Project Horror, Day 18: The Dunwich Horror


There have been many, many screen adaptations of Stephen King's works, but only a handful of good ones - The Shining, Misery, The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, Stand by Me.  Notice how of the five, only two are horror films?  Try as they might, Hollywood just can't seem to adapt King's horror to the screen very well.

Now take H.P. Lovecraft, the great turn-of-the-20th-century horror writer.  As of this writing, IMDB tells me that there have been nearly 100 adaptations of his work, but I've never heard of most of them, and the ones I've seen have been a mixed bag.  Of course Re-Animator is legendary, and there was a decent episode of "Masters of Horror" based on "Dreams in the Witch-House," but Hollywood has just never tackled his best stuff in a successful way.  Lovecraft is probably best known for his stories of the Cthulhu mythos, tales of races so ancient that the very knowledge of them has been lost to time.  Their evil is so vast and so unspeakable that even to know about them is to have your mind shattered.  The closest a movie has come to capturing that kind of evil is Sex and the City.

Still, hope springs eternal, so when I saw this was available on Netflix I thought I'd give it a try.  It  started out pretty strongly, set the scene, aroused the curiosity...  Unfortunately, that didn't last.  The basic plot: Sandra Dee plays a student who becomes romantically involved with the grandson of an occultist who was killed years before.  He tells her about the Old Ones, a scene which was interesting in how it departed from the original story.  In Lovecraft's stories, they're hideous transdimensional beings of fearsome power.  In this movie, they're wild-eyed people wearing smudgy make-up and raggedy tutu-looking things, kind of like Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City.  Once he's shown her the ancient site where fertility rites are practiced, you can pretty much guess what's in store for her.  The one bonus in this?  Seeing a surprisingly buxom Sandra Dee in a dress with a very revealing cut.

My advice if you want Lovecraft on film is to check out In the Mouth of Madness.  It's not actually a Lovecraft story, but it's so clearly based on his stuff that it's a great watch, and it's directed by John Carpenter, so that's all you need to know.  As for The Dunwich Horror, I give it two Shrieking Bradshaw Heads out of five.


Ali said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ali said...

ok, i can put this comment on any post because i just want to say that your "recent comments" section makes me look like the ultimate, chatty blog-stalker! yay, me!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Danny. Just spit coffee all over my screen. Hilarious!!!

Danny said...

Ali, I'm actually glad for all of your interactions on here. There are times when I want to post a comment to one of your blog entries, but then I think, "No, because you've already put stuff on her last few, and she's going to start thinking you have an unhealthy interest in pictures of her kids with Orlando's buckets on their heads." Now I'll worry no more!

Unknown said...

Unfortunately, I never got into HP Lovecraft, my deepest connection remains track eight from Metallica's Ride the Lightning album, The Call of Ktulu.

Really, I just wanted to add a couple of Stephen King film adaptations for your consideration.

The Running Man - Regardless of how loosely based this film is on the book, it's still one of Arnold's best. King himself said he loved Richard Dawson's performance and really, can you even argue the point? One of the all time greatest game show host villains ever.

Apt Pupil - Not great, but watching Gandolf as a Nazi was pretty cool. Plus anytime I get to see David Schwimmer squirm it's a treat.

Maximum Overdrive - C'mon! How can you forget this classic? Actually directed by King himself. Emilio Esteves, soundtrack by AC/DC, and the Green Goblin big rig? Brilliant! Not to mention if features one of my favorite on screen post-coitus lines ever, "You sure make love like a hero." And...cut. Print. Pure gold.

Danny said...

I sometimes think that Lovecraft is better summarized than read. The ideas of his stories are interesting and exciting, but his prose is kind of stiff. You're better off with Metallica.

I absolutely agree with you about The Running Man. The main reason I didn't include it on the list, I guess, is that it really is such a loose adaptation that I don't think it's a fair comparison. It's like The Lawnmower Man - the story is about a bizarre lawncare service that worships Pan, and the movie is about Pierce Brosnan in virtual reality.

Your other two examples are good ones, too. Apt Pupil didn't get a ton of attention, but it's a creepy movie. Maximum Overdrive makes me wish I owned a drive-in theater, just so I could show it - I think it's perfectly suited for that.

Have you ever heard of King's "Dollar Babies" program? I'll get the details of it wrong, I'm sure, but basically he'll let student filmmakers and other very low-budget folks make adaptations of his work for a one dollar license fee. I think there's restrictions on how they're then allowed to distribute the work, etc., but some of them are supposed to be very good. If you look on his IMDB page, it's got tons of them listed on there.

Ali said...


Anonymous said...

Danny, you are right about reading Lovecraft. He very often resorts to the very lame tactic of describing something awful or terrifying as "indescribable". Come on, man! You're an author!!

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