D: The Dunwich Horror (2009)

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H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror” is my favorite of his stories; at its heart I feel it’s the closest thing to a solid B-movie he ever wrote. Therefore, there have actually been several filmic versions. And yet each one I’ve seen so far has managed to miss the mark.

In the story, the Whateleys – an outcast New England family, one of Lovecraft’s standard cultists – has worked a ritual, the result of which is twins – Wilbur and his brother, who is never seen, imprisoned in a section of the family house. Wilbur manages to get himself killed trying to get one of the very few extant copies of the forbidden magic book, the Necronomicon, revealing that he is not entirely human. With no one left to feed his rapidly growing brother, it smashes out of the house and starts ravaging the countryside – Wilbur’s brother, you see, favored the father more. And the father was the exiled god, Yog-Sothoth.

The birth of the twins is shown at the beginning (there are tentacles involved), and the next thing we’re going to notice is that the movie is titled Witches: The Darkest Evil. And the changes won’t end there.

The one I bought at Kaybee didn’t do this.

Dr. Henry Armitage (Dean Stockwell, who played Wilbur in the 1970 version, the first instance of stunt casting) attends to the exorcism of a young lady (Natacha Itzel) who sprouts bat wings, among other things, and attacks his assistant Fay (Sarah Lieving). Armitage is even more adept at magic than his literary counterpart, shooting lightning from his fingers. The cause is a “Sumerian Ritual Pyramid” hidden under the floorboards (which I recognize as a knock-off from the Rubik’s Cube craze of the early 80s, re-painted). It’s a pretty good sequence, even with some iffy CGI, but has nothing to do with Lovecraft.

The locale has also been switched to Louisiana, we find. Armitage and Fay (Fay Morgan, incidentally. Cute) call on his old protege, Walter Rice (Griff Furst), Head of Antiquities at some university. The exorcism points to “a portal” being opened, and Armitage wants Rice to find the one page missing from all copies of the Necronomicon – page 751, which involves the rituals for opening and closing said portals. Rice departs to investigate a lead Armitage provides, accompanied by Fay – which is going to cause some problems, as the two are former lovers. Also, Rice may be steeped in the lore, but he does not believe. This will change.

The Whateleys, meantime, are also seeking out that page. Wilbur is played by Jeffrey Coombs, the other instance of stunt casting. He spends most of his time kidnapping hapless travellers to feed to the monster upstairs. All these plot threads will of course come together by the end, but getting there is, um, shall we say interesting.

Rice has a lunch meeting with a colleague, Dr. Ashley (writer-director Leigh Scott), who mentions a similar ritual that took place in Innsmouth (a brief flashback provides us with fairly effective glimpses of a Cthulhu-like figure). Armitage’s clue leads Rice and Fay to Olaius Wormius, a translator of the original Necronomicon, who is somehow still alive, and who directs the two to a house owned by a “Mr. Ward”…

Essentially, what this American/German co-production tries to do is act like a Unified Field Theory for the works of H.P. Lovecraft, and that is a double-edged sword. It’s a fun game for fans, but is going to seem needlessly complicated to the uninitiated. The wisest move the production made was casting Coombs, who gives the otherworldly Wilbur his all. The unwisest move was attempting the apocalyptic ending on a TV movie budget. Given my history, I tend to be forgiving of attempts to do Lovecraft on a budget, but even scrappy little outings like The Void are a more solid attempt.

Not terrible, but diffuse. I’m still looking forward to a movie version that has the power of the original story.

 

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