(War Pig loves really bad sf&f movies. This one’s for you War Pig.)
This movie is so monumentally bad that I feel compelled to dissect its awfulness so that we can learn something from it. First of all, look at the date. 1970 is something of a low water mark in American cinema. Now granted this was produced by American International Pictures and they only ever made really cheap and schlocky movies. But that sets the stage for how this movie became what it was. Next, the story is an old H.P. Lovecraft story so the cost of buying the movie rights must have been pretty close to zero.
Next take a look at the actors. Sam Jaffe and Ed Begley were actual actors at one time but their careers were coming to an end and they probably really needed the money. Dean Stockwell was a young guy whose career had begun as a child actor in the big studio system but with that system now a thing of the past he would earn his daily bread working in schlock and it suited him. Sandra Dee was a product of the post war teen movies of the late fifties and early sixties. She had played all the Gidget and Tammy parts and was now too old to be the girl next door. This was what was next on her ride to oblivion. It’s also funny to see that before she got some big screen parts in movies like the Godfather and Rocky, Talia Shire had a small role in this stinker. So, there are some actual actors in this movie. But what can they do with this thing?
And finally, what is the plot? Well, in the original Lovecraft story Wilbur Whateley, played by Dean Stockwell, and his monstrous twin are the product of some kind of bizarre ritualistic impregnation of their mother by one of the Great Old Ones, Yog-Sothoth. The book chronicles the attempt by Wilbur to use the Necronomicon to allow Yog-Sothoth to break through from his own dimension and conquer Earth and eat all the humans for lunch.
But the geniuses at American International Pictures decided that what Wilbur wanted was to go for another generation of Yog-Sothoth baby making and Sandra Dee would be the baby mama. The monster brother is still in the plot but it seems like a sort of dangling appendage that nobody knows what to do with.
Ed Begley is Dr. Henry Armitage, a university professor who has a copy of the Necronomicon and is Sandra Dee’s boss. He will try to save her life and foil Whateley’s diabolical plan. And to round out the cast Sam Jaffe is “Old Whateley,” Wilbur’s grandfather who seems to have inexplicably changed his mind about being an evil servant of the Great Old Ones and now just runs around warning everyone about how dangerous everything is. Comically they’ve painted thick black eyebrows on his face. He sort of looks like Groucho Marx in that sense.
Well, before you know it Wilbur convinces Sandra Dee to come to his groovy farmhouse and drink some tea and after he pulls the distributor cap off her car’s motor, she has to spend the night. She has dreams that look like they were filmed with my kid brother’s super 8 movie camera. Semi-naked hippies who look like rejects from the Manson family hopped up on hair tonic and looking for love chase her around. It’s quite ridiculous. When she wakes up, she shares these dreams with Wilbur and we can see that it’s all having the hoped-for result. She’s looking for some Yog-Sothoth action. So, Wilbur brings her up to an oceanside cliff with an altar where she will wear some kind of poncho-like garment that allows the cameraman to show us the side of her leg and butt for what seems like hours. And Wilbur spreads her legs apart and props the Necronomicon against her groin while he reads passages to Yog-Sothoth.
At some point Wilbur’s brother breaks out of his room and eats about five people including Talia Shire. We never really get a good look at him. He’s got tentacles and eyes and I don’t know what else. He makes guttural noises and he has problems with his adenoids for sure.
Finally, Ed Begley shows up at the cliff and he and Wilbur posture and spout meaningless syllables at each other. Begley’s babbling proves to be the stronger and Wilbur’s head bursts into flames and he jumps off the cliff. We briefly see what might be Yog-Sothoth appear as a cartoon character suspended over Sandra Dee’s groin before he disappears. Then Ed Begley helps her off the altar and the movie ends but as it ends, we see an image of a fetus near Sandra Dee’s belly. Yog-Sothoth scored again!
So, there it is. It’s embarrassing to admit I even made it to the end of this awful waste of time. As far as I know Talia Shire is the only living victim of this terrible thing. I imagine it still haunts her. Maybe her rich brother Francis Ford Coppola can buy the rights to the movie and destroy every copy so their family’s shame can end. I’ve never been a big fan of Lovecraft’s prose. His imagination was fertile and the images he came up with were vivid. But his prose style was lackluster. But even he deserves better than this. The Dunwich Horror was one of his better stories. Maybe someday someone will do a decent job of making a movie of it. This was not that movie.