NOVEMBER 10, 2010
As I've mentioned before, I was never much of a Lovecraft fan, but that won't stop me from checking out the films based on his stories. The Dunwich Horror is probably the oldest I've seen (it may even be the first), and it's also one of the best IMO, but after consulting the Wikipedia entry for the short story it's based on, I see that the film took giant liberties from the story (though kept many of the names), and not all of them seem to be for the better.
For one thing, Wilbur, the "hero" of the tale, is an alien/monster thing in the short story, but in the movie he seems to be completely human (albeit a warlock). He also died halfway through the movie in an attempt to steal the Necronomicon, but here the movie improves things by staging a hilariously clunky fight scene between Wilbur and a security guard. They topple over various chairs and such, seemingly hurting themselves as much as their opponent with each hit, and it goes on for a while longer than you would expect. Since a lot of the horror based stuff is largely off screen or obscured in some way, it's actually the action highlight of the movie.
Plus, by making him human, you get an amazing Dean Stockwell performance out of it. His delivery is so soft and eloquent, it's almost hypnotic in a way, and he looks very 70s with his mustache and perm, which just adds to the fun. But without what he added to the role, it would have been a very dull one - there really isn't a lot to the guy in the movie, and knowing that his role was written (by Lovecraft) to be an actual monster makes him even blander. So kudos to the casting folks and producers for getting someone as watchable as Stockwell to elevate the one-dimensional role into something memorable.
Don't get me wrong, the movie would still be entertaining even without Stockwell. There are times when it threatens to out-batshit The Wicker Man, with crazy dream/hallucination sequences (some with what looks like a cheesecloth overlay, for the hell of it) and death scenes that look like something Argento would cook up on an acid trip. It's also hilarious how often Stockwell poisons the love interest; it seems every other scene finds her drinking tea and then "feeling dizzy" after. No recollective memory whatsoever on this broad. There's also an old man who delivers all of his lines like he's the ghost of Bob Marley, who dies falling down a flight of stairs after attempting to beat Stockwell with his cane. Comedy gold.
One thing kind of bugged me though - the obvious California locales. It's supposed to be in Dunwich, Massachusetts (not a real town) but the look is pure northern California, too picturesque and bright to pass for a "Lovecraftian" Massachusetts locale. It should be all gloomy and blue, but instead I'm like "Oh this looks like a nice place to spend a romantic weekend".
The ending is also a bit too rushed. Like a Ti West film, it's a lot of buildup and then an abrupt conclusion, with several things not even really resolved. Like, where does the monster go? He kills some random folks (including a young/hot Talia Shire, still going by Talia Coppola) and then just sort of disappears. In fact, too much of the climax involves peripheral characters, leaving little time for the showdown between Stockwell and Ed Begley, his would-be nemesis that the film barely has him interacting with after the opening scenes (Begley's character owns the Necronomicon).
Maybe these things were fixed for the Syfy remake, which aired last year (with Stockwell now playing the Begley role - I love when they do stuff like that for remakes). I will check it out soon, though the fact that it's directed by Leigh Scott (an Asylum vet) doesn't bode well. At any rate, this version will probably appeal more to 70s slow-burn horror fans than Lovecraft ones, and is a must for Stockwell enthusiasts.
What say you?