The Dunwich Horror (film)

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The Dunwich Horror
Dunwich Horror.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Daniel Haller
Produced by Samuel Z. Arkoff
James H. Nicholson
Roger Corman
Screenplay by Curtis Hanson &
Henry Rosenbaum
Ronald Silkosky
Based on "The Dunwich Horror"
by H.P. Lovecraft
Starring Sandra Dee
Dean Stockwell
Ed Begley
Talia Shire
Music by Les Baxter
Cinematography Richard C. Glouner
Edited by Christopher Holmes
American International Pictures
Distributed by American International Pictures
Release date
  • January 14, 1970 (1970-01-14) (U.S.)
Running time
90 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $1,043,000 (US/ Canada rentals)[1]

The Dunwich Horror is a 1970 American independent supernatural horror film from American International Pictures directed by Daniel Haller and produced by Roger Corman. The film was based on the short story of the same name by H.P. Lovecraft with a script co-written by Curtis Hanson.

The leading role was offered to Peter Fonda, but he turned it down. Instead, Dean Stockwell played the role of Wilbur Whateley. The film was shot in Mendocino, California.


A woman groans and writhes with the pain of childbirth in a bedroom from a bygone era as two elderly women - who appear to be twins - and an elderly man watch. She is then led out of the room by the elderly man.

At the Miskatonic University in Arkham, Massachusetts, Dr. Henry Armitage has just finished a lecture on the local history and the very rare and priceless book known as the Necronomicon. He gives the book to his student Nancy Wagner to return to the library. She is followed by a stranger, who later introduces himself as Wilbur Whateley. Wilbur asks to see the book, and though it is closing time and the book is reputedly the only copy in existence, Nancy allows it under the influence of his hypnotic gaze.

Wilbur's perusal of the book is cut short by Henry, who has researched Wilbur's family's sordid past. His warnings about the Whateley's go unheeded by Nancy, who decides to give Wilbur a ride back to Dunwich after he misses his bus, perhaps purposely. At a gas station on the outskirts of town, Nancy first encounters the ill-esteem in which the locals hold Wilbur.

Once back at the Whateley house, she meets Old Whateley, Wilbur's grandfather. Her car is then disabled and she is drugged by Wilbur. She decides under the influence of hypnosis and drugs to spend the weekend, and does not change her mind when Henry and Nancy's classmate Elizabeth arrive from Arkham the next morning. The duo does not abandon Nancy, however. They investigate further and discover that Wilbur's mother, Lavinia, is still alive and in an asylum. The town doctor, Dr. Cory informs Henry that Lavinia delivered twins when Wilbur was born, but one was stillborn, though he was not there for the delivery and never saw the body. The childbirth was very traumatic and Lavinia "lost her mind" during it, and nearly died.

In the meantime, on the advice of the locals, Elizabeth enters the Whateley house looking for Nancy. She opens a locked door, and releases a creature which appears to be Wilbur's monstrous twin, who kills her and escapes. Upon Wilbur and Nancy's return, Old Whateley confronts them about the presence of Nancy's car, and in the ensuing argument, falls down the stairs and dies. Wilbur takes him to the local cemetery for a decidedly non-Christian burial, but the local townsfolk vociferously stop him.

Wilbur's twin runs amok in Dunwich, killing several people. Lavinia dies in the asylum, looking much older than her 45 years. The Whateley estate burns down in a conflagration that may have to do with a pagan ritual. At the top of a coastal cliff, Wilbur prepares Nancy for sacrifice to bring back what he calls "The Old Ones." Confronted by Armitage, Wilbur chants and calls down his demon father as his adversary chants reverse spells. Wilbur is struck by lightning in the ritual and falls in a ball of fire into the sea.

Finally, the physically unharmed Nancy is escorted off the sacrificial altar by Armitage and Cory, who calm her by stating that the Whateley line has ended. Nancy is pregnant, presumably with Wilbur's ill-conceived child.

Main cast

Actor Role
Dean Stockwell Wilbur Whateley
Sandra Dee Nancy Wagner
Ed Begley Dr. Henry Armitage
Talia Shire Nurse Cora
Sam Jaffe Old Whateley
Donna Baccala Elizabeth Hamilton (Nancy's friend)
Lloyd Bochner Dr. Cory
Barboura Morris Mrs. Cole


American International Pictures originally announced filming the novel in 1963.[2]

Sandra Dee was paid $65,000 plus 5% of the profits.[3] This was the last film of actor Ed Begley, who died 3 months after its theatrical release.[citation needed]



Home media

The film was released on DVD by MGM on August 28, 2001. It was re-released again by the company as a part of a multi-disk set on September 11, 2001 and as a double feature with Die, Monster, Die! on September 20, 2005.[4]


On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 17% based on 6 reviews, with a weighted average rating of 4.5/10.[5]

Author and film critic Leonard Maltin awarded the film 2.5 out of 4 stars, stating that the film was "often effective", but also stated that the film's ending "ruined the whole movie".[6] Dennis Schwartz from Ozus' World Movie Reviews gave the film a grade C, commending the film's eerie atmosphere, but criticized its uneven presentation, and found the film to be "dull and uninspiring".[7] AllMovie gave the film a mixed review stating " Everything about the film -- the performers, the hair styles, the psychedelic imagery, the music -- has late-'60s tackiness written all over it, which leaves it very dated and not very Lovecraftian".[8] TV Guide awarded the film 2/4 stars, calling it "[a] fairly successful attempt at adapting H.P. Lovecraft for the screen."[9] Ain't It Cool News gave the film a mixed review, commending the film's first half and Stockwell's performance, but criticized the second half being cheesy, and not well written, with the final confrontation being particularly silly.[10] On his website Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings, Dave Sindelar stated that he disliked the changes to the film that departed from the original story, and criticized the performances, and underdeveloped characters. Sindelar also highlighted the handling of the film's monster as being effective and the only aspect he liked about the film.[11]

Shawn Handling from offered similar criticism, commending the first and second half, as well as the music and sound effects, but criticized the film's ending as 'being rushed and thrown together'. In spite of this, Handling admitted that the film wasn't necessarily bad, and felt that it was "a decent enough movie for 1970".[12]


Another film version, produced by Active Entertainment Finance and Bullet Films, was released in 2009.[13]

See also


  1. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1970", Variety, 6 January 1971 p 11
  2. ^ Gary A Smith, American International Pictures: The Golden Years, Bear Manor 2013 p 208
  3. ^ Mark McGee, Faster and Furiouser: The Revised and Fattened Fable of American International Pictures, McFarland, 1996 p268
  4. ^ "The Dunwich Horror (1970) - Daniel Haller". AllMovie. Retrieved 26 September 2015.
  5. ^ "The Dunwich Horror (1970) - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Flixer. Retrieved 15 July 2018.
  6. ^ Leonard Maltin (2 September 2014). Leonard Maltin's 2015 Movie Guide. Penguin Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-698-18361-2.
  7. ^ Schwartz, Dennis. "dunwich". Dennis Schwartz. Retrieved 15 July 2018.
  8. ^ Legare, Patrick. "The Dunwich Horror (1970) - Daniel Haller". Patrick Legare. Retrieved 26 September 2015.
  9. ^ "The Dunwich Horror - Movie Reviews and Movie Ratings". TV Guide. TV Guide. Retrieved 27 July 2016.
  10. ^ "Horror Movie A Day: Quint on THE DUNWICH HORROR (1970) The Old Ones are coming back. I'm going..." Ain't It Cool Quint. Retrieved 15 July 2018.
  11. ^ Sindelar, Dave. "The Dunwich Horror (1970)". Fantastic Movie Dave Sindelar. Retrieved 15 July 2018.
  12. ^ Handling, Shawn. "Film Review: The Dunwich Horror (1970)". Shawn Handling. Retrieved 15 July 2018.
  13. ^ Riser, James. "Film Review: The Dunwich Horror (2009)". James Patrick Riser. Retrieved 27 July 2016.

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