Friday, April 8, 2011

Lovecraft's Corner #4: The Dunwich Horror (1970)

The Dunwich Horror is copyright American International Pictures.
All rights reserved
Well, folks, another apology on the delay of this review. Life got in the way. It's enough to make me wish I could live online, were it not for.... Ah, right, this review. Today's film, The Dunwich Horror, is yet ANOTHER film from our friends at AIP and directed by the same man who directed Die, Monster, Die!. If that wasn't enough to scare you, guess what, it's the scariest part of the whole film.

A film called 'The Dunwich Horror'.


The film opens onto a woman giving birth before the credits roll. Names appear over silhouettes climbing a mountain - no the devil - getting eaten - I'll admit, the shifts can get hard to follow, but I've been able to interpret the whole thing as the circumstances around our antagonist's birth, and so I have to admit, the credits work well. Unfortunately, the effect is then ruined when the film actually starts, opening with a biblical quote on the wall (There's a time and place for everything, yes, but in a Lovecraft film?).

We then meet our protagonist, a successful professor named Dr. Henry Armitage and his two female friends, Nancy and Elizabeth. Armitage is returning the Necronomicon to the university library since he apparently lectures on the occult. He leaves the women there, and it is then Wilbur Whateley appears. He talks a bit awkwardly, but manages to charm Nancy into letting him read the Necronomicon. While he reads, stock footage of trees and scenes of robed figures are played - and the whole scene is interrupted by Armitage, who takes the book back. Wilbur introduces himself and, upon realizing he's a Whateley, Armitage takes him out to dinner to learn more about the family. After dinner, Wilbur tricks Nancy into driving him home. During the drive, they discuss the town of Dunwich and we see that Wilbur is not well-liked in the town. They finally arrive at Wilbur's home, a large overgrown mansion. He invites her in, offers her tea, sabotages her car's engine, and drugs her to make her stay the night (Charming fellow isn't he?). During all this, we meet his grandfather and learn about a mysterious rattling door (Look out! It's the McGuffin of the film)

The next day, while Nancy and Wilbur are resting in a field and talking about dreams, Armitage and Elizabeth show up to take her home. Nancy refuses, hopelessly hypnotized by Wilbur, and so Armitage and Elizabeth leave to investigate the Whateleys. It is discovered that no one trusts the Whateleys, due to their worship of the Great Old Ones, that no one in town had helped deliver Wilbur but there was talk about a stillborn twin, and that Wilbur's mother went insane shortly after his birth. Between scenes of their investigation, it is shown that Wilbur keeps drugging Nancy and that his grandfather does not approve of his actions. Wilbur, however, does not care. During a picnic with Nancy, he takes her to a stone altar and, through mesmerism and a rather unclear sequence, apparently has sex with her.

....let's just keep going. I'll throw in the rape horn later.

Elizabeth, now very worried for Nancy, rushes back to the house. When the grandfather won't let her in, she hits him and runs in, eventually finding the rattling door. When she opens it, flashing colors and hand puppets attack and apparently kill her (Yeah somehow the special effects in this make the special effects in The Haunted Palace look good in comparison). Soon after this, Wilbur and Nancy return to the house, and Wilbur and his grandpa get into another fight. It is revealed that Wilbur plans to do something awful to Nancy, and the grandfather is trying to stop him since he knows it won't work. In the course of the argument, the grandfather falls down a flight of stairs and dies, the whipporwills announcing his death. Wilbur attempts to bury him, but the townspeople interrupt and refuse to let Wilbur finish.

Wilbur finally successfully steals the Necronomicon, after a relatively dull fight with the world's worst security guard, and takes Nancy to the altar. During this, the mother dies at the asylum, and her death causes Armitage to be concerned for his copy of the Necronomicon. Unfortunately, the ritual has already begun, and Wilbur summons his brother, who escapes the rattling door and ends up creating one of the funniest scenes I've seen in a horror film in a long time, only ended when the invisible being inadvertently sets the house on fire. It then attacks a farmhouse, killing its inhabitants. Armitage arrives after the town has gathered and barely keeps them from going after Wilbur to lynch them. They organize at the burning house and go to the altar, being attacked by the invisible brother along the way (I assume, it looks more like they're being shown a technicolor lightshow). When Armitage and the doctor (the only two apparent survivors) arrive, Wilbur summons lightning - and the Armitage uses some word never even hinted at before to kill Wilbur and dissipate the invisible brother, leaving us with a brief moment to see said brother in all its glorious fakeness.

The day saved, Armitage and the doctor lead Nancy away - and the movie ends with the dramatic reveal that Nancy is pregnant (Dun, dun dun!)

I know by now I shouldn't be too harsh in judging adaptations - made that mistake in my first review - and The Dunwich Horror would be hard to adapt. You don't even meet the protagonist until at least halfway through the story. That being said, this is both a good and a bad adaptation. It keeps the characters, yes, but what they did to Wilbur - his death in the original tale was considered the prologue, not the end, and that's just the NITPICKING. Wilbur was not a charming person and barely looked human to begin with - they could have tried showing that in the rape scene, but, nope - and, maybe most annoyingly, the movie makes him look sympathetic at parts. The movie tries referencing the original story, except that by starting where they did, the references make no sense, and the ending, without Wilbur's diary, feels like an ass pull. All the details suggest that they did read the story, but the main story ruins this as an adaptation for me.

As an original movie, I can't quite judge this (blame the rape scenes and some negative feelings), so I'll let Kriken wrap up.

Thanks RBY, this movie was weird. So far I rank it as the second best adaptation we've done so far but that's only because I didn't like either Die, Monster Die! or The Curse of the Crimson Altar. While I'll admit there were some good scenes in terms of movie scenes, in the end, it didn't leave that great of an impression. The music was okay, but at the same time it sounds like generic "Spooky" music that I swear I've heard somewhere else (Maybe not though). The grandfather was completely pointless and I swear he reminds me of Torgo, (Maybe it's just the staff). Really, where I lost all respect for the film was the "Brother", forgiving for a moment that effects in 1970 weren't great, the way he attacked was just ludicrous and silly. Whenever I saw him attack someone (Always from a POV shot by the way) I couldn't take it seriously, it felt more like the brother was flashing a multicolor strobe light at people to kill them rather then being a menace. Nothing else to really note outside of Dr. Armitage being played by Ed Begley (Bigot juror from 12 Angry Men) and the ending was rather empty as it seems like a rip-off of Rosemary's Baby (Okay I'll admit I'm basing this off the plot synopsis from IMDB seeing how I never watched Rosemary's Baby, but considering how RBY told me that was never in the story and Rosemary's Baby came out in 1968 I feel that it's fair)

Final recommendation? .....I guess if you're into psychedelia and old movies, or if you can forgive Wilbur's portrayal, go for it. Otherwise, leave this in the 70s.

No comments:

Post a Comment