Why is it that horror movies in which someone is strapped to a concrete slab and sacrificed to an otherworldly deity always come off more silly than scary?
“Brides of Blood,” “The Devil’s Hand,” “Blood of Dracula’s Castle” — the list goes on. And to it you may add “The Dunwich Horror,” an anemic adaptation of a story by the esteemed H.P. Lovecraft that also has trouble separating the goofy from the ghastly.
Not that “Dunwich” is a total mess. The sets were assembled with care (including an “Addams Family”-type mansion hiding a nasty secret behind one of its doors), there are at least three effective jolts and a few of the performers deliver on what director Daniel Haller (“The Wild Racers”) asked them to do.
Alas, none of these performers are first- or even fourth-billed, mind you. Poor Sandra Dee spends the majority of “Dunwich” in a daze, perhaps as an indication that she, too, realizes the story is sleepytime tea. Dean Stockwell is even worse, playing a self-proclaimed “student of the occult” who pilfers a copy of the Necronomicon from college professor Ed Begley in his attempt to resurrect some evil ancestors for reasons that are never made clear.
Luckily, Haller has added some fairly efficacious visual touches to keep viewers from nodding off to the sound of Stockwell’s monotone line readings and the equally monotone story. There’s a bizarre pagan nightmare sequence, a sepia-toned flashback and solarized imagery galore, though it’s all for naught in a movie this tedious.
Haller can jazz up the look and blast Les Baxter’s (admittedly effective) score all he wants. A polished turd is still a turd, no matter how pretty the packaging.
“THE DUNWICH HORROR”
Rated: R for flashes of nudity and a few murders
Director: Daniel Haller
Starring: Dean Stockwell, Sandra Dee
★½ (out of ★★★★)