CC: The Dunwich Horror (1929)(1970)(2009) + Beyond…(2008)

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Friday, January 10, 2014

CC: The Dunwich Horror (1929)(1970)(2009) + Beyond…(2008)

Written in 1928, "The Dunwich Horror" is a short story and was first published in the April 1929 issue of Weird Tales (pp. 481–508).  It takes place in Dunwich, a fictional town in Massachusetts.  It is considered one of the core stories of the Cthulhu Mythos.

Lovecraft's main literary sources for "The Dunwich Horror" are the stories of Welsh horror writer Arthur Machen, particularly The Great God Pan (which is mentioned in the text of "The Dunwich Horror") and "The Novel of the Black Seal".  Both Machen stories concern individuals whose death throes reveal them to be only half-human in their parentage.  According to Robert M. Price, "'The Dunwich Horror' is in every sense an homage to Machen and even a pastiche.  There is little in Lovecraft's story that does not come directly out of Machen's fiction."  Another source that has been suggested is The Thing in the Woods, by Margery Williams, which is also about two brothers living in the woods, neither of them quite human, and with one of them less human than the other.

The name Dunwich itself may come from Machen's The Terror, where the name refers to an English town where the titular entity is seen hovering as "a black cloud with sparks of fire in it".  Lovecraft also takes Wilbur Whateley's occult terms "Aklo" and "Voorish" from Machen's "The White People".

Lovecraft also seems to have found inspiration in Anthony M. Rud's story "Ooze" (published in Weird Tales, March 1923), which also involved a monster being secretly kept and fed in a house that it subsequently bursts out of and destroys.  The tracks of Wilbur's brother recall those seen in Algernon Blackwood's "The Wendigo", one of Lovecraft's favorite horror stories,  Also, Ambrose Bierce's story "The Damned Thing" involves a monster invisible to human eyes, much like the Horror.

Lovecraft took pride in "The Dunwich Horror", calling it "so fiendish that [Weird Tales editor] Farnsworth Wright may not dare to print it."  Wright, however, snapped it up, sending Lovecraft a check for $240, equal to $2800 in modern dollars, the largest single payment for his fiction he had received up to that point.

Kingsley Amis praised "The Dunwich Horror" in New Maps of Hell, listing it as one of Lovecraft's tales that "achieve a memorable nastiness".  Lovecraft biographer Lin Carter calls the story "an excellent tale.... A mood of tension and gathering horror permeates the story, which culminates in a shattering climax".  In his list of "The 13 Most Terrifying Horror Stories", T. E. D. Klein placed "The Dunwich Horror" at number four.  Robert M. Price declares that "among the tales of H. P. Lovecraft, 'The Dunwich Horror' remains my favorite."  S. T. Joshi, on the other hand, regards "Dunwich" as "simply an aesthetic mistake on Lovecraft's part", citing its "stock good-versus-evil scenario".

In the isolated, desolate and decrepit village of Dunwich, Wilbur Whateley is the hideous son of Lavinia Whateley, a deformed and unstable albino mother, and an unknown father (alluded to in passing by mad Old Whateley, as "Yog-Sothoth2"), and strange events surround his birth and precocious development.  Wilbur matures at an abnormal rate, reaching manhood within a decade, locals shun him and his family, and animals fear and despise him (due to a smell he gives off).  All the while, his sorcerer grandfather indoctrinates him into certain dark rituals and the study of witchcraft.

Wilbur wants to acquire an unabridged Latin version of the Necronomicon so that he may open the way for the return of the mysterious "Old Ones", whose forerunner is the Outer God Yog-Sothoth.  Thus, Wilbur and his grandfather have sequestered an unseen presence at their farmhouse; this being is connected somehow to Yog-Sothoth.  Year by year, this unseen entity grows to monstrous proportions, requiring the two men to make frequent modifications to their residence.  People begin to notice a trend of cattle mysteriously disappearing.  Wilbur's grandfather dies.  His mother disappears soon afterward.  The colossal entity eventually occupies the whole interior of the farmhouse.

Wilbur ventures to Miskatonic University in Arkham to procure a copy of the Necronomicon – Miskatonic's library is one of only a handful in the world to stock an original.  The Necronomicon has spells that Wilbur can use to summon the Old Ones, but his family's copy is damaged and lacks the page he needs to open the "door".  When the librarian, Dr. Henry Armitage, refuses to release the university's copy to him (and has, by sending warnings to other libraries, thwarted Wilbur's efforts to consult their copies), Wilbur breaks into the library at night to steal it.  A guard dog, maddened by Wilbur's alien body odor, attacks Wilbur with unusual ferocity, killing him.  When Dr. Armitage and two other professors arrive on the scene they see Wilbur Whateley's partly non-human corpse, before it melts completely to leave no evidence.

The story culminates with the actual Dunwich horror: With Wilbur Whateley now dead, no one attends to the mysterious presence growing in the Whateley farmhouse.  Early one morning, the Whateley farmhouse explodes as the thing, an invisible monster, rampages across Dunwich, cutting a path through fields, trees, and ravines, leaving huge "prints" the size of tree trunks.  The monster eventually makes forays into inhabited areas.  The frightened town is terrorized by the invisible creature for several days, with two families and some policemen eradicated by it, until Dr. Armitage, Professor Warren Rice, and Dr. Francis Morgan, all of Miskatonic University, arrive with the knowledge and weapons needed to kill it.  The use of a magic powder renders it visible just long enough to send one of the crew into shock .  The barn-sized monster screams for help -in English- just before the spell destroys it, leaving a huge burned area.  In the end, its nature is revealed: it is Wilbur's twin brother, though it "looked more like the father than Wilbur did."

"The Dunwich Horror" is one of the few tales Lovecraft wrote wherein the heroes successfully defeat the antagonistic entity or monster of the story, although the Horror itself is only the remainder of a far more fiendish plan thwarted by Wilbur's premature death.


The Dunwich Horror (1970)

  • Genre: Horror 
  • Directed: Daniel Haller
  • Produced:
    • Samuel Z. Arkoff 
    • Jack Bohrer 
    • Roger Corman 
    • James H. Nicholson
  • Written:
    • H.P. Lovecraft (Short Story) 
    • Curtis Hanson 
    • Henry Rosenbaum 
    • Ronald Silkosky
  • Starring: Sandra Dee, Dean Stockwell, Ed Begley, Lloyd Bochner, Sam Jaffe, Joanne Moore Jordan, Donna Baccala, Talia Shire, Michael Fox, Jason Wingreen, Barboura Morris, Beach Dickerson
  • Music: Les Baxter
  • Cinematography: Richard C. Glouner
  • Editing: Christopher Holmes
  • Studio: American International Pictures
  • Distributed:
    • American International Pictures  
    • Columbia Broadcasting System  
    • Embassy Home Entertainment  
    • MGM Home Entertainment  
    • Sultan Entertainment
  • Rated:
  • Release Date: 14 January 1970
  • Running Time: 90 minutes
  • Country: United States
  • Language: English

The film begins with the groaning of a woman.  The camera slowly pans to show two elderly women (who look like twins) and an elderly man who are watching a woman writhe and moan with the pain of childbirth on a bed in an old-fashioned looking bedroom.  She is then led out of the room by the elderly man, who is later revealed as the elder Whateley.

The film continues, after the opening credits, at the fictional Miskatonic University in Arkham, Massachusetts, where Dr. Henry Armitage has just finished a lecture on the local history and the very rare and priceless Necronomicon.  He gives the book to his student Nancy Wagner to return to the library.  She is followed by a stranger, who later introduces himself as Wilbur Whateley.  Whateley asks to see the book, and though it is closing time and the book is reputedly the only copy in existence, Nancy allows it under the influence of Whateley's hypnotic gaze.

Whateley's perusal of the book is cut short by Armitage, who has researched Wilbur's family's sordid past.  His warnings about the Whateleys go unheeded by Nancy, who decides to give Wilbur a ride back to Dunwich after he misses his bus, perhaps purposely.  At a gas station on the outskirts of town, Nancy first encounters the ill-esteem in which the locals hold Wilbur.

Once back at the Whateley house, she meets Old Whateley, Wilbur's grandfather.  Her car is then disabled and she is drugged by the younger Whateley.  She decides under the influence of hypnosis and drugs to spend the weekend, and does not change her mind when Armitage and her classmate arrive from Arkham the next morning. The duo does not abandon Nancy, however.  They investigate further and discover that Wilbur's mother, Lavinia is still alive and in an asylum.  The town doctor, Cory informs Armitage that Lavinia delivered twins when Wilbur was born, but one was stillborn, though he was not there for the delivery and never saw the body.  The childbirth was very traumatic and Lavinia "lost her mind" during it, and nearly died.

In the meantime, on the advice of the locals, Nancy's classmate enters the Whateley house looking for Nancy. She opens a locked door, and releases a creature (which we are led to believe is Wilbur's monstrous twin) that kills her and escapes.  Upon Wilbur and Nancy's return, Old Whateley confronts them about the presence of the missing girl's car, and in the ensuing argument, falls down the stairs and dies.  Wilbur takes him to the local cemetery for a decidedly non-Christian burial, but the local townsfolk vociferously stop him.

As the story draws to a close, a rapid unfolding of events occurs.  Wilbur's twin runs amok in Dunwich, killing several people.  Lavinia dies in the asylum, looking much older than her 45 years.  The Whateley estate burns down in a conflagration that may have to do with a pagan ritual.  At the top of a coastal cliff, Wilbur prepares Nancy for sacrifice to bring back what he calls "The Old Ones."  He is struck by lightning in the ritual and falls in a ball of fire into the sea.

In the closing scene, the physically unharmed Nancy is escorted off the sacrificial altar by Armitage and Cory, who calm her by stating that the Whateley line has ended.  Just before the credits, it is revealed that Nancy is pregnant, presumably with Wilbur's ill-conceived child.


The Dunwich Horror (2009)

  • Original Title: H.P. Lovecraft's The Darkest Evil
  • Genre: Horror – Thriller
  • Directed: Leigh Scott
  • Produced:
    • Kenneth M. Badish  
    • Ewerhard Engels  
    • Nick Everhart  
    • Andre Finkenwirth  
    • Rhett Giles  
    • Justin Jones  
    • Leigh Scott
  • Written:
    • H.P. Lovecraft (Short Story) 
    • Leigh Scott (Screenplay)
  • Starring: Griff Furst, Sarah Lieving, Dean Stockwell, Jeffrey Combs, Natacha Itzel, Lauren Michele, Shirly Brener, M. Steven Felty, Collin Galyean, Jeffrey Alan Pilars
  • Music: Eliza Swenson
  • Cinematography:
    • Steven Parker 
    • Bill Posley
  • Editing: Kristen Quintrall
  • Studio:
    • Active Entertainment Finance  
    • Bullet Films 
    • FIWI Entertainment 
    • Haunted House Productions
  • Distributed:
    • Active Entertainment  
    • Syfy  
    • Eagle Films  
    • Just Bridge Entertainment  
    • Reel DVD
  • Rated:
  • Release Date: 13 December 2009
  • Running Time: 91 minutes
  • Country: United States
  • Language: English

On The Shelf Reviews said, “It was at the point, five minutes into the movie, when Henry Armitage was shooting lightning from his fingertips at the bat-winged coed possessed by Yibb-Tstll1 while his assistant, Fay Morgan, rolled marbles on the floor to uncover the Sumerian pyramid puzzle, that I realized this might not be entirely faithful to Lovecraft.”

“Nonetheless, I am willing to watch even an unfaithful version of a film, granted that it has good characterization, great location shots, its own sense of aesthetics, good special effects, or any number of other elements.  Based on that, the Dunwich location shots in Louisiana could be quite evocative, once you got used to the idea of Dunwich being in Louisiana.”

The film opens with a scene involving Lavina giving birth to twins.  One is born normal, while the second one’s birth invokes screams of terrors from the midwife.  We then to go to what seems like, a routine exorcism.  Father Hoadley emerges from a room, clearly feeling defeated from the ritual.  His assistant, Father Endalade offers to help, but is quickly warned against it by the elderly priest.  Dr. Henry Armitage and Professor Fay Morgan enter and quickly take over the situation.

Their exorcism goes relatively well and they discover a ritual pyramid under the floor boards of the possessed girl’s room.  The pyramid bore a strong resemblance to the Lament Configuration in Clive Barker’s Hellraiser.  The pair eventually find out that the girl, Caitlin’s possession was a result of an open portal between our world and a world occupied by ancient gods called, “The Old Ones.”  To close the gate, they must find The Necronomicon (The Book of the Dead), or rather, page 175 of it, since all the available translations are all missing that page.  To help find it, they enlist the help of a fellow university professor, Walter Rice.

Simultaneously, the Whateley family are also looking for The Necronomicon’s missing page. Wilbur Whateley is one of the twins that were born at the beginning of the film.  His brother, Yog-Sothoth, is a creature whose needs to be fed regularly, so he can grow large enough to be able to hold open the gate for The Old Ones to gain entry into our world.  Can you guess what’s on the menu for little ol’ Yog-Sothoth?

Beyond the Dunwich Horror (2008)

  • Genre: Horror 
  • Directed: Richard Griffin
  • Produced: Ted Marr
  • Written:
    • H.P. Lovecraft (Short Story) 
    • Richard Griffin (Screenplay)
  • Starring: Lynn Lowry, Jason McCormick, Jeff Dylan Graham, Sarah Nicklin, Michael Reed, Ruth Sullivan
  • Music:
    • Daniel Hildreth 
    • Tony Milano
  • Cinematography: Ricardo Rebelo
  • Editing: Richard Griffin
  • Studio: Scorpio Film Releasing
  • Distributed: Scorpio Film Releasing
  • Rated:
  • Release Date: 23 May 2008
  • Running Time: 104 minutes
  • Country: United States
  • Language: English

Using the HP Lovecraft tale as its history, Beyond the Dunwich Horror is set in the present day, when the descendants of the decadent Whateley family plot to resurrect their ancestors and flood the earth with voracious entities from outside of space and time.

Kenny Crawford arrives in Dunwich after hearing that his brother Andrew has been admitted to a psychiatric ward, and is suspected in a string of disappearances in the town.  With the help of local reporter Marsha Calloway and the eccentric Upton Armitage he probes the last few weeks of his brother’s life.  As they do so, they uncover evidence of a plot in the works revolving around Andrew, his girlfriend Nikki Hartwell and her twisted friend Otto Bellinger.

Although, judging from the opening night reviews at various theaters, an enjoyable film it is basically someone thinking they could write a better Dunwich story than Lovecraft.  Easily forgettable and possibly offensive to Lovecraft’s memory.  You’re not missing out on anything if you skip this particular adaptation.



Homage: something that is done to honor someone or something.

Pastiche: something that imitates the style of someone or something else.

1. Yibb-Tstll is an obscure god, said to watch at the center of all time as the universe revolves.  Because of this insight, only Yog-Sothoth is said to be wiser.  Its blood, the Black, is a weapon which takes the form of black snowflakes that stick to and smother a victim.  Its touch causes an instant change in the person affected—this change is usually fatal but occasionally brings some benefit.

Yibb-Tstll is sometimes described as an immobile, dark, tentacled entity with a pulpy, alien head, detached eyes, and large bat wings under which countless Nightgaunts suck black milk from its innumerable breasts.  In Brian Lumley's short story "Rising with Surtsey" (1971), the narrator proclaims: "... I wanted to bound, to float in my madness through eldritch depths of unhallowed black blood.  I wanted to cling to the writhing breasts of Yibb-Tstll. Insane...."

Having a close connection to the Great Old One Bugg-Shash, so should Yibb-Tstll be regarded as a Great Old One - specifically in the Drowners group introduced by Brian Lumley, parasitic alien entities which thrive vampyrizing the Great Old Ones themselves - though in RPG materials she is classed as "Outer God".

2. Yog-Sothoth (The Lurker at the Threshold, The Key and the Gate,The Beyond One, Opener of the Way, The All-in-One and the One-in-All) is a cosmic entity of the Cthulhu Mythos and the Dream Cycle of H. P. Lovecraft.  Yog-Sothoth's name was first mentioned in his novella 'The Case of Charles Dexter Ward' (written 1927, first published 1941).  The being is said to take the form of a conglomeration of glowing bubbles.  It is later mentioned in At the Mountains of Madness as being the thing beyond the mountains that even the Elder Things fear.  Its parent was the Nameless Mist.  It is the parent of Cthulhu, Hastur the Unspeakable and the ancestor of the Voormi.  It is also the father of Wilbur Whateley.


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