THE DUNWICH HORROR (1970)

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The Dunwich Horror

THE DUNWICH HORROR (1970)
Directed by Daniel Haller
Available on Arrow Video Blu-Ray

Arkham university lecturer, Dr Henry Armitage, becomes suspicious when the great-grandson of hanged lunatic Oliver Whateley, Wilbur Whateley, arrives at the uni’s library wishing to read the rare Necronomicon book which Armitage possesses. With instructions on how to open the gates between our world and that of the Outer Gods, the book is not to be trifled with. Despite his scepticism on the legitimacy of such power and entities, Armitage knows full well to respect the unknown so when Wilbur Whateley begins to make requests in order to read the book, he flatly declines. Having researched Wilbur’s great-grandfather Oliver Whateley and his obsession with the Elder Gods, Armitage has real concerns about Wilbur’s intentions which only intensify when his student Nancy Wagner goes missing after driving Wilbur home to Dunwich. When Armitage and Nancy’s friend Elizabeth go looking for Nancy, they find her accompanying Wilbur with whom she’s agreed to spend the weekend. Despite being assured everything is fine by Nancy, they fear for her safety with this stranger.  Undeterred by Nancy’s insistence, Armitage decides to investigate and interview the local townsfolk in order to find out exactly who Wilbur is and what plans he may have for Nancy.

Loosely based on H.P. Lovecraft’s work of the same name, THE DUNWICH HORROR is a supernatural horror movie from American International Pictures that oozes the style of a Hammer Horror with a splash of the unease of Rosemary’s Baby.

The film focuses on a young man and his family who have a history of embracing an elder race of Gods, something which the local community of Dunwich doesn’t take too kindly to. Young Whateley’s interest in the Necronomicon could potentially spell disaster for the human race as we know it, which spurs expert Dr Armitage to action to prevent such a catastrophic event from occurring.

Dean Stockwell is captivating as the curious Wilbur Whateley; a seemingly shy but dapper gentleman who seems to easily charm the naive Nancy (Sandra Dee) from the minute they meet. Our first impression of him following his arrival at the University is that he’s up to no good. Even if his quiet demeanour doesn’t seem threatening, you can sense the malintent behind his intense gaze and calculated actions. As we find out, our suspicions are for good reason.

On the side of good is Ed Begley as Doctor Henry Armitage. Begley portrays Armitage as a man of great intelligence and stature within the community. Not one for backing down and known for his in depth research into his studies, he’s the kind of person who won’t stop digging until he has answers. A man you most definitely want on your side when things go south.

Sandra Dee’s role in the movie is quite underused, but as her character doesn’t exist in H.P. Lovecraft’s story, then this may go to explain why she’s little more than a pretty object of Wilbur’s affection and intention.

Whilst the film’s plot differs quite a lot from the novella, it can still be appreciated in its own right and has a lot to shout about even if the story hasn’t too much depth to it. The use of colour throughout the movie, contrasting ice-blues and greys with powerful reds and greens, really catches the eye, whilst shadows are used to great effect both for interior and exterior shots. The Whateley manor is another grand display of detail, with the set dressers showcasing a wealth of features inside the property. Each bit of furniture is ornate in its own way and we’re even treated to a stained glass window as the staircase winds up to the top floor of the manor where more secrets are kept.

Whilst most of the film is directed towards the drama between characters, we are treated to a short but impressive fight scene as Wilbur breaks into the Arkham Miskatonic University library. The scuffle between Wilbur and the guard is surprisingly energetic, and is one of the scenes in the film that grabs your attention with the film, to that point, offering more sedate scenes of simmering unease.

THE DUNWICH HORROR teases more than it shows, though there are some excellent, trippy scenes that are utilised and edited in a fashion that reflect a feeling of disorientation. Shots of the sea combined with creepy figures grabbing at a character blur the lines between dreamscape and reality, so you’re not always sure what’s going on. As previously mentioned, there’s also a hint of Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby here and there, but isn’t quite as intense or powerful as the horror classic.

With its indelible theme tune that’s repeated throughout the movie in various guises, THE DUNWICH HORROR is a film that tantalises on many levels. Unfortunately, it’s the screenplay that doesn’t seem to quite live up to its achievement in other areas, with the plot lacking a substantial punch. Nevertheless, it’s a wonderful example of horror filmmaking from that time period, and has lots about it to admire and appreciate, though don’t be expecting a faithful adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s work.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

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About Bat 4438 Articles
I love practical effects, stop-motion animation and gore, but most of all I love a good story! I adore B-movies and exploitation films in many of their guises and also have a soft spot for creature features. I review a wide range of media including movies, TV series, books and videogames. I'm a massive fan of author Hunter S. Thompson and I enjoy various genre of videogames with Kingdom Hearts and Harvest Moon two of my all time favs. Currently playing: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Yakuza Zero and Mafia III.

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