The Dunwich Horror (1970) – Film Review

The Dunwich Horror film review bluray

Director: Daniel Haller
Cast: Sandra Dee, Dean Stockwell, Ed Begley
Certificate: 15

By Sarah Morgan

In 1928, one of the most influential horror writers ever to put pen to paper created arguably his greatest work.

HP Lovecraft’s tales are still casting a spell on readers, almost 90 years since his premature death at the age of 46 in 1937. Among his most notable creations are The Call of Cthulhu, At the Mountains of Madness and The Shadow Over Innsmouth, but for many fans (including me), it’s The Dunwich Horror that continues to haunt their dreams.

The Dunwich Horror film review coverThe novella first appeared in an issue of the magazine Weird Tales. Then, in 1970, buoyed by the success of a cycle of movies based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe, film-maker Roger Corman and producers James H Nicholson and Samuel Z Arkoff of distribution company American International Pictures reteamed to adapt the story for the big screen.

“Charismatic performances”

Corman handed directing duties over Daniel Haller, who had worked with him as a production designer. Haller had also previously directed Die, Monster, Die!, which is based on Lovecraft’s The Color Out of Space; he clearly understood the writer, because both films are arguably the best cinematic adaptations of his work.

Having said that, neither stuck closely to the original text, but certainly in the case of The Dunwich Horror, the atmosphere is captured rather wonderfully.

Dean Stockwell, in one of his most charismatic performances, heads the cast as Wilbur Whateley, a strange, enigmatic young man who hopes to borrow a rare copy of the Necronomicon, a legendary book containing occult lore, from the library of the Miskatonic University.

Student Nancy Wagner (Sandra Dee) feels drawn to Wilbur, and agrees to visit his home in the small town of Dunwich, unaware that he plans to use her in a ritual designed to bring forth beings from another dimension. Adding to the mystery is a room at the top of the stairs which must remain locked to prevent something terrifying from getting out…

The Dunwich Horror film review arrow

“Underrated classic”

Stockwell is at the centre of all that’s good about the film, but Dee – in her first adult role after years as a child and teen star – deserves credit for her performance as the gullible Nancy. Ed Begley, Lloyd Bochner and Sam Jaffe also appear, while Talia Shire, then billed as Talia Coppola, makes a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance.

Haller later claimed the film was inspired by the success of Rosemary’s Baby, but it works on its own terms and is an underrated classic. The psychedelia-influenced scenes alone are worth watching it for, while the script was co-written by Curtis Hanson, who went on to win an Oscar for his work on LA Confidential.

The special features included on the lavish new release are pretty impressive too – among the wealth of items available are an audio commentary from Guy Adams and Alexandra Benedict, creators of the drama Arkham County, and a conversation between historian Stephen R Bissette and author Stephen Laws, in which they discuss seeing the film on its big screen release.

• New 2K restoration by Arrow Films from the original camera negative
• High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation
• Original lossless mono audio
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing

• New audio commentary by Guy Adams and Alexandra Benedict, creators of the audio drama Arkham County • The Door into Dunwich, a new conversation between film historian Stephen R. Bissette and horror author Stephen Laws in which they discuss The Dunwich Horror, Lovecraft, and their memories of seeing the film on release
• After Summer After Winter, a new interview with science fiction and fantasy writer Ruthanna Emrys, author of The Innsmouth Legacy series
• The Sound of Cosmic Terror, new interview with music historian David Huckvale in which he takes a closer look at Les Baxter’s score for The Dunwich Horror
• Theatrical trailer
• Image gallery
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Luke Preece
The Dunwich Horror is released on Blu-ray by Arrow, £24.99

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