I’ve read a good portion of H.P. Lovecraft’s writing in my time and for the most part, I’ve found it enjoyable, in spite of the often times purple prose. Once upon a time I even read The Dunwich Horror story that this movie is based on. I don’t recall all the details of the story, but I’m confident that as I was reading it I never thought “this would make a great movie with Dean Stockwell and Sandra Dee!”
I also don’t recall the story being so deadly dull. Lovecraft’s works have had a checkered past in their translation to the big screen which I’m too lazy to recall for you in any detail. Suffice it to say, this movie has its admirers, but they probably also think that the wacky psychedelic scenes in this movie are some form of art instead of the confusing, headache inducing mess they truly are.
Things start off ominously enough when Professor Armitage, played by Ed Begley, asks Nancy (Sandra Dee) to take the Necronomicon back to the library. It isn’t nearly as ominous as it sounds though because this is Ed Begley, Sr. not Ed Begley, Jr. so you don’t have to worry about a lecture on the importance of recycling shoggoths or the benefits of a solar powered sacrificial altar.
Then bad news rolls into the local coffee shop where Armitage is holding court with the only two women on campus who are desperate enough for a passing grade to hang out with him. The bad news is of course Dean Stockwell, playing a player named Wilbur Whateley.
Wilbur and Armitage previously had an encounter at the library. Wilbur worked a Jedi mind trick on Nancy so that she would let him look at this super-rare book. The professor arrives and gets his panties in a bunch because no one is supposed to look at that precious book but him.
Later at the coffee shop, Whateley is still trying to get Armitage to give up the book, but he won’t do it. Soon though, Nancy and Wilbur are alone and Wilbur conveniently misses his bus back to Dunwich, so it’s up to Nancy to give this warlock a ride home. I’m assuming it’s because he’s been giving her a work over with his scary eyes because there is no way a blonde chick like Nancy is going home with a dude like Wilbur under any non-supernatural circumstances.
Wilbur has a Mike Brady perm, bad sideburns, and a mustache that looks like a wooly-bear caterpillar crawled onto his upper lip and died. Later in the movie when he’s wearing this dark cloak with a hood, you can’t help but think that this guy probably spent most of his college career holed up in his dorm room with about four of his buddies trying to level up his orc character.
Wilbur’s place is about as spooky as trailers come. There’s animal skulls and strange gourds hanging up and even an owl perched on the porch railing. The interior is also decorated with occult themed floors and rugs as well as mysterious transparent paperweights that Wilbur can move without touching them.
Nancy looks at the weird paperweights and sees visions of crazy people running around half naked and a whole jumbled mess of witchcraft imagery, all of which is accompanied by the director’s demonic use of a Vaselined lens, kooky colors and quick cutaways.
After tampering with her car and drugging her drink, Wilbur directs her to a room and tells her there are some clothes in the closet that she can use to sleep in. He pulls out this sheer black nightgown and says that she can use that. That sounds pretty ballsy, but we know from watching the opening prologue that this is the same nightgown his mom wore when he and his twin were born, so it just comes across as unsanitary.
Twin? He had a twin? Of course he did! What do you think is kept locked up in that room where the door constantly rattles like something inhuman and with ten snake-like heads is trying to break out? Yes, this is one of those movies where the monster is kept under lock and key, not so much to build up suspense, but because the budget is so weak that there isn’t any monster to speak of!
At some point Wilbur has Nancy up on an altar at the old satanic ruins outside of town and there’s visions and he makes whoopie with her. Then he starts trying to summon the old ones with his Satanism for Dummies book. Armitage appears and things are resolved pretty much as you expect complete with a shock ending that really isn’t.
This is a movie that doesn’t aim for much and manages to miss even that. The tricky camera shots and hippie-dancing montages have aged about as well as Stockwell’s perm.
Armitage is a pompous ass and Nancy doesn’t do anything in this movie except come under the spell of Wilbur, thus depriving us of knowing whether she was ever worth worrying about.
The best thing about this movie is the poster art from its original release back in 1970, a demonic head menacing a beautiful young thing. It had nothing to do with the movie, but you can’t expect them to use the image of a sweaty-faced Dean muttering nonsense words and looking like he had a migraine, can you?
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