Saturday, March 17, 2007



"This is a horror movie, right?" – Andrew Borntreger, BADMOVIES.ORG


Creepy Wilbur Whateley shows up at Miskatonic University to check out a copy of the legendary Necronomicon, a book of rituals designed to bring horrific alien gods back to Earth. (Hey, doesn’t every library have one?) To perform the final rites, he requires the unwilling assistance of virginal Nancy Wagner. Only Dr. Henry Armitage stands in the way of his foul schemes. Did we mention Wilbur has a hideously deformed half-demon twin brother slinking around?


I think it's safe to say most people are letdown when their favorite author’s books are translated to movies, and horror fans are no exception. Alas, for the devoted fans of H. P. Lovecraft, the bitter taste of disappointment is probably stronger than most. If you want to see despair, just ask a Lovecraft fan to name all of the really good screen adaptations of a Lovecraft story. Most likely, he will be able to count them all on one hand... after he cuts a couple of fingers off in despondency. Having died in 1937, Lovecraft himself was spared the viewing of the wretched adaptations of his stories hit the big screen. We aren't so lucky. Take The Dunwich Horror, for example.

Where Lovecraft wrote stories about people slowly going mad over the realization that their perception of reality was utterly wrong, this movie presents us with a freaky white guy sporting an afro trying to summon a fake rubber monster to destroy the world. (Of course, to be honest, that kind of description really is irresistible bait to bad-movie fans like myself.) And the hairstyles in this movie are just the start of the weirdness. You also get the requisite psychedelic effects accompanied by crazed cultish hippies. You get bizarre editing where a character who was terrified in one scene is quietly undisturbed in the next. And, inexplicably, you get Sandra Dee as the main protagonist Nancy in what I can only guess was supposed to be her big departure roll from her days as Gidget. It's all good old fashioned early 70s rubbish.

But what really, really gets to you in The Dunwich Horror is just how dimwitted the character of Nancy is. She’s one of those movie characters who is so blind to the bad decisions she is making that even the audience starts yelling at her to quit being such a numbskull. Okay, you could almost forgive her for immediately falling for the creepiest guy on campus. Lots of women make poor choices in men. You can maybe even forgive her overlooking Wilbur's preoccupation with Armageddon. My own wife ignores my movie collection for the most part. But about the third time Nancy passes out after drinking Wilbur’s tea, you would think she might start to catch on that something sinister is in the works. Hey, Nancy baby, you think there might be something in that cup other than lemon, huh? By the end of the movie, you just don't feel that much sympathy when Nancy ends up on the old sacrificial altar.

That kind of irrational behavior isn’t completely unrealistic, I suppose. There will always be people who refuse to recognize or admit that they are making bad choices. They’re so individualistic, so focused only on themselves and what they desire, that they simply just won’t listen to anyone else. And as for listening to God? Puhlease!!!

Listening to God. That's kind of a loaded phrase, isn't it? Throughout the history of religion the idea of hearing the voice of God has meant everything from the prayerful understanding of an event to reading the signs in a steaming pile of entrails. For the majority of Christians, however, the primary way in which God’s Holy Spirit speaks to us is through our conscience. The Catechism refers to Conscience as a “voice ever calling [man] to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil” and adds that “A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience”.

This would suggest that failure to see conscience as the voice of God can lead to serious problems. But, we have to accept the fact that as human beings, we will try to find ways not to hear that voice. And that's twice as likely if that voice happens to be saying something we don’t want to hear. (Some medicine does taste bad no matter how good it is for us.) But God, being God and all, saw that coming and provided us with plenty of backups. And one of the most important of those backups is Community. If we won’t listen to God directly, He’ll use the people around us to get us the message. If we find ourselves in a situation where a lot of people are coming to us with concerns over some of our actions, maybe it’s time to step back and make sure we’re not ignoring the calls of our own conscience before we’re too far gone. Or at least before we're strapped to an altar as a sacrifice to some bad special effects.


You have to pay attention when you read theological treaties like the Catechism. Take a second glance at that earlier quote about conscience and you'll see the term "certain judgment". In 2001, The Reverend Arthur Allen Jr, the head pastor of a self-founded non-denominational church, was arrested for child abuse. Quoting the Old Testament as justification, Allen and members of his congregation routinely held down children and beat them with sticks and belts. "If you're going to give (children) a meaningful lesson," Allen said, "give them a meaningful lesson.” Now, there were probably a lot of people in Robert Allen’s congregation who felt a twitch in their conscience as he beat these children in front of an altar, but only a paltry few eventually came forward to the authorities. The others had apparently become so dependent on Allen’s overbearing personality that they were willing to suppress their own individual judgment. To avoid heading down that path, it’s a good idea to put a little effort into making sure our conscience is well informed. Yes, as Christians we listen out for the voice of God, but a little bit of study can only help us understand the words when they come.


Wm. said...

I had no idea you had this blog going. It's fun and insightful. You do an excellent job of weaving your love of bad movies and your faith into something that is enjoyable to read and not overbearing.

I don't get to see as many of these bad movies as you do but you know I do like the odd stuff. Speaking of which, I'm watching the old favorite Night Of The Hunter as I type. It's a weird mix of oddness and religion that really works. I don't think it has been duplicated since.

EegahInc said...

Well, I'm sure you know I agree 100% on Night Of The Hunter. That one scene on the front porch is probably better than the entirety of any movie I will ever review here. Sad to say, though, they did remake it for TV back in the 90's with everyone's favorite mini-series heartthrob Richard Chamberlain. I think it even won some awards. Sigh.

D. G. D. Davidson said...

Some Lovecraft scholars (that's a real term, believe it or not) see "The Dunwich Horror" as a departure from the typical themes of Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. I actually enjoyed the story when I read it (and am generally bored out of my skull by most of his other Cthulhu Mythos stories), but it sounds as if this movie couldn't even get a flubbed Lovecraft story right. If we can't properly do "The Dunwich Horror," which has a monster, a magic incantation, and the usual trappings of cheap horror, how are we ever going to portray on film things like "Call of Cthulhu" or "At the Mountains of Madness"? Not that I'm pining for a film adaptation of "Mountains," anyway. I mean, an accurate adaptation would probably involve two and a half hours of boring narration with one cheap thrill at the end.

EegahInc said...

I suppose that means you're not anxiously awaiting the upcoming release of Cthulhu starring (wait for it) Tori Spelling?

D. G. D. Davidson said...

Supposedly, I'm getting e-mail updates on that movie, but I haven't received a single one. Let's say my hopes aren't high. Actually, "The Call of Cthulhu" was a decent story, but I'm not sure how it could be effectively adapted to film, and that's probably a problem with Lovecraft generally.

Don't get me wrong: the man's literary achievements are impressive. Lovecraft invented a unique writing style that so many horror writers since him have emulated. He was one of the first to give us aliens who are, in some way, truly alien. He invented fictional occult lore so convincing some people think it's real. Unquestionably, Lovecraft did great things; but great things don't always make thrilling literature, and I find a Cthulhu Mythos story about as interesting to read as a biology textbook.

Horror Movie | Online Movies said...

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