Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection or from my DVR and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Welcome to the first (of 31) Horror Movie A Day columns. If you’re wondering where the regular A Movie A Day column is… well, it’s still here, but the regular list is on hold. I froze it with LAURA and will continue it November 1st with another Gene Tierney film, BLACK WIDOW, but in the mean time I’m trying something a little different.
I have a list of (so far) 50 movies that fall either into the horror, thriller or suspense category. These titles were pulled from my stack of AMAD flicks. What I’ve done is write down the title to each film, one title on one slip of paper, and put them all in a plastic bag. The plan is to draw, at random, a film a day. There are a good dozen or so horror films that I left out of the drawing pool for this month because they’re already locked into the regular AMAD list and I don’t want to take all my horror out of the next few months.
I’ll be updating the master list as I pick up new titles. October’s great for horror sales, so there little doubt that I’ll be picking up many titles over the month and putting them in the running. In fact, I have 5 or 6 movies headed my way ordered off of Amazon and Deep Discount DVD that I’ll update as soon as I have them in-hand.
The first film drawn was THE DUNWICH HORROR, an AIP picture for 1970 starring Dean Stockwell (Al!!!) as the great grandson of a cult leader trying to bring the Lovecraftian Old Ones back to Earth.
Of course, I use the term “Lovecraftian” and that’s probably inaccurate since this movie is more than Lovecraftian. It’s actually based on one of Lovecraft’s short stories… so maybe techinically it isn’t Lovecraftian so much as it is Lovecraft.
The cast is fairly fascinating for a B Picture. You have Sandra Dee looking older than her 28 years, but still hot, as the girl Stockwell chooses for his cult practices, Ed Begley Sr. as a traveling lecturer and owner of the Necronomicon, Sam Jaffe (who AMAD readers might remember I loved in THE ASPHALT JUNGLE as Doc Riedenschneider) as Stockwell’s crazy white-haired grandpa and then there’s Stockwell himself at his late ‘60s/early ‘70s sleaziest.
There’s also another familiar face in a bit role of a Nurse. She’s credited as Talia Coppola, but she became famous a few years later as Talia Shire, Adrian herself.
Now, I’ve been meaning to give this one a view for some time now, but I know a lot of people who tried to warn me off of it. The film isn’t highly rated at IMDB either, but I knew some day I’d just have to bite the bullet and give it a view.
And let me tell you, it’s not all that bad of a film. In fact, the first half of the movie is pretty good. You have Dean Stockwell, not exactly the most good-looking charmer to grace the silver screen, seducing Sandra Dee while trying to get his hands on the Necronomicon. There’s a charm in watching him play the role of Wilbur Whateley. He’s soft-spoken, non-threatening… there’s something about him not being the obvious pick for this kind of demented cultist that really works for me.
He ends up getting Sandra Dee to drive him to his mansion in Dunwich where the main mystery of the movie is set up (what is Stockwell up to? Who or what is locked in the room at the top of the spiral staircase? Why does he live with his crazy grandfather?) and this is also where Stockwell uses a combination of charm and drugs (he keeps slipping something into Dee’s tea) to coerce her into taking part in a ritual where her body will be the vessel the Old Ones use to return to this world.
The seduction is what bridges us from the good first 40 minutes to the second cheesy, iffy 40 minutes.
I don’t really blame the filmmakers… the last 40 minutes needed a payoff and the closest we get is a glimpse at the creature living behind the bolted door at the top of the spiral staircase, something that is used quite effectively, but I’m sure looked cheap as shit without the trick lighting and camerawork.
In fact, this thing “exists in two dimensions” so when it gets loose and is called to the sacrificial altar by Stockwell it is represented by wind (M. Night Shyamalan style)… Oooohhh, wind… scccaaarrrrryyyy.
The writing isn’t particularly strong either, with the final confrontation coming off as just silly. Basically you have a robed Stockwell standing over a writhing drugged Sandra Dee on a stone altar on the top of a hill and Ed Begley races up to stop him. Stockwell and Begley essentially baby-talk back and forth, shouting passages from the Necronomicon at each other, until one of them spontaneously combusts and falls off the hill into the crashing waves below.
When I say baby talk I’m not really kidding. The supposed-to-be-creepy passages are just a step up from Gah-Gah-Goo-Goo.
So, I guess that’s why the film has a low rating. The second half turns into a cheesy, but not all that fun typical cult film due to budget constraints and some iffy writing.
Speaking of, one of the writers is none other than a very young Curtis Hanson, who later went on to direct LA CONFIDENTIAL, WONDERBOYS and 8 MILE. Interesting, huh?
The highlight of the movie for me was Jaffe as Stockwell’s crazy grandfather. He was forced to carry around this horrible prop, a cheap staff with a crazy sun symbol on it, every time he was onscreen. He’s essentially the “You’re all doomed” character, the grumpy old bastard trying to warn everybody away. It could have been very stupid, but Jaffe gives it his all and makes the character stand out.
Also keep an ear out for some very nice music from Les Baxter (BLACK SABBATH, SWITCHBLADE SISTERS, X: THE MAN WITH X-RAY EYES). Baxter’s score is probably the best thing about this film, even if I don’t think it fits a lot of the time. His main melody is a very sweet tune that would probably feel more at home in a nice romantic drama than an AIP cult film.
Interestingly enough, someone’s already remade this movie, with a release date this Halloween. I’m not sure what kind of release it is, but Jeffrey Combs plays the Stockwell character and Stockwell returns, this time playing the Begley character. I’m curious. Lovecraft on a budget is damn near impossible to pull off, but the original was very ripe for a remake.
Final Thoughts: It’s a heavily flawed movie, but one that I wouldn’t necessarily warn anyone off of. You should just know going in that it gets ridiculous by the end. But it’s worth seeing for a very hot young Talia Shire, Ed Begley, Dean Stockwell and Sam Jaffe alone. There’s also a really neat animated opening credits sequence that is worth seeing. And who could totally hate a movie that ends with a zoom in on a fetus?
The titles up for grabs during the randomly picked Horror Movie A Day October:
Wednesday, October 1st – Friday, October 31st: H-MAD! Horror Movie A Day! Check out the list here!
Alright. First Horror Movie A Day in the bag. Can’t wait to see what the coming few weeks have in store! As usual, feel free to leave any suggestions in the talkback below for titles I have to hit. I’m especially looking for fun horror from the ‘70s and ‘80s. I’ve seen a great many from that era, but you never know what has slipped through the cracks.