The Summer of Lovecraft: The Dunwich Horror (2009)

Even most SyFy original movies have posters mocked up for them. Even Dragon Wasps.
Even most SyFy original movies have posters mocked up for them. Even Dragon Wasps.

“The devil’s spawn is about to open the gates to hell!”

Directed by Leigh Scott
Starring Dean Stockwell, Jeffrey Combs, Griff Furst and Sarah Leaving

The Story

Wilbur Whatley is the weird one in a family including a mad grandfather and an albino mother, a fast-growing freak who frightens animals and children with his odd smell. He studies sorcery with his grandpa and continually buys cattle for a herd that never increases.  He and his grandfather carry out constant conversion of the farmhouse in order to fit some thing connected to Wilbur’s mysterious father, named only as ‘Yog-Sothoth’. Grandfather and daughter disappear or die, and Wilbur is killed by dogs trying to steal an original Latin Necronomicon from Miskatonic University. When the thing in the house breaks loose, Miskatonic academics Henry Armitage, Warren Rice and Francis Morgan confront and destroy it. Wilbur is revealed to have been not quite human, and the thing to have been his twin, who looked more like the father.

The Film

Wilbur Whatley (Combs) is a serial killer, abducting tourists to feed to his monstrous brother (this fact is dropped in about a third of the way through the movie and never questioned.) Henry Armitage (erstwhile Whatley Stockwell) and his assistant, Fay Morgan (Leaving), are monster hunters and freelance exorcists.

summerattemp2

Lovecraftian!
Lovecraftian!

Realising that ‘someone has opened a portal’, they seek the aid of skeptical former colleague Warren Rice (Furst) in finding and translating an unexpurgated copy of the Necronomicon, a process which requires a dream quest from the house of some bullshit, immortal voodoo priest. While Rice and Morgan pursue the book and a pointless romantic subplot, Armitage bluffs Whatley into taking him back to the farm (which is entirely cattle free.) Mama Whately feeds her abusive father to the twin, shoots Wilbur and is shot by Armitage, who tries his Sith lightning on Yog-Sothoth, to little effect. Rice and Morgan arrive with ex-possessee Caitlin (for some reason) and the monster is banished, although Armitage has to sacrifice his life to buy time.

What’s wrong with it?

This film has the air of something even the SyFy Channel couldn’t be arsed with. Now, maybe it was just the bad YouTube transfer, but it looks like a shitty, shot-on-video 80s relic, yet was released in 2009.

Armitage’s Sith lightning is a weird twist.

Armitage’s counter-cult activities are atypically proactive, although if they were going to be in any Lovecraft adaptation it would be this one, as ‘The Dunwich Horror’ has the most straightforward triumph of good over evil of any of his stories. Armitage, Rice and Morgan take the fight to Junior and win, which is pretty rare in HP’s writing.

Oh, hey! Here it is. Just with a different title. And in Dutch.
Oh, hey! Here it is. Just with a different title. And pictures of stuff that isn’t in the movie. And in Dutch.

Rice and Morgan seek the Necronomicon with a 300 year old black Greek voodoo priest who lives in a tent in the swamp with an army of pole dancers, who sends the into a weird dream house that is itself the Necronomicon.

It even manages to drop in a designated girl fight, as Fay has to wrestle the possessed Caitlin while Armitage fiddles with a puzzle box.

What’s right with it?

Nothing much really. It’s incredibly cheap and not particularly cheerful, with bad sound and unremarkable music.

How bad is it really?

Dull and confusing, this film is a baffling mess of gratuitous special effects and mumbled or gabbled exposition.

Best bit (if such there is)?

The crazed explanation for the inaccessibility of the original Necronomicon is a hoot, and oddly apt to Lovecraft’s milieu: “We can’t take the book out of the dream. It is a dream. That’s why there’s no original.”

What’s up with…?

  • Sith lightning!?
  • Random ex-possessed girl? Apparently her bloodline was influenced by the Old Ones which is important because… I don’t know. she might be able to draw an Elder Sign by eye, but it doesn’t do them much good.
  • Rice taking time out to chat to a colleague who basically explains that he and Armitage saw this same shit go down a few years back, in Innsmouth no less.

Ratings

Production values – Even for SyFy, this was barely trying. 15
Dialogue and performances – Stockwell is pretty good as Armitage, and old hand Combs plays a creepy Lovecraftian demihuman yokel just like he’s ringing a bell, but Leaving and Furst are entirely bland. 12
Plot and execution – A rambling, shambling scavenger hunt and a clash with villains most of whom take each other out of the equation. It’s not unsuited to the original text, but with the direction they went for leaves only a nasty-looking storm cloud to face off with in the finale. 14
Randomness – Immortal pole-dance voodoo guy? 13
Waste of potential – As a slower, more mystery-oriented horror, the story could work. You could also make something more actiony using the Whatelys as a physical threat. This film… does neither. 12

Overall 66%

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