"Why don't you take this copy of The Necronomicon and return it to the library?"
H.P. Lovecraft's disturbing tales and controversial views have cast long shadows over horror, science fiction, fantasy, and pop culture, all despite the fact his work tends to be circumlocutionally grandiloquent and notoriously unfilmable. Nevertheless, many have tried to translate his work to cinematic form, and the results can be interesting, if not always frightening. In 1970, American International Pictures took a stab at "The Dunwich Horror." The film takes Lovecraft's basic story, and then adds early 1970s occult trappings, employed with the subtlety we expect from Roger Corman's studio.
The basic plot remains. One of Dr. Armitage's students becomes involved with the Whateley family, who have more than the expected number of dark secrets. The contemporaneous trappings take the form of the town's grave witch-cult past, and some hallucinogenic optical effects that look like outtakes from a 1968 student-made head film.
The film assembles a remarkable cast, including Sandra Dee after her career as a teen sensation, Dean Stockwell between his heyday as a child star and his future in SF TV, Talia Shire before The Godfather and Rocky, Sam Jaffe, in his ongoing life as a character actor, and Ed Begley (Senior) in his final role. This intriguing bunch do well with a script that, at times, must have challenged their dedication to their craft. Peter Fonda turned down the part of Whately; Dean Stockwell manages to be occasionally chilling without becoming parodic.
Blending Lovecraftian mythos with Love-in era occultism has something to recommend it, but this film doesn't find the right balance. From the start, the tale plods along with the pace of a drugged shoggoth. The ending is a bit of a mess, and the film's budget falls short of creating a truly horrific horror. I wouldn't put this film on any horror must-watch list, though it continues to draw some interest as a Lovecraft adaptation and cinematic curiosity.
Director: Daniel Haller
Writers: Curtis Hanson, Henry Rosenbaum, and Ronald Silkosky
Adapted from the short story by H.P. Lovecraft
Sandra Dee as Nancy Wagner
Dean Stockwell as Wilbur Whateley
Ed Begley as Dr. Henry Armitage
Lloyd Bochner as Dr. Cory
Sam Jaffe as Old Whateley
Joanne Moore Jordan as Lavinia Whateley
Donna Baccala s Elizabeth Hamilton
Talia Shire as Nurse Cora
Michael Fox as Dr. Raskin
Jason Wingreen as Sheriff Harrison
Barboura Morris as Mrs. Cole
Beach Dickerson as Mr. Cole
Toby Russ as Librarian