee give low key, almost distracted performances that, intentionally or not, contribute to the eerie tone. And the presentation of Dean Stockwell’s unearthly twin was very atmospheric and evocative – a good example of how to play on the viewers’ imagination (a lost art in most of today’s horror product). The opening animation, under the title sequences, seems to skew the story towards a battle between heaven and hell, while the music underlines this with an almost hymn-like theme. Les Baxter’s score mixes in electronic sound effects with a catchy melody punctuated by military-style drum fills.

This is full of bizarre scenes which make it watchable on a ‘what the hell?’ sort of level: The eerie segment where the whippoorwills’ wailing cries seek to capture the expiring Whateley’s soul as it leaves his body. Dean Stockwell having one bad hair day after another while doing the most amazing eye riffs outside of gay softcore. Lloyd Bochner, once again blowing his chance to become the American Christopher Lee. Ed Begley, resembling a parrot, in his final film role, also seems to be enjoying himself as Stockwell’s chief Nemesis, Dr. Armitage.

A kind of narcotic gloss descends over the viewer, suspending disbelief toward about our creepy hero. Wilbur goes straight to the sexual predator playbook: small talk is exchanged, drugged tea is brewed, the car is secretly disabled, and before long Nancy is encouraged to slip into a black nightgown and spend the evening. She agrees, though whether due to monumental stupidity or an Outer God mind meld is an open question. A nice change of pace occurs when we are treated to an after hours punch up in a library between Wilbur and a security guard over possession of the Necronomicon book. Plus we have plenty of psychedelic colours and impressive sets, such as the gothic mansion and the Devil’s Hopyard.

What else can I say about this midnight mass of a B movie? Staggering around whilst predicting dire things to come is Grandpa, played by mangy Sam Jaffe, clutching a stick bearing weird inscriptions that may just be a lollipop. And when the Twin finally rampages across the countryside, what appears to be the backwash from a helicopter or a cleverly-placed wind machine rustles trees and disturbs the surface of ponds as the creature passes.

* Epic Spoiler Alert * In one of the lamest climaxes in B movie history, Wilbur and Dr Armitage get to shout curses at each other in weird tongues. Then something truly Biblical happens. Armitage’s voice is louder and this causes Wilbur to suddenly combust in a strike of lightning. But I didn’t let this let down spoil my overall enjoyment of this cosy midnight flick.

Sandra Dee is obviously trying to detonate her good girl virgin-in-distress image, with extended scenes of near orgasm on a ritual altar. Though I suspect that many of the visible bosom–groping is done by a double, as we never see her face. Again, this is possibly an influence from the overtly sexual content of Rosemary’s Baby from the year before.

But the splayed thighs are possibly Sandra’s, so all is not lost when it comes to ogling this goddess. OK, these scenes are probably the double too. The attempted  exploitation of Dee couldn’t be more apparent. She was paid $65,000 for her pains, with 5% of the box office profits promised to soothe her shame. But I wouldn’t be shocked if Hollywood diddled her.


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