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I Bet You Didn't See... The Dunwich Horror

Updated: May 13


This is part of the "Lovecraft Series" and the "Roger Corman Series".

I have to write this review in two parts because I have never been so torn over a film. The first part will be as a lover and admirer of films and the second will be as a Lovecraft enthusiast.

The basic story follows Wilbur Whateley (Dean Stockwell), a strange young man who follows a peculiar religion. His mother is in a mental hospital, and he lives with his grandfather in a small village called - you guessed it - Dunwich.

Armitage (Begley) & Whateley (Stockwell)

Wilbur is interested in finding and reading an ancient book held at Massachusetts' Miskatonic University, and manages to persuade Professor Armitage (Ed Begley) (who happens to know who Wilbur is and had written about the Whateley family's unusual activities to an extent that got them in trouble) and his students to letting him read it. Wilbur also talks one of the young students, Nancy (Sandra Dee), into taking him home and he breaks her car so she has to stay. In a kind of subtle hypnotism, he seduces her into staying with him.

Wilbur gets hold of the Necronomicon

Wilbur is looking to enact some demonic ceremony, for which he needs the ancient book from the University - the Necronomicon - to help him. He also intends to sacrifice Nancy. With the help of some of the villagers who hate the family, Armitage swoops in to try and stop Wilbur.

Dean Stockwell plays Wilbur with a smooth charisma that I did find impressive, considering the nature of the film. He is able to talk his way into things and get people to agree with him who are unaware or naive, or Prof. Armitage. Sandra Dee seemed a bit flat really, but Ed Begley plays Prof. Armitage with an equal confidence that mirrors Wilbur to make their encounters together that bit more intense.

Stockwell & Dee... a new Solicitor's firm?

Being a film from 1970, it has a try 60's vibe to it, with psychedelic dream sequences and the strange creature Wilbur is hiding in his house, which is invisible, is quite impressively portray through camera movement, light effects and sound. I thought that the overall the adaptation was well done, the ending was well managed (considering how the original story ends) and even if the fight scene was a little too staged, it broke up the slightly monotonous tone of the film. Some of the settings were quite striking, too.

Now, as a Lovecraft fan, I feel things go downhill. Wilbur is too human and too charismatic, while Prof. Armitage gives him access to one of the most feared books in history. Also, the book is being used as teaching material - this was not a thing in the original. It was always locked up and only special access was granted. Also, in the original, Wilbur has a copy in English, whereas the one at Miskatonic is in Latin.

I hope that the set didn't have a cold breeze...

I get why the love/sexual aspects that are added to film adaptations of this genre, but in this case I really feel like it was simply because of the sexual revolution going on in society. I didn't think it really gave any drive to the story. I don't understand why Wilbur's Grandfather seemed to be so against everything, given that he educated Wilbur in the religion, and if the Professor knew who Wilbur was and his family's reputation, why was he so accepting of him? That made no sense.

So, as a film lover, I am rating The Dunwich Horror as a 6. It's good, interesting and different, with areas it could have improved with. If you like something weird and creepy, this is a decent film. As a Lovecraft fan, I was not too impressed. I felt there were too many aspects they changed that took away from the essence of the original. I give it a 4, which brings the film's overall rating to 5 out of 10. I know I am probably in the minority there, because it is a cult hit among Lovecraft fans!

Directed by: Daniel Haller

Screenplay by: Curtis Hanson, Henry Rosenbaum, Ronald Silkosky

Based on: "The Dunwich Horror" by H. P. Lovecraft

Starring: Sandra Dee, Ed Begley, Dean Stockwell

Release Date: January 14, 1970

My Rating: 5/10

I think this is a great shot, contrasting the two characters in a beautiful location.

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