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The Dunwich Horror (Arrow Video) Blu-ray Review

    Ian Jane

  • The Dunwich Horror (Arrow Video) Blu-ray Review

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    Released by: Arrow Video
    Released on: January 10th, 2023.
    Director: Daniel Haller
    Cast: Dean Stockwell, Joanna Moore Jordan, Sam Jaffe, Ed Begley, Sandra Dee
    Year: 1970
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Dunwich Horror – Movie Review:

    Director Daniel Haller (who previously made Die Monster Die for AIP, taking on Lovecraft’s The Color Out Of Space) returns Lovecraftian lore with 1970’s atmospheric and creepy feature, The Dunwich Horror for AIP.

    Wilbur Whateley (Dean Stockwell) is, in the eyes of the population of the titular town he calls home, from bad stock. His mother, Lavinia (Joanna Moore Jordan), was tossed into a mental hospital after he was born and his family has a strange relationship with the town’s past, especially his weird grandfather (Sam Jaffe). When Wilbur arrives at Miskatonic University in search of The Necronomicon, Dr. Henry Armitage (Ed Begley) – who is aware of the Whateley family’s past - makes it clear in no uncertain terms that the book cannot leave the campus library.

    As Wilbur goes about his business, he meets a pretty student named Nancy (Sandra Dee). She clearly falls for him, and fast, offering him a lift back into town once they’re down on the campus. Bad move, Nancy – before you know it he’s drugged her and intending to use her in an ancient ritual, the kind that the townsfolk only whisper about but that his descendants are all too familiar with!

    From the weird animated opening titles through to the film’s almost surreal conclusion, The Dunwich Horror may be very obviously a product of the early seventies but for a movie made on a modest budget fast and cheap, it does a pretty respectful job of capturing the Lovecraft vibe. It might not play everything exactly by the book but it’s well paced and incredibly atmospheric, making great use of the main mansion location and turning the creepy old house into a kaleidoscope of insanity by the time it’s all over and done with.

    Stockwell makes for a mighty fine lead here, creeping out in a pretty big way in some of the scenes he shares with captive Sandra Dee. As to Ms. Dee, she’s the living, breathing embodiment of innocence here, making what Stockwell’s character puts her through all the more distressing. Sam Jaffe is a blast to watch as the grandfather and Joanna Moore Jorden good in her small part as the equally insane mother, while Ed Begley (in his final role) is fun to see in his cameo as the professor.

    This one is weird, and maybe a little ahead of its time in that it pre-dates what directors like Stuart Gordon and Richard Stanley would go on do to with in the world of H.P. Lovecraft by a good number of years, but it works really well. Add to that one of Les Baxter’s coolest scores, some wild effects work and some bonus nudity and this one comes up a winner!

    The Dunwich Horror – Blu-ray Review:

    The Dunwich Horror is presented on a 50GB disc, framed at 1.78.1 widescreen and presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition taking up just over 25Bs of space on the disc. Taken from a new 2k restoration of the original 35mm negative, the picture quality on this transfer is really strong. Colors look great, skin tones appear natural throughout and we get nice, deep black levels while thankfully avoiding crush in the film’s many darker sequences. There are no issues with compression, edge enhancement or noise reduction and the fairly pristine transfer (save for a few feint scratches here and there) always looks properly film-like. Detail, depth and texture are strong throughout as well. No complaints here, the movie looks great.

    The only audio option on the disc for the feature is a 24-bit DTS-HD 1.0 Mono English language track. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. Again, the quality is very good. The track is clean, clear and balanced without any noticeable hiss, distortion or sibilance to discuss.

    Extra features include a new audio commentary by Guy Adams and Alexandra Benedict, creators of the audio drama Arkham County. As the track plays out, they discuss little details like the signs on display in the universitry and Ed Begely's teeth to how and where the movie strays from the source material. They discuss some of the locations used for the movie, thoughts on the different performances that the cast members deliver, the quality of the cinematography and certain aspects of the film's production values and quite a bit more. Note that this is intentionally meant to be a humorous track and while there is good information and analysis in it, the pair does spend a fair bit of time joking about. As such, your mileage may vary.

    The disc also includes The Door Into Dunwich, which is a new conversation between film historian and comic book artist Stephen R. Bissette (who has a nice Dunwich Horror one sheet hanging behind him during the talk) and horror author Stephen Laws where they talk about Lovecraft’s work in general, The Dunwich Horror specifically and their own recollections of seeing the movie for the first time when initially released. This is, interestingly enough, the first time the two participants have 'met' in person (this was conducted via Zoom or something similar), though they knew one another on social media for some time. This piece runs two hours and ten minutes in length. There's talk here about Roger Corman and Curtis Hanson, what it was like being a horror fan before home video was the norm, the importance of old comics and cheap paperbacks back in the day, the appeal of Lovecraft and similar horror writing, details on the history of the production and the people who made it, how The Dunwich Horror is a key transitional film and its comparison to earlier and later horror pictures dealing with similar territory and plenty more. It's quite interesting and insightful and a treat to watch.

    After Summer After Winter is a new interview with science fiction and fantasy writer Ruthanna Emrys, the author of The Innsmouth Legacy series. This piece runs sixteen minutes and lets her talk about Lovecraft's legacy during the era in which he was alive as compared to his status now, the influence that he's had on modern horror and pop culture, her thoughts on the way that Lovecraft effectively gets his audience to experience fear, thoughts on the way that the characters from the source material are portrayed and other related subjects. Emrys' insight is valuable, she clearly knows her stuff.

    The Sound Of Cosmic Terror is a new interview with music historian David Huckvale that does a deep dive into the work that Les Baxter did on the score for The Dunwich Horror. Here, over thirty-two minutes, Huckvale, sitting at a piano, provides a nice biography of Baxter and an overview of his career before then breaking down the music in detail and playing certain selections for us to back up his points and thoughts on the material.

    Finishing up the extras on the disc is a theatrical trailer, an image gallery, menus and chapter selection options. Note that the commentary from Steve Haberman that was included on the Scream Factory Blu-ray from 2016 has not been ported over to this edition.

    Note that as this review is based off of a test disc we can’t comment on packaging or inserts or confirm that it will match finished, retail product. Should finished product be made available, we’ll update this review accordingly.

    The Dunwich Horror - The Final Word:

    The Dunwich Horror is an effectively strange take on one of Lovecraft’s best known stories. It’s quite well-made, weird enough to hold our attention and benefits from some strong direction and some very good acting. Arrow’s Blu-ray edition offers the film up in an excellent presentation and with some pretty solid extras as well. Recommended.

    Click on the images below, or right click and open in a new window, for full sized The Dunwich Horror Blu-ray screen caps!

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