Thursday, October 11, 2007


Sandra Dee, a student at Miskatonic University in the New England town of Arkham, is assisting visiting professor Ed Begley, who has been working with the Necronomicon, a rare and ancient book of evil rites which resides in a glass case in the library. An intense-looking young man (Dean Stockwell) tries to borrow it for some research of his own. Begley is loath to let it go, but Dee takes a shine to the guy, and when they find out that he is a descendent of a local "warlock" who had some tragic dealings with the book long ago, they decide to let him have a look. Stockwell winds up getting a ride back to his home in the nearby town of Dunwich from Dee, who, under the influence of a drug he puts in her tea, falls asleep and spends the night. There is a nightmare rape/orgy scene filled with "Hair" rejects and filmed in trippy 60's jump cuts, and we're not quite sure if it really happened or not, but the next morning, Dee wakes up refreshed and spends a lovely day with Stockwell, who takes her to the Devil's Hopyard, an ancient stone altar on a picturesque cliff overlooking the sea, where Dee once again conks out and undergoes another nightmare rape scene in which we see that Stockwell has arcane symbols tattooed all over his torso. It soon becomes clear that Stockwell is trying to impregnate Dee with his own brand of demon seed in order to conjure up some of the ancient gods (primarily Yog-Sothoth, whose name he chants frequently). Meanwhile, a friend of Dee's (Donna Baccala) comes looking for her, and winds up confronting a horrible tentacled monster which has been locked away in Stockwell's house. That semi-invisible beast/force which, it turns out, is actually a relative of Stockwell's, escapes and ravages the countryside, leading to a drawn-out climax at the Devil's Hopyard. The ancient gods are defeated, though a last shot suggests that they are down but not out.

I think I can safely say that, to date, no moviemakers have gotten H. P. Lovecraft right. Some point to Stuart Gordon's RE-ANIMATOR and FROM BEYOND as solid Lovecraft films; they are good movies but they ultimately wind up taking very little from Lovecraft. The movie that comes closest to the Lovecraft spirit is John Carpenter's IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, which wasn't based directly on Lovecraft at all but uses his concepts of indescribable, otherworldly gods trying to break through to this world, and the damage they do to those humans unlucky enough to be a witness to their attempts. DUNWICH HORROR, based on a Lovecraft short story, gets some of the trappings right, but can't overcome a low budget and some miscast actors. Stockwell, in a very 70's perm, is good once you get used to him, though I couldn't help but think that Anthony Perkins would have been ideal. Dee is ho-hum, but she isn't really called on to do much more than look pretty, sleep, and writhe half-naked on beds and altars. Begley and Sam Jaffe (as Stockwell's crazed grandfather) were probably hired to bring some respectability to the project, but neither one seems to have his heart in his performance. The 70's vibe dates the movie, though the sets and effects are fine, a notch above the typical American International film of the era. In fact, the scene in which the beast attacks Baccala is perhaps the most Lovecraftian in the movie; presented in short, fast edits and filmed in solarized psychedelic colors, we don't really see the creature, just an impression of slime, tentacles, and a face as it batters away at the girl. Unfortunately, we see a little too much of the creature in the climax, though it is a decent attempt at a Cthulian-type creature and not as laughable as it could have been. Les Baxter's main theme is pretty but not especially atmospheric; it kept taking me out of the movie until I realized halfway through that it sounds a lot like an Al Stewart song from the Time Passages album. I saw this years ago on a pan-and-scanned tape; it fares much better on the cleaned-up, letterboxed DVD from MGM. In fact, it was like watching a whole different movie. [DVD]

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