CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE DUNWICH HORROR (2009)
by Michael Arruda and L. L. Soares
(Scene: A WOMAN lies on a bed, ready to give birth. A DOCTOR and a NURSE prepare to deliver the baby).
DOCTOR: Here it comes! Here it comes! (sound of baby crying) You have a healthy baby boy!
WOMAN (relieved): Why, thank you, doctor. (She suddenly starts screaming again).
NURSE (pointing to woman): Doctor, there’s another one. She’s having twins.
DOCTOR (leans towards woman): What the—? Oh my God! (DOCTOR and NURSE scream in unison, abject terror etched on their features)
(A baby with the head of L. L. SOARES crawls out onto the bed. It looks at trembling doctor and nurse)
LS: Don’t just stand there, give me a hand. Anyone have a beer? It’s been a long nine months. I’m thirsty! And someone give me a towel. I need a shower after that!
(MICHAEL ARRUDA enters room, dressed in a white lab coat. Looking very serious – almost Rod Serling-esque – he addresses the camera)
MA: The scene you have just witnessed is far more disturbing than anything you’ll see in the new movie THE DUNWICH HORROR (2009), now available on pay cable.
LS: Someone give me a friggin bottle! (starts hollering)
MA: I know what kind of bottle you want. Go take a nap or something.
LS (pops a cigar in his mouth and lights it): Where did that doctor go anyway? Y’know, this being “born again” ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Oh well, let’s get on with this. We have a movie to review.
MA: Yes we do, and that would be the new version of the H.P. Lovecraft story, THE DUNWICH HORROR (2009). Interesting about this flick: it’s currently available on OnDemand cable, before its theatrical release in August.
LL: It’ll probably be a very limited release though.
MA: And I can see why! This movie’s not very good.
LS (takes a puff of the cigar): Oh, crabapples!
MA: It starts with a birth, a scene very similar to the one we just witnessed, but far less scary. A woman gives birth to twins, the first a boy, and the second— a tentacled monster! We jump ahead ten years, to find a group of professors searching for the original copy of the fabled “necromancer book,” a book they need to restore order to the universe.
LS: Necromancer book? You act like this is the first time you’ve ever heard of the legendary NECRONOMICON, the notorious occult tome that made many an appearance in the stories of H.P. Lovecraft.
MA: Necro this. Necro that. Necronomicon? Sounds like a supersized scoreboard at a basketball game! Look, they’re showing the replay on the Necronomicon! I’ve just never been all that into the whole Lovecraft Necromancer thing.
(A tall, bald ALIEN holding a gigantic book pops up)
ALIEN: It’s a cook book!
LS: What’s with all these people popping up all the time? It’s like an episode of LAUGH-IN in here!
(LS blows cigar smoke into MA’s face.)
MA: Don’t you know that babies shouldn’t smoke? It will stunt your growth!
The scholars are led by Dr. Henry Armitage (Dean Stockwell), who gives instructions to the two younger members of his team, former lovers Professor Fay Morgan (Sarah Lieving) and Walter Rice (Griff Furst). Their search eventually leads them to the home of the bizarre twins. The “normal” twin is now an adult, Wilbur Whateley (Jeffrey Combs). Come to find out, he’s not so normal, as he ages 10 times as fast as a normal human. So he’s now in a 40 year-old body, but with the mind of a 4 year old.
LS: Yeah, the way Combs kept distorting his face all the time, he reminded me of Billy Bob Thornton in SLING BLADE.
(BILLY BOB pops his head in)
BILLY BOB: UnnHuhhh.
FORREST GUMP: And don’t forget me! My name is Forrest Gump!
(LS chases them around the hospital room with a cleaver)
MA: Hey! You’re a baby! Babies can’t run!
LS: They can’t do this, either! (opens door and throws cleaver, followed by a high-pitched scream).
MA (sighs): Leave it to cleaver.
There’s a lot of supernatural mumbo jumbo along the way, but ultimately, there’s a confrontation between the good guys and the bad guys over the mysterious book, and in a movie with as little imagination as this one, you know who wins.
LS: It’s not just any mysterious book, dammit. It’s the friggin NECRONOMICON, and it holds the secrets to opening a portal between dimensions to let in the Old Ones, like Cthulhu, who were once gods in our world. We’re talking about the very backbone of the Cthulhu Mythos here. Even the Necronomicon’s original author, Abdul Alhazred, appears in this movie!
And Wilbur’s brother isn’t just a tentacle monster, he’s the physical manifestation of the Lovecraftian god Yog-Sothoth, born from the womb of a human woman. This is all major, apocalyptic stuff that you’re dismissing out of hand!
MA: Yawn! Wake me when you get to the part where they meet Harry Potter and the hobbits. This is more the stuff of fantasy than horror, and perhaps had the movie version been better, I would have cared more, but as it stands now, I don’t.
And that’s because this movie was poorly conceived, with unimaginative writing, and below-average acting performances. The pacing is slow and the scares non-existent. It doesn’t even work as a supernatural drama. It’s too boring. It plays like a TV- movie, and I can certainly see why this would have a limited release.
LS: Okay, I agree with you that it’s not a very good movie, and that it’s slow-paced. But for some reason I didn’t have much trouble sticking with it. And I found a lot of it entertaining. What about the crazy mother who runs around in various goofy wigs? What about the second-rate exorcism scene at the beginning?
MA: It’s second-rate.
LS: What about those spooky tentacles that pulled people into the ether?
MA: So, you’re saying that you actually liked this movie. (Pauses for a moment of stunned silence.) Wow. I’m surprised. All joking aside, I really expected you not to like this one. I thought you’d find it way too tepid for your tastes. Look at you, puffing on a cigar, wanting a beer, which you no doubt consume regularly for breakfast. This film played more like a cream soda. Wow. I’m stunned.
Director/writer Leigh Scott has filled this movie with cliché dialogue and dull situations. There is one rather intriguing scene, where Wilbur kidnaps a beautiful young woman from a gas station in order to “feed” his monster brother. There’s some edginess to this scene that shows potential for scares, but the rest of the movie doesn’t live up to it.
LS: That scene was okay. Another one I really enjoyed was when Professors Morgan and Rice go to see the ancient wise man, Olas Wormius (Jeffrey Alan Pilars), who is supposedly three thousand years old, but who looks to be a 40-year old fat man, surrounded by naked dancing girls (who are supposed to be exotic, but who look an awful lot like the Suicide Girls). He even enters the room, levitating at least a foot off the ground! Now that was cool! How can you not love a master showman like that? I wanted more Wormius!
(Eastern music plays in the background and topless dancing girls start belly-dancing)
MA: This is the second movie I’ve seen this year by Scott, and the second one I haven’t liked. Scott wrote and directed a film called FRANKENSTEIN REBORN (2005) which I saw on DVD, a supposed homage to the Hammer Frankenstein films. It wasn’t very good, but it had its moments, and it was much more horrific than the mild-mannered DUNWICH HORROR. It too was hampered by below-average acting and unimaginative directing.
LS: Rats, I didn’t get to see FRANKENSTEIN REBORN, but I bet it has some fun, goofy moments too!
MA: It does. It’s not awful. It’s just not very good. But you’d probably like it a lot. It was rather visceral.
(LS sits in playpen playing with bloody intestines): Like this?
MA: Something like that. Hey! Stop that! Take that out of your mouth! You don’t know where that intestine’s been!
But back to THE DUNWICH HORROR. The cast here is not very good. Dean Stockwell, who also appeared in the 1970 version of this movie, is a solid actor, and he’s fine here. He just doesn’t do a whole lot, even though he does have considerable screen time. Still, it’s always enjoyable to see an older actor get the lead.
LS: I like Stockwell and I’m glad he’s in this remake. I saw the original DUNWICH HORROR a long time ago, and barely remember it, but Stockwell played the Wilbur role in the original, and that the movie focused primarily on his trying to seduce Sandra Dee to become part of an arcane ritual to open the portal between worlds. Obviously, none of the sexy stuff with Dee was in Lovecraft’s original story. I also remember some very psychedelic effects, that were very much of that movie’s time. It probably seems dated now, but hippies must have loved it, man!
(A HIPPIE pops up)
HIPPIE: The effects were far out, man. They were flashing in my mind like tiny stars inside my head, man, and they spoke to me of love, like everyone loved everybody else, and we were all at peace, and were all one, and it was far out, man. You wouldn’t understand. You’re too old, man. You’re over 30.
MA: True, (whispers) but have you noticed that you’re over 60?
MA: See for yourself (hands HIPPIE a mirror.)
HIPPIE: Oh, bummer man. In that case, never trust a man over 80. (flashes a peace sign and walks away).
LS: Something tells me that this remake, however flawed, is more faithful to the source material.
MA: Griff Furst as hero Walter Rice was as bland as a slice of white bread, and although Sarah Lieving fares slightly better as Professor Fay Morgan, her performance isn’t strong by any means. Jeffrey Combs as the supernatural man-child Wilbur is OK, but he mostly walks around looking scary without actually doing a whole lot, though the scene where he vomits into a man’s face has some punch.
LS (grinning): Like this?
MA: Don’t even think it!
LS: Combs is always great, and lifts up any movie he’s in, even this one. His character isn’t given an awful lot to do, but I enjoyed whenever he was onscreen. I mean, his character here is no Herbert West by any means, but he at least knows how to turn in an entertaining performance.
MA: It was interesting to watch a story based on the work of H.P Lovecraft, but ultimately, this movie plays much more like a fantasy than a horror movie. As soon as Dean Stockwell started shooting fire from his hands, I was ready to hit fast forward. The film doesn’t come off as believable at all.
LS: Aww, come on! Okay, the fire and lightning shooting from Stockwell’s hands was pretty hokey. But what about the scene where Stockwell is traumatized by seeing the face of Yog-Sothoth, which pokes out and leers at him from a purple cloud? That goofy face had me laughing out loud, especially when Stockwell looked so horrified by it! Now that’s acting!
MA: It’s a story that’s hard to believe to begin with, so it would have been helpful had the artists involved tried harder to make the audience believe what was going on. I didn’t get this impression at all.
LS: There are “artists” involved with this movie? Funny, I don’t remember seeing anything in this movie that could qualify as “art.”
MA: The only thing I believed was that Professor Fay Morgan had once broken off her relationship with Walter Rice, the hero. He’s annoying. That part of the story was believable.
LS: I actually thought Professor Rice was good as the Doubting Thomas of an academic who refuses to believe in the Old Ones, until he has no choice but to admit their existence if he’s going to banish them back to where they came from. Sure, he’s a smug, abrasive guy, but I thought that fit the character nicely. I found Professor Morgan, while more visually interesting (she reminded me a bit of Gina Gershon), to have even less of a personality. But you’re right, their relationship isn’t all that interesting. Who cares if they’re together or not? I actually wish she’d fallen for Wormius. Now there’s a charismatic fellow! I wish he’d been the hero of the film – he was much more compelling than Professor Rice or even Henry Armitage and his lightning-emitting fingertips!
MA: THE DUNWICH HORROR is a slow-moving boring film, a minor movie, not really worthy of the work of H.P. Lovecraft. Skip it. What about you, LL? What did you think?
LS: I found it more entertaining than you did, obviously. I admit, it was low-budget junk. But it had its moments. I always enjoy Combs and Stockwell. The monsters made me laugh. I can’t imagine this getting a theatrical release at all, though, and I’ll believe that when I see it. (In the meantime, for those who are interested, it is on OnDemand for the rest of June).
Oops, I think it’s time someone changed my diaper.
MA: Don’t look at me!
LS: Where did those dancing girls go? Baby wants some milk!
MA: Hopefully LL will grow up in time for our next review! And hopefully next time we’ll get a better movie to review. See you all then!
(Note: The crazy stills from the movie (above) are only here because this one didn’t have a movie poster or a DVD cover to show)
(First published on Fear Zone on 6/22/2009)
© Copyright 2009 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares