The Dunwich Horror (film)

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The Dunwich Horror
Dunwich Horror.jpg
Film 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 dates
  • 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 B-movie 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 future Academy Award winner 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.


The film begins with the groaning of a woman. The camera slowly pans to show two elderly women (who look like twins) and an elderly man who are watching a woman writhe and moan with the pain of childbirth on a bed in an old-fashioned looking bedroom. She is then led out of the room by the elderly man, who is later revealed as the elder Whateley.

The film continues, after the opening credits, at the fictional Miskatonic University in Arkham, Massachusetts, where Dr. Henry Armitage (Begley) has just finished a lecture on the local history and the very rare and priceless Necronomicon. He gives the book to his student Nancy Wagner (Dee) to return to the library. She is followed by a stranger, who later introduces himself as Wilbur Whateley (Stockwell). Whateley 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 Whateley's hypnotic gaze.

Whateley's perusal of the book is cut short by Armitage, who has researched Wilbur's family's sordid past. His warnings about the Whateleys 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 (Jaffe), Wilbur's grandfather. Her car is then disabled and she is drugged by the younger Whateley. She decides under the influence of hypnosis and drugs to spend the weekend, and does not change her mind when Armitage and her classmate arrive from Arkham the next morning. The duo does not abandon Nancy, however. They investigate further and discover that Wilbur's mother, Lavinia (Joanna Moore Jordan) is still alive and in an asylum. The town doctor, Cory (Bochner) informs Armitage 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, Nancy's classmate enters the Whateley house looking for Nancy. She opens a locked door, and releases a creature (which we are led to believe is Wilbur's monstrous twin) that kills her and escapes. Upon Wilbur and Nancy's return, Old Whateley confronts them about the presence of the missing girl'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.

As the story draws to a close, a rapid unfolding of events occurs. Wilbur's twin runs amok in Dunwich, killing several people. Lavinia dies in the asylum, looking much older than her 45 years in a brief scene that provides one of the only true shocks in the film. 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.

In the closing scene, 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. Just before the credits, it is revealed that Nancy is pregnant, presumably with Wilbur's ill-conceived child.

Main cast[edit]

Actor Role
Dean Stockwell Wilbur Whateley
Sandra Dee Nancy Wagner
Ed Begley Dr. Henry Armitage
Talia Shire Nurse Cora
Sam Jaffe Old Whateley
Lloyd Bochner Dr. Cory


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

Sandra Dee was paid $65,000 plus 5% of the profits.[3]



Home media[edit]

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

Les Baxter's evocative, sometimes jazzy and electronic score has in recent times proved much less controversial than the film and has been released on vinyl at least twice to the acclaim of music fans and collectors, despite the scant praise it received at the time.


Leonard Maltin awarded the film 2 1/2 stars out of 4 stating that the film was "Often effective", but also stated that the film's ending "ruined the whole movie".[5]

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".[6] It currently has a rating of 20% "Rotten" on film review aggregate Rotten Tomatoes with an average rating of 4.4/10 based on 5 reviews.[7]


This was the last film of actor Ed Begley, who died 3 months after its theatrical release.[citation needed]

Another film version of the tale, produced by Active Entertainment Finance and Bullet Films, was released in 2009.[8] Directed by Leigh Scott, the film starred Griff Furst, Sarah Lieving, Lovecraft film alum Jeffrey Combs as Wilbur Whateley, and Dean Stockwell, who starred in the original film adaptation, as Dr. Henry Armitage. It was first broadcast in October 2009 on SyFy.

See also[edit]


  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. ^ Leonard Maltin (2 September 2014). Leonard Maltin's 2015 Movie Guide. Penguin Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-698-18361-2. 
  6. ^ Legare, Patrick. "The Dunwich Horror (1970) - Daniel Haller". Patrick Legare. Retrieved 26 September 2015. 
  7. ^ "The Dunwich Horror (1970)- Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 27 September 2015. 
  8. ^ The Dunwich Horror at the Internet Movie Database

External links[edit]