Friday, February 26, 2010

Wilbur Whateley: Wizard of the Roofies

The Dunwich Horror (1970)
Starring: Dean Stockwell, Sandra Dee, Ed Begley, Lloyd Bochner, Donna Baccala and Sam Jaffe
Director: Daniel Haller
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

A cute college girl (Dee) is fed supernatural Roofies by 1970s cultist and proto-Emo Wilbur Whateley (Stockwell). Before you know it, he's offering her asa one-night stand to the extra-dimensional horrors known as the Great Old Ones. Will her prudish girlfriend (Baccala) and the curmudgeonly Dr. Henry Armitage (Begley) manage to save her before she becomes a cosmic swinger?

"The Dunwich Horror" is a loose--VERY loose--adaptation of one of H.P. Lovecraft's most famous and most intense works, but, unfortunately, very little of that intensity manages to make it onto the screen.

The film has all the trappings of Lovecraft--the weird Whateley family, the hostile villagers of Dunwich, Miskatonic University, Henry Armitage, strange crystal rocks and even stranger rites and rituals that either summon or ward off invisible horrors and tentacle beasts the likes of which not even the Japanese could imagine! However, the film never comes close to evoking the mood of a Lovecraft story and it barely manages to be scary in a couple of scenes. To make an already borderline dull film even worse director Daniel Haller doesn't seem to know how to end a scenes. There literally isn't a single scene that doesn't go on for anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes too long; it's not that the film feels padded... it just feels like it's incompetently done. (And then there's those horribly long, loud, and garish dream sequences. I'm sure someone thought those were Lovecraftian but I simply found them annoying. Maybe they came across better to movie-goers in 1970, especially those tripping on who-knows-what.)

Except for the languid direction and the painful dream sequence, the film is decent enough. Every performer does a good job with their parts, even if the part merely calls for looking cute as does that played by Sandra Dee, and the cinematography and special effects are also quite well done. The same can be said for the film's score; the main title music seems a bit out of step with the nature of the film, but the variations of the theme featured throughout the film are spot-on. The Whateley House is also a great piece of set design, both inside and out.

"The Dunwich Horror" is one of those films that doesn't have enough good points for me to give it a strong recommendation, nor are there enough bad things about it to make me warn you off it. I was disappointed by it, but if a low-key Lovecraft adaptation that oozes an early 1970s vibe sounds interesting to you, then it might be worth checking out.

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