Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Horror... The (Dunwich) Horror...

Last night was another bad movie night, and this time, the subject of evisceration was "The Dunwich Horror," the 1970 low-budget film starring Dean Stockwell ("The Boy With Green Hair") and Sandra Dee ("Gidget"). The film is a very, very loose adaptation of the 1929 horror story by H.P. Lovecraft.

The film was elevated above the standard exploitation fare being churned out by Arkoff and Nicholson's American International Pictures by the big-name celebrities in the cast and the classic horror nature of the source material. Unfortunately, there are two big strikes against it. Number one, this was exec-produced by Roger Corman, who had pretensions to quality, but never the patience nor taste nor attention to detail. And number two, it was unlucky enough to be made during that unfortunate interstitial time after the optimism of the 60's had curdled into drug-addled pretension, but before the "fuck it, let's have fun" backlash of the later 70's.

True to the AIP formula of mixing sex and horror to attract teenage audiences, "The Dunwich Horror" overlays a goofy rape-drug-plus-fertility-rites "love" story over the bones of Lovecraft's plot. Former child star Dean Stockwell brings his porn star 'stache to bear on the role of Wilbur Whateley, oddball son of an insane mother and demonic creature from another dimension. Wilbur has a fondness for pinky rings and likes to pretend he has gills.

Wilbur wants a copy of the Necronomicon like the one in the Miskatonic University Library. So he seduces librarian Sandra Dee, drugging her and taking her into his weirdo house, where she has psychedelic hallucinations of being groped by hippies.

Everything builds up to the big climax where Wilbur lays the librarian across a big stone altar and uses her as the centerpiece of a ritual to summon Yog Sothoth back to our world. But before he does the summoning, he opens his shirt to reveal that his body is covered with pseudo-hieroglyphic tattoos (which just coincidentally form a clown face with a propeller hat in the middle of his chest).

A professor of antiquities or something faces off with Wilbur during the ritual and uses his own knowledge of the Necronomicon to abort the ritual. At least, that's what I gather was supposed to be happening. The budget didn't allow for any special effects, so imagine the beam duel between Lo Pan and Egg Shen without any actual magic happening, just two guys shouting nonsense words and making weird gestures at each other like two wino street preachers in downtown Los Angeles at 6 a.m. on a Sunday.

Okay, that metaphor got a little too detailed, which makes me think I'm remembering more than I want to about my sojourn in the City of Angels.

Anyway, the point is, the film sucks, but it's funny, too. Oh, and as a point of trivia, the screenplay was co-written by a guy named Curtis Hanson, who went on to become a fairly respected director of films like "L.A. Confidential." Which doesn't really mean much, but on another hand, means a lot.

Because although you can say, "Well, everybody has to start somewhere," which is true, it's also true that he'll always have that in him. No matter how many times Akiva Goldsman writes something like "A Beautiful Mind," he'll always have "Batman and Robin" and "Lost in Space" lurking inside him, waiting to ambush us. You'll never know with John McTiernan whether you're going to get a "Die Hard" or a "Last Action Hero." Life is a crapshoot and even the best produce some turkeys.

And "The Dunwich Horror" is worse than a turkey. It's like a diseased, undead turkey. Ick.

ETA: Oh yeah, almost forgot. Go here and watch the trailer for the movie, not only to discover the badness for yourself, but also to hear the narrator intone, with all seriousness, "He believes the history of horrendipity written here..."

Horrendipity? Seriously?


Bat-Cheva said...

AUGH!!! I am never getting that damn image out of my head!! *claws at eyes*

Also, *I* never saw any dead coming back to life, did you?

TheyStoleFrazier'sBrain said...

Nope, no undead. But the image I have stuck in my mind was from a random comment of Susan's when she mentioned something about a Cthulhu zombie. And I started thinking, "What is the one thing the Great Old Ones would be afraid of?"

Zombie Great Old Ones.

Marc Carlson said...

The 2009 version was a little more in keeping with the book. Personally, I'd be interested in seeing what CGI could do for describing Wilber's brother.