Saturday, June 27, 2009
Aaron Vanek reviews The Dunwich Horror...
I regret that I missed this one at last year's H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival. As has been typical the last few years, there are far too many movies each year to see them all. I mistakenly thought this Dunwich Horror, which stars Dean Stockwell, was the old 1970 version of the story.
Fortunately, I was finally able to catch it. I heard from C. Courtney Joyner (screenwriter/director of The Lurking Fear) that this movie did for the original Lovecraft story what The Curse did for Lovecraft's favorite story, "The Colour Out of Space". Ouch.
So it was with some trepidation that I watched this.
Ultimately, it's a mixed bag. The story is closer to the original text than I expected, which was a good thing. There's no Powder of Ibn-Ghazi, alas.
Dean Stockwell plays Henry Armitage, and Jeffrey Combs plays Wilbur Whateley. I thought Stockwell was fine, and Combs was perfectly cast as someone who didn't want to be there and scowled through every scene thinking about the only actor's motivation: their paycheck.
The main leads, however, are "unknowns" and did OK.
The Whateley farm has been relocated from New England (in the original story) to Louisiana. I didn't have a problem with this, and the location shooting was great. And any way to bring money into that hurricane-torn state is a good thing in my mind.
But the characters managed to hop from New England to the swamp fairly easily. Isn't it a two-day drive to get down there?
Also, many of the interior locations, while very antiquated and picturesque, weren't quite right. This is best exemplified when Wilbur comes to Miskatonic looking for the Necronomicon, and Armitage takes him into the "library." Armitage says something like "there's a lot of books here, can you describe the one you're looking for, maybe we can narrow it down," yet we can't see any books anywhere in the room.
As a no-budget indie filmmaker, I am well aware of the difficulty in getting good locations, but couldn't the working-for-free PA's check out a few hundred library books (they have libraries in Louisiana, right?) and buy some cheap IKEA bookshelves? (do they have IKEA in Louisiana?)
Other locations also fell into that mold: looks great, but doesn't really have anything to do with the scene.
The computer graphics effects were a tad below average, mainly because something had to be shown. The best was the look/face of Wilbur's brother, which was kick-ass, and only seen briefly, in glimpses.
The script failed on a few levels: believability, dialogue. I see and appreciate the attempt, but I think the Arkham Horror board game was a bigger influence on the writing than Lovecraft's story (If you are familiar with the game, and see this movie, you'll understand). Armitage can shoot bolts of lightning out of his hands? Really? When the money for those shots could have been better spent on production design and art direction? Or making Wilbur Whateley (Combs) look more monstrous?
I had a problem with some of the camera and editing work as well: strange angles and weird, unmotivated cuts...or lingering on a shot too long. It seems like they were trying to make a $2 million dollar picture with $200,000, rather than a 200-large picture using $200,000: the seams are showing.
There was one scene that caused me to burst out laughing, and not in a good way; the two main characters travel to Louisiana to meet Olaus Wormius, a millennia-old wizard who translated the Necromicon from Arabic into Latin. He's shacked up with a harem of topless girls on the swamp (which I could accept--you're thousands of years old, why not get a bunch of hotties to belly dance around you all day long and call you "Master"?). He appears to the characters by FLOATING into the room. Which was hilarious because the actor is a few hundred pounds and bald, so he looked like a dirigible sailing into port.
Maybe it's my fault for stereotyping ancient sorcerers who have vast knowledge of the Cthulhu Mythos as degenerate wizened crones, but I just couldn't take this guy, or this sequence, seriously. But it was nice to see titties, you know (the only point in the movie where the audience is privileged to such globes of delight).
Overall, a mixed bag. It is a semi-serious attempt at one of Lovecraft's best stories, and one with a lot of room for action and effects. A great cast and some great locations offered promise, but it finally falls flat under its own lack of understanding of the basic nature of Lovecraftian horror and terror.
For a better version of the story, check out the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society's Dark Adventure Radio Theater play.
Note: it's by the same brilliant folks who brought us the best Lovecraft adaptation to date, The Call of Cthulhu...made on far less than this movie.
(Thanks to Aaron Vanek)
Posted by Craig Mullins at 9:11 AM