Release Date(s)1970 (January 10, 2023)
Studio(s)Alta Vista Productions/AIP (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B-
- Extras Grade: B-
Many horror and film historians consider 1970’s The Dunwich Horror to be one of the most faithful and overall best adaptations of any of H.P. Lovecraft’s material. For its time, it drew a minor amount of controversy as Sandre Dee, who co-stars in the film, was trying to shed her family-friendly Gidget image and move on to more adult-themed fare. Daniel Haller, who also directed Die, Monster, Die! and Devil’s Angels (as well as Buck Rogers in the 25th Century), helmed the film under the eyes of Roger Corman, who had already made another Lovecraft adaptation, The Haunted Palace, despite it being billed as an “Edgar Allen Poe” adaptation.
At a university library in Massachusetts, a mysterious stranger known as Wilbur (Dean Stockwell) has arrived to view the Necronomicon, a rarity in occult circles. One of the students charged with its care, Nancy (Sandra Dee), allows him to see the book briefly, but one of the professors, Dr. Armitage (Ed Begley), grows suspicious of Wilbur’s intentions. After an evening of drinks, Nancy offers Wilbur a ride back to his village, Dunwich. Upon arriving, her car breaks down and she’s forced to spend the night. What she doesn’t know is that Wilbur has been carefully grooming her to be sacrificed in order to bring back “The Old Ones.” Meanwhile, Wilbur’s hideous monster of a twin brother, who has been locked away in their home for many years, is trying to escape.
At times, The Dunwich Horror can be effective, but it can also be a mixed bag to a Lovecraft outsider. The film takes its time and doesn’t offer many set pieces to keep things intriguing. It’s not that the material is poor, it’s just that it’s very slow and methodical. There are sporadic moments of excitement, such as when Wilbur’s brother escapes for the first time, which is genuinely shocking because we get only a brief glimpse of him before the solarized effects take over (epileptics beware). As far as performances are concerned, Dean Stockwell plays it completely straight without a trace of irony, which some have considered stiff. Since the film’s release, Sandra Dee has been repeatedly accused of giving a poor performance, but one might also argue that her role as the victim gives her almost nothing interesting to say or do, making her little more than a means to an end. That is certainly not her fault.
On the positive end of the spectrum, the film has amazing set design and a patented Les Baxter score, even if the finished product feels very much like a TV movie (outside of a couple of brief glances at nudity). Even still, film scholars, Lovecraft aficionados, and horror fans alike still find plenty to enjoy in The Dunwich Horror, despite any and all perceived or obvious flaws.
The Dunwich Horror was shot by director of photography Richard C. Glouner using spherical lenses, and finished photochemically at the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Arrow Video brings the film to Blu-ray once again (Scream Factory previously released it) with a new 2K restoration of the original camera negative. It’s a pleasant presentation that has a fairly high yield of grain, but appears film-like with a high bitrate throughout. Saturation is good, although flesh tones are extremely pink at times, but the interiors of Wilbur’s home and the village countryside are lush with lovely greens, blues, and reds. Blacks are very natural with good shadow detail as well. Minor scratches and speckling are evident, and there’s one instance of a weak edge along the right side of the frame that flashes for a few seconds around the 18:36 mark (which is also present on the previous Blu-ray). The image is stable throughout, and despite the softness of occasional transitions and the use of soft focus filters, as well as the aforementioned solarized effects, it’s a fine presentation. (It’s worth noting for completists that the “M” rating classification that was present on the Scream Factory release at the beginning of the film is absent here.)
Audio is included in English mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English SDH. This required a small volume adjustment, but the quality of the track itself is just fine otherwise. Dialogue exchanges are clear and sound effects, though occasionally thin, come through well. The track sounds like it could have been patched together from different sources due to drops and rises in treble, but it’s relatively problem free, with plenty of support for Les Baxter’s score.
The Dunwich Horror on Blu-ray sits in a clear amaray case with a double-sided insert, featuring the original theatrical artwork on one side and new artwork by Luke Preece on the other. Also included is a 36-page insert booklet featuring cast and crew information, the essays The Dark Psychedelia of The Dunwich Horror by Jack Sargeant, Daniel Haller, Almost Supernatural by Johnny Mains, a recommendation of related reading material, restoration information, and production credits. Everything is housed in a slipcover featuring the same new artwork. The following extras are included, all in HD:
- Audio Commentary with Guy Adams and A.K. Benedict
- The Door Into Dunwich (130:13)
- After Summer After Winter (16:21)
- The Sound of Cosmic Terror (32:06)
- Theatrical Trailer (2:16)
- Image Gallery (33 in all)
First is a new audio commentary featuring the creators of the Lovecraftian Audible drama series Arkham County, Guy Adams and A.K. Benedict. Nothing against them personally, but they’re not a particularly good fit. They spend most of the commentary kidding around with each other, though they do attempt to provide some interesting details about various things throughout the film. It’s not a very good replacement for Steve Haberman’s commentary from the Scream Factory Blu-ray release, but that’s okay because next we get something that’s very special. The Door Into Dunwich is an epic 130-minute discussion between authors Stephen Laws and Stephen R. Bissette about their discovery and eventual obsession with H.P. Lovecraft stories, and how it ties into their own work. According to the text on the menu, Arrow attempted to bring these two authors together in the real world, but couldn’t make it happen, so it winds up as a very long Skype/Zoom session. It’s a fascinating discussion that goes on a number of various personal and professional tangents, with all roads leading back to Lovecraft. One could have easily have taken the audio and trimmed it down for an audio commentary track, so we must be thankful that the good people at Arrow wisely saw the value in the entire discussion being preserved. It’s the best new extra, by far. After Summer After Winter features an interview with science fiction and fantasy writer Ruthanna Emry about Lovecraft and facets of his work while The Sound of Cosmic Terror features an interview with music historian David Huckvale about Les Baxter and his score for the film, examining and playing selections from it. Last is the theatrical trailer and an Image Gallery containing 33 stills of promotional photos, behind-the-scenes photos, and the film’s poster. The film’s TV and radio spots are missing in action, but they can be seen elsewhere.
This is definitely the best that The Dunwich Horror has looked on home video, but outside of the chat with Stephen Laws and Stephen R. Bissette, there’s room for improvement in the bonus materials. It’s still a very nice package and an enjoyable release overall.
- Tim Salmons