FIVE FILMS FROM...1970
The Dunwich Horror
(Directed by Daniel Haller)
Cinema has a difficult relationship with the works of H.P. Lovecraft, with Stuart Gordon only making something of a credible movie impact with his adaptations (“Reanimator”, “From Beyond”). And whilst it’s not entirely successful (mostly due to a lack of budget and not imagination), this ambitious re-telling of the author’s creepy short story deserves some attention. Director Haller had previously made another Lovecraft film in 1965, with his “Die, Monster, Die” being based on “The Colour out of Space”. Produced by Roger Corman, and co-written by Curtis Hanson (“L.A. Confidential”), this one was originally intended to have Peter Fonda in the lead role, until Dean Stockwell was cast as the sinister Wilbur Whateley. The story takes place in modern-day Massachusetts, as Whateley schemes to use the fabled Necronomicon to resurrect the “Old Ones”.
This film isn’t generally well-regarded, but has obtained a cult-like status after many late-night TV showings. Whatever your opinion, you have to admire several aspects about it. It adheres nicely to the essential lore around the Cthulhu Mythos, with important elements played by the Necronomicon, Miskatonic University, and Yog Sothoth himself/itself. Wilbur’s monstrous sibling is disappointingly visualised with quick glimpses and psychedelic images, but overall there’s a nice creepy esoteric atmosphere about the whole thing. This is compounded by a committedly OTT performance by Stockwell, as he gibbers nonsense and literally twirls knives over a supine Sandra Dee during the thunderstorm-backed climax. The film also boasts a brilliantly catchy soundtrack from the prolific composer Les Baxter, with the eerie main theme accompanying a chilling animated credit sequence, leaving you with a supernatural “ear-worm” that you’ll never get rid of.
(Directed by Roy Ward Baker)
This was an important film for the House of Hammer, and marked a pivotal moment in the so-called “permissive” age of British cinema, when the studio became more overt with their conjoining of sexuality and horror. Hammer had always stood for glamour and they ceaselessly promoted their young actresses in the media. But this offering dropped the coyness, featuring nudity from some of the cast and fairly strong sapphic sequences, which were at least partly due to requests from the America distributors. The story is set in 1790, and follows the misadventures of the vampiric Marcilla/Carmilla/Mircalla Karnstein (a luminous Ingrid Pitt) as she seduces her way through several Austrian families… with her bite-marks tending to appear somewhat lower than the neck on her female victims.