Cult Movie: The Dunwich Horror looks good, but fails to deliver the scares of HP Lovecraft's book
THE work of author H.P. Lovecraft has been tackled many times by film-makers down the years but rarely with much success.
There's something a little too otherworldly, intangible and downright odd about the Rhode Island-born writer's work that usually leaves Hollywood - particularly the low budget exploitation angled side of tinsel town, who have traditionally been drawn to his very particular brand of psychological dread and foreboding - floundering.
The Dunwich Horror, originally released by AIP in 1970 and now given a Blu-ray re-birth by Arrow Video, is one of the better stabs at capturing that strange, psychedelic world of Lovecraft - a world where vast, tentacled beasts lurk ominously on the threshold - even if it still disappoints as much as it entertains.
Cult favourite Dean Stockwell is Wilbur Whateley, the grandson of a much feared necromancer, who arrives at Arkham University eager to read the powerful, and age-old, Necronomicon book which lecturer Dr Henry Armitage keeps under lock and key.
Given that the book contains information on how to unlock the gates of hell itself, it's perhaps understandable that Armitage (played by Ed Begley) is a little perturbed when Wilbur rolls up to his pad with his request for access.
He swiftly sends the odd visitor on his way but when Nancy, the young student who gives him a lift back home, fails to return Armitage fears the worst.
Nancy, portrayed with typical wide-eyed innocence by Sandra Dee, has apparently fallen under the spell of the creepy but stylish Wilbur who has evil plans to unleash a race of gods on the sleepy town of Dunwich. He must, of course, be stopped.
Based, loosely it must be said, on Lovecraft's feverish novella of the same name, The Dunwich Horror is an odd offering if truth be told.
Director Daniel Haller, who cut his artistic teeth on the glorious mid-1960s Poe adaptations of Roger Corman, turns in a dreamy, supernatural thriller that looks good – particularly in its most colour saturated and "groovy" ceremonial moments – but never really delivers the thrills you would expect.
Stockman is great, as he always was, playing the shy but evil explorer of the dark side but much of the rest of the cast look and feel as if they've been drafted in from a made for TV movie special. Sandra Dee, in particular, feels pointless in a role that wasn't in the book and seems written in to provide little more than a touch of eye candy for the young horror hungry drive-in audience AIP was clearly aiming at.
While the old house setting gives it a traditional Gothic vibe it seems too esoteric and offbeat to really connect with the casual horror fan. Made as a kind of cash-in after the success of Rosemary's Baby, this lacks the creeping unease of that film even if it does share a devilish obsession with the ceremonies and sacrifices of the black rites.
That said, this remains a lot of trippy fun and there's a strangeness throughout here that lingers as the gates of hell are slammed shut. For now at least...