Wilber Whateley (Dean Stockwell), the last of a family that worshiped the old gods, plans to sacrifice Nancy Wagner (Sandra Dee) as part of a ritual in the Necronomicon, in order to open a gate to the other world. Sandra’s friend and teacher, Dr. Henry Armitage (Ed Begley) intends to stop him.
Ah, those wild seventies, where monsters were psychedelic lights, nightmares included nude hippies running across the hills, and evil warlocks permed their hair. What is more frightening than a disco sorcerer? How about a disco sorcerer who only speaks in a soft monotone? I have to wonder if that was a choice of director Daniel Haller (in which case, he should have found a job that he was competent at) or if Stockwell was popping a few too many downers. Sandra Dee was more of a ’60s girl, so she was tired by the ’70s. That could explain why she spends most of the film asleep (although she does tend to dream (of those nude hippies) and writhe about on alters, though don’t get excited as the picture blurs whenever her thigh is visible.
This adaptation of an H. P. Lovecraft story does at least follow the basic tenants of Lovecraft’s world. It doesn’t show the same respect for his plot. The Dunwich Horror just takes the basic Satanist-sacrificing-to-summon-the-devil story and replaces Satan with Lovecraftian ancient gods. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that story, or right with it; it’s just been done many times before. I can’t even be that charitable with the acting (which flips between being far underplayed to what you’d expect of children on a playground, the latter most noticeable when Stockwell plasters his hands against his ears to form upside-down antlers and nasally cries out “Yog-Sothoth”). The effects are worse, with the monster mainly being depicted from its point of view by tinting the pictures, but eventually being revealed as a bunch of non-animated plastic snake heads in red mist.
There are a few unintentional laughs to be had from the dialog of this amateur production. A prime example is when the local bumpkins find a murdered family and one informs the sheriff, “No man would mutilate the bodies that way.” Humans have shown themselves to be pretty open to all forms of perversion on corpses, and since these bodies are never shown, I’m left thinking that the results must have been too intricate a job for men. Perhaps they were woven into throw rugs? That would have been original and more interesting to see than this movie.