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John’s Horror Corner: The Dunwich Horror (1970), an early Lovecraftian adaptation about a dark family secret and a tentacle monster.

February 10, 2018

MY CALL:  An early Lovecraftian adaptation that packs less punch, but rather nostalgia as I recount the subsequent films it clearly influenced.  MORE MOVIES LIKE The Dunwich HorrorFor more movie adaptations from Lovecraft’s writings, try The Resurrected (1991), The Reanimator (1985) and Dagon (2001). Although not specifically of Lovecraftian origins, his influence is most palpable in In the Mouth of Madness (1994), The Void (2016), The Shrine (2010) and Baskin (2015)—all of which are more gruesome to varying degrees.

Based on H. P. Lovecraft’s original story, Director Daniel Haller (Monster of Terror) tells the tale of the peculiar Wilbur Whateley (Dean Stockwell; Quantum Leap, Dune), a young academic who visits Arkham Miskatonic University to study Necronomicon. Wilbur is a student of the occult with a fascination for Yog-Sothoth, the Old Ones, and opening a gateway to another dimension.

Wilbur’s interests lead him to Nancy (Sandra Dee), whom he bewitches with his charm and lures her to his home in Dunwich, where he has a unique family history.

To call this “horror” feels a bit incomplete.  Dwelling more in the grey realm of horror fantasy it employs surrealistic dream-like horror elements, some entranced Woodstock-style nudity, a more historical exposition delivery and sexuality in lieu of monstrous make-up, scares, dread and blood.  Moreover, all the violence—including a tentacle monster attack—are reduced to implied acts which, by today’s standards, pack zero intensity.  Likewise, a drawn-out scene with a sacrificial virgin at the altar should have induced tension, but I never felt any.

Sure, I’m less impressed by many older horror films in terms of their execution.  They were made in an era when it was easier to scare, spook, impress, wow or simply show someone something they hadn’t yet seen on the screen.  Not just that, but at the time fewer stories had been told on screen. Quite to the contrary, my enjoyment of visiting this classic is noticing how it may have been the first (or one of the early films) to utilize certain techniques and motifs that would later be borrowed by Evil Dead (1981; the Necronomicon, the elemental evil POV ravaging through the woods after victims), The Kindred (1987; the tentacle monster brother), and many more.

So, yes, I enjoyed it. Would I recommend it? Not sure. I’d say no if you enjoy gore, effects, scares or tones of dread; yes, if you want to recount Lovecraftian mythology on screen.  This certainly makes me want to explore more Lovecraft adaptations.

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