The Dunwich Horror: Sweet… Horrendipity?

Quoth the Kaoru: it’s almost Halloween, which is basically Goth Christmas. Well, in that case, we’d better start dishing out the holiday goodies. First up, a heaping, tentacular helping of The Dunwich Horror:

Ganked from the excellent Nightchillers site, thanks.

If you’ve never seen this campy Corman-produced adaptation of Lovecraft’s famous tale, you might want to Netflix it in time for your pumpkin-carving party.* Produced and shot in 1969 in the immediate wake of Manson Family shenanigans, it’s often pooh-poohed by Lovecraft purists for being too cornball. But in my opinion, Dunwich Horror is actually one of the better adaptations of old Howard P’s oeuvre** with its sumptuous matte paintings, capable-if-hokey performances from the cast, a beautiful score by Les Baxter, and a couple of genuinely creepy moments. Lovecraft stories lend themselves really well to the pyschedelic era.

Yes, he really did just say “horrendipity.”

Starring Dean “Uh Oh, Sam” Stockwell in his most brooding role short of Yueh in Dune, a rather weary-faced-but-supposedly-virginal Sandra Dee, and the even wearier-faced Ed Begley (his final role, R.I.P.), Dunwich Horror is worth renting for the gorgeous animated title sequence alone. Other highlights: the sight of young, yog-sothothelytizing Stockwell’s torso covered in pseudo-runic sharpie scribbles, Sam Jaffe’s “GET OFF MY LAWN” geezerdom, and Gidget clenching her butt in the throes of orgasm on the altar at Devil’s Hopyard.

Other Coilhouse posts of possible interest:

*Or if you’re really cheap, you can watch the whole thing on YouTube.
**Not that that’s saying much, really. Other than ReAnimator, what’ve we got that’s not just crotch-punchingly horrid? Hmmm, let’s see… actually, I wouldn’t turn my nose up at any of these: The Resurrected, Die Monster Die, The Unnameable, that Night Gallery episode Pickman’s Model, and the amazing Call of Cthulhu indie movie that came out recently. Can you guys think of any others? A great suggestion from commenter Jack: Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness.

31 Responses to “The Dunwich Horror: Sweet… Horrendipity?”

  1. Jack Says:

    While not a straight adaptation of Howie P’s work, I think John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness should get at least an honorable mention!

  2. Mer Says:

    Jack, definitely! I spaced on that one. Adding now, thanks!

  3. gooby Says:

    Once, I fell asleep with the television on, and woke from awful dreams to this movie. I had to stay up and watch the rest of it to resolve the story my dream brain made up to the dialogue.

    Oh, Dean..

  4. bunny Says:

    Great post, Mer!!!

    Since I really REALLY like HPL I’m gonna chime in with some more recommendations. In addition to the “Pickman’s Model” and “Cool Air” episodes of Night Gallery there is also an awesome little bumper short in Night Gallery called “Professor Peabody’s Last Lecture” where a snooty academic manages to rot his own soul and the worthless spiritual sludge of his students astral bodies by means of an in class Necronomicon reading. By the end he has sprouted freakin tentacles! Yeah Ryleah!!

    Also for the best bio of Lovecraft check out L Sprague DeCamp’s “Lovecraft: a Biography.” It is OOP but 5 times the length and depth of any other bio on the man. It’s longer than all his fiction combined. :P Oh well, while we are on the subject check out Simon’s “Necronomicon.” While it is of course fake it was written by a mover and shaker in the NYC occult scene. Obviously, a spawn of the same fetid air as the Aquarius/Horus current that reached its peak in 1960/70s that brought us such awesome cultural events as murder of that hippie at the Rolling Stones show, the Manson murders, and the birth of the Church of Satan, The Process cult, the Peoples Temple, the Solar Lodge of the OTO Los Angeles, Jack Parsons, L. Ron Hubbard and the wife swappin’ debacle that brought us Dianetics, the Thelemic films of Kenneth Anger, and Boyd Rice… naw, just kidding. Boyd Rice is a tool.

    If you want something Lovecraftian that flirts with any kind of lineage with western occult tradition while maintaining some semblance of intellect then look into the Typhonian Trilogy books by Kenneth Grant. Grant rebuilt the UK OTO after Crowley’s passing into a “Typhonian” model incorporating a Lovecraftian kind of cosmology into his occult model of the universe. Fun stuff!

    Cthulhu fhtagn!!

  5. Mechangel Says:

    Ahh, Dean Stockwell, and the Moustache from Out of Space and Time… I *do* need to rent this, now.

  6. Spyderfyngers Says:

    “Dun-witch” – hee! That’s quite sweet.

    It’s pronounced *Dun*-idge. And it is a pretty scary place.

  7. Tanya Says:

    @ Bunny: Dude, I still have a copy of a fantastic article on Jack Parsons from the expired (now renewed but not quite the same) MEAN magazine. I’ll show it to you some time.

    @Mer: Oh man. Phibes vibes! That’s one of my FAVORITE spooky movies.

    I ain’t spoilin’ nuthin for nobody, but my FAVORITE part of the Abominable Dr. Phibes – besides Vulnavia’s kick ass furry millinery that must have cost the lives of 1000 chinchillas – is when Phibes is sorting through Brussels sprouts for his, um, pet locust. Because, apparently, NO OLD Brussels sprouts will do. He SNIFFS them and LISTENS to them to find the BEST ones ever. I guess his locust are really finicky.

    I enjoy IMMENSELY watching “Carnival of Souls.” It is at the top of, if not actually crowning the list, of eerie-sounding, weirdly atmospheric spooky movies.

  8. neil Says:

    The DeCamp biography is pretty good, but the defacto biography is S.T. Joshi’s “Lovecraft: A Life”. Michel Houellebecq’s H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life” is an amusing read too, for true fans.

  9. Mer Says:

    Aw, Bun. As ever, I bow to your knowledge of all things tentacular and thelemic in nature. *squish*

    Tanya, check out the book Sex and Rockets, you will likey. Carnival of Souls is great, tooooooo. (Hee… I’ve got a write-up in the works about it as well. Along with a couple of other Halloweeny flicks. Yay.)

    On tour a while back, we drove past the Saltair Pavilion on the way out of S.L.C. and I completely flipped out. I had no idea it was still there. Managed to take a blurry photo:

  10. bunny Says:

    Neil: suggestion noted. I must admit my attraction to the DeCamp bio is partially sentimental as I found it when I was young and stole it from the library. I still have that copy – as well as an INCREDIBLE Lovecraft art book Mer brought me back from Switzerland. It is black hardbound with a silver embossed labyrinth skull on the cover and some amazing mythos inspired art and poetry inside. YAAA MER!!!

    By the way, has anyone noticed the new Penguin Classics editions of HPL? The choice in cover art is AMAZING! They went with Romantic paintings – “Mountains of Madness” being the best. It has all the horror of the sublime that you get from a Caspar David Fredrich landscape. It serves the tone of the man’s work much better I think than the usual Death Metal album cover art…. although I am partial to my old 60’s paperbacks with those trippy horror/American surrealist paintings on the front.

  11. Mer Says:

    Oh, yeah! That book’s from a Lovecraft exhibition at the wonderful Maison d’Ailleurs museum. Good stuff.

  12. Andy Says:

    I’d recommend watching episode 01×02 of Masters of Horror “Dreams in the Witch House”. I can’t remember if it’s based on an actual Lovecraft story but it certainly fits.

  13. Bradley Says:

    While not a straight adaption, the 2001 film Dagon is a fairly decent adaption of Shadow Over Innesmouth, albeit set in Spain for some reason.

  14. wchambliss Says:

    I have to concur with Bunny on the subject of De Camp’s Lovecraft biography. It’s fantastic. As for films, I thought Dagon was winningly awful.

  15. jwz Says:

    I’m apparently alone in thinking that “Reanimator” was crap but “From Beyond” (from the same crew) was pretty good. I like that FB picked up basically where the short story left off, letting them put more action into the movie without technically being unfaithful to the source material.

    “Lord of Illusions” also had some fairly Lovecraftian ideas (especially the “would you like to see the world how a god sees” bits.) (And, with Scott Bacula, we can play six degrees of Dean Stockwell!)

  16. Jon Munger Says:

    So, I was over at the Portland Lovecraft Film Festival this weekend. The bookend movie? The Dunwich Horror, starring none other than Jeffery Combs and Dean Stockwell.

    You know you want to.

  17. Jon Munger Says:

    I’d also point out the coulda-been-a-contender The Resurrected,a good, if dated adaptation of The Strange Case of Charles Dexter Ward.

    And I know this will get hisses, but thematically I’ve always felt that Se7en captured the soul crushing nihilistic despair of Lovecraft better than anyone in years.

  18. Damien Says:

    The moustache! The Moustache From Beyond Space and TIME!

    Oh, wait… Mechangel already noted that…

    I actually own this movie. And I LOVE it.

  19. Mer Says:

    That is not dead which can eternal lie… upon Dean Stockwell’s upper lip.

    Jon, I believe I mentioned The Resurrected, yuss. Se7en’s amazing…. I never actually connected it with Lovecraft but I can see what you mean, definitely. Need to see Dagon. I have horrible gaps in my 90s horror educmuhcaytion.

    JWZ, honestly, in spite of my deep, abiding love for Ken Foree, I actually find From Beyond almost unwatchably horrible. Although I do want to place stress on the word almost. ;D

  20. Skerror Says:

    John Carpenter’s “The Thing” is pretty darned Lovecrafty when you boil it down…

    I’m pretty psyched about Guillermo del Toro doing a big budget “At the Mountains of Madness” … but we won’t be seeing that for a couple years.

    That octopus in “The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack” disguised himself as a school classroom in one episode and it mixed some unspeakable Cthulhu horror in with the silliness…

  21. Mer Says:

    Skerror, I’m so tickled you brought up the Lovecraft elements in Flapjack!! Getting to do work on the music for that series –specifically the episode you’re talking about– is something I’m super duper proud of.

    Also very excited for del Toro’s adaptation, both of Madness and of The Hobbit.

  22. an9ie Says:

    Fascinating! Thanks for posting this. I’ve just realised how lacking my diet is in 60s horror. And were those hippie clowns in that park benchy scene?

    P.S. I’ve just realised that young Dean Stockwell looks a little like my boyfriend. This is … disturbing.

  23. P:SI #252 “Girl Genius and Roadrunner and Hobbits, Oh My!” | Project: Shadow Says:

    […] The Dunwich Horror: Sweet… Horrendipity? (via Coilhouse) […]

  24. Nathaniel Says:

    I have a soft spot for the HPLHS’s silent movie version of the Call of Cthulhu – possibly the most accurate adaptation and it works so well.

    And whilst the English town in Suffolk, that has mostly fallen into the sea is certainly pronounced “Dunnich”, I don’t think there is any consensus on how Lovecraft would have pronounced his New England version.

  25. Paul Komoda Says:

    I’m so pleased that someone else appreciates The Dunwich Horror for the anomaly that it is!
    I confess that the film version of The Dunwich Horror was a sort of “gateway” introduction to all things Lovecraftian back in my gradeschool days, and made me take an interest in my mother’s(!)paperback editions….the ones with the creepy John Holmes*illustrations on the covers.

    Giving credit where it’s due, it’s one of the first films that actually attempted to show one of HPL’s monsters onscreen, even if it does look like a big rubbery sunflower in the end.
    The soundtrack is 70’s occult-chic at it’s best and I’ve always loved that writhing poster image.

    * Not who yer thinkin’!

  26. Skerror Says:

    Mer, my nephew and I love that show…it’s like Coilhouse age-appropriated for the wee lil’ supervillains!

  27. Jerem Morrow Says:

    John Carpenter’s the THING!

  28. misty Says:

    EEK EEK EEK! The Saltair Pavillion is __still there__. That’s amazing!

    I LOVE the movie Carnival of Souls. I was practically jumping up and down when I found a copy for $3 at a Halloween store last weekend.

    I was so curious about the Pavillion after watching Carnival of Souls that I researched a bit and found an interesting documentary about the Saltair area, narrated by John Waters. It’s called Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea. Strange place. I want to visit one day, except not in the summer when all the fish die.

    Everything I found on the net led me to believe the Pavilion had been torn down. How excellent to know it hasn’t!

  29. Tequila Says:

    Happy to hear someone mentioned In The Mouth of Madness! So many I know HATE that movie. I think it’s because it loses a lot of its punch outside of a theater setting. The ending works so much better when you’re in a movie theater and wondering just what is waiting for you when you walk out.

  30. LiiLii Says:

    Cthulhu is pleased.

    Cthulhu fhtagn indeed.

  31. octopod Says:

    I’ll point out, also, that the movie “Chilean Gothic” is a Spanish-language adaptation of “Pickman’s Model”. Quite good.

    (And if you give money to the HPLHS, the same folks responsible for the super-awesome Call of Cthulhu movie mentioned above, they’ll maybe sometime be able to finish The Whisperer in Darkness!)