So it's the kind of horrifically hot night [I wrote this in July] in which one is confined to the room with the air conditioner, and committed to expending as little energy as possible, so I take my little iPad and browse what's available on Netflix streaming. I find, to my delight, that while they may not boast a lot of recent hits (or just the lame ones), it does feature a quite nice catalog of B movies, some of which are very difficult to find on disc, like Sugar Hill and Empire of the Ants. And then there's this, which I had long heard about and never seen and, well, why not?
It turned out to be just the thing. I haven't watched a really silly 70s horror film in some time, and this fit the bill beautifully. We are virtually assured of a good time when the AIP logo fills the screen, soon followed by the name Samuel Z. Arkoff, maestro of really fun but terrible movies. Then we see we are to be treated to an all-star cast--of sorts--with headliners Dean Stockwell and Sandra Dee, joined by Ed Begley and Lloyd Bochner. First we see some woman with a satanic symbol on her forehead writhing on a bed in terrible agony. Then these super-fun animated credits, while we have this awesomely 70s score that is a bit horror and a bit James Bond. I am SO on board!
So Begley as Dr. Henry Armitage is delivering a PowerPoint about this book, the necronomicon--oh, have I mentioned that this is supposedly an adaptation of an H.P. Lovecraft story? And it bears about as much actual relation to his works as any adaptation. He entrusts the book to his lovely assistant, Nancy, played by Sandy Dee, and her brunette pal, who looks a bit like Sporty Spice. They are to return the priceless book to the library, where it is NOT protected by a state-of-the-art security system, but are approached by Stockwell as Wilbur Watley (brother of Jody Watley), who is a descendant of the Watley's of Dunwich, a vicinity known for its bad spiritual juju. Nancy thinks it'll be okay to let this complete stranger look at the priceless book awhile, because after all, he has "great eyes." It's hard to find good help these days. Armitage shows up and takes the book away before Wilbur was able to find any of the dirty parts, and they all go out for a drink.
Then--well, will you look at the time! It seems Wilbur has missed the last train back to Dunwich, so Nancy offers to drive him. They stop for gas on the way, but once the attendant gets a look at her passenger, he refuses any more service. They soon arrive to Wilbur's house, the requisite creepy mansion, and we have an awesomely over-the-top music cue as we first see the house. They go in and Wilbur adjusts these green glass things, which remain unexplained but may prove to be some 70s audiophile speaker set. Wilbur goes into the kitchen, which features decidedly non-satanic polka dot curtains, and slips a drug into Nancy's tea. He also goes outside and disables her car. She drinks the tea and is feeling so tired, she accepts Wilbur's invitation to spend the night. He puts her up in this gross room he says hasn't been used in years, and is all dusty and sick except for the bed. Better check for brown recluse spiders! She goes to sleep and has ye olde creepy satanic dream.
In the morning, over General Foods International Coffees, he convinces her to stay the weekend, especially since her car won't work. Meanwhile, Armitage and Sporty Spice are worried that she hasn't come home, and drive out to Dunwich. They meet Grandpa, who tells them to get away, but Sporty Spice has a bit of an attitude and won't leave til she's seen Nancy. And look, here's Nancy, who says she's fine and is cool for the weekend. They go away, and Grandpa warns Wilbur about the curse that took HIS dad, and gave birth to the whole legend about the place, and made them unwelcome at town gatherings, as well as apparently unable to get service at gas stations. Wilbur is defiant.
Armitage goes to Lloyd Bochner as some doctor, who is made up to look older because we'll have a flashback where he is his normal age. We find out that the necronomicon tells of a race from another dimension, as well as how to bring them back, and also includes a chapter delivering 101 satanic sex secrets guaranteed to drive your man wild. Then we find out that Wilbur was one of two twins, and no one knows what happened to the other twin. Gee, I wonder if he'll turn up sometime! His mother, that's the lady from the very beginning, is in a padded cell on the premises. Exposition delivered, we now return you to our story, already in progress.
Wilber and Nancy are spending a lot of time relaxing amongst the wildflowers (it was the 70s) when he takes her to this ancient ruin of some temple--you can't walk a few steps in Connecticut without finding some ancient ruin!--and she decides to lie on the altar and Wilbur goes through some long goofy ritual. We are to understand that Nancy is falling more and more under Wilbur's wicked spell. Stockwell as Wilbur is a total hoot throughout, with his perm, paste-on mustache, and languid, drugged-up delivery. He's also not afraid to look like a total fool, which makes him endearing in the role.
SPOILERS > > >
Then Sporty Spice decides that dammit, she's going back out there and not coming back until she has Nancy with her! She spooks around the front porch--hey, I wouldn't put your hand too close to that owl--and when Grandpa comes out and tells her to flee the place--she decks him! She goes inside, but no Nancy, so she runs upstairs. Well, who is it violently rattling that door to get out? Could it be Nancy? Oh, it's not. And I'm afraid that we won't be hearing from Sporty Spice anymore, regardless of how she may really, really, really wanna zug-ah-zug-AH.
Well now the nasty whatever is out of the room (remember Wilbur's long-lost twin?), and it promptly lets Grandpa know it is not receptive to his elderly wisdom. Wilbur and Nancy come back just in time to watch Gramps expire on the floor. They take him back out to the old ancient ruin, where Wilbur is performing some sort of ritual. You'll notice that in some shots it's overcast and in others it is brilliant sunshine. Then we have one of my favorite things: the mob of ignorant townsfolk! These ones tell Wilbur that this here is a Christian cemetery and they don't want none of his kind buried here no way, no how, until he is finally expelled.
So he and Nancy drive back to the library--while you're like, wait a minute, when did Nancy's car start working again?--and Wilbur comes in the window to try to break the comprehensive, well-neigh impenetrable security system guarding the satanic book. Then a guard comes in, and the two of them have a long fight and, well, I don't think they'd put that glass case right there in the foreground if someone wasn't going to smash through it. Or, actually, they probably would. The security guard doesn't pay a great deal of heed to the giant spear Wilbur is pointing at him before rushing bodily at him, and, well, I guess there's a reason that's the best job he could get. Wilbur gets the book and he and Nancy high-tail it to--you guessed it--the ancient ruin. Hey kids, why don't you give somewhere else a try? New England is full of scenic spots.
Now Bochner calls Armitage and tells him that Lavinia--that's the crazy mother in the asylum--is on the brink of death. Bochner sends his nurse home and she encounters these flashes of color that cause her to drive off the road and crash. Oh no--scary colors! Don't make me have nightmares. Now I know for sure that my Aunt's living room colors are indeed the shades of Chthulu. Anyway, Armitage and Bochner now team up with the mob of ignorant townsfolk, who provide excellent 'rabble-rabble.' Meaning that if One of the main players says what's happening isn't normal, we'll hear the crowd say things like "Not normal! It ain't normal!" They decide to split up ("Split up! Come on, let's split up!") and look for the demonic duo.
Meanwhile, back at the house, Wilbur's satanic stereo has fallen onto the floor, which causes the house to... burst into flame? I guess so. Obviously he removed one of those hazard stickers that clearly instructs you not to. Anyway, so the beastie is on the loose and... causing more scary colors? I'm not sure I get it, but supernatural evil does work in mysterious ways. There IS one good effect--hold tight, I'm going to say something positive--where we see this wind coming at us down this creek, and it's such a distant shot and we can't see any wind machines and so--it works! Okay, now back to everything being total shit.
Meanwhile, Bochner's nurse, a totally peripheral character, finds doom at the hand of the scary colors. One of the main ignorant townsfolk is also victimized. You'll again notice that for some people, it is late afternoon, while for others, it is the pitch black of night. Then we return to Wilbur doing his ritual, which now, and throughout the movie, requires him to say something like "Yag Safat" numerous times, to the point where you're like "Are there no other incantations? Doesn't seem like you needed that big book at all..." He's getting close to his goal when Armitage shows up with some counter-spells of his own, and for a while it's like one of those Harry Potter magic battles, until suddenly lightning strikes, hitting Wilbur, causing him to burst into flame (watch out for those kerosine-soaked clothes!) and fall off the nearest cliff. Then a nasty demon with a face surrounded by numerous little snakes appears for a moment, roars, and is vanquished. Nancy wakes from her spell, and wonders what she's doing there. As they lead her away, we see that she is pregnant, probably with some evil baby, and that's the ominous ending.
< < < SPOILERS END
It was pretty good fun, especially if you have a taste for 70s horror. Sure it's a bit slow and repetitive, but it establishes and maintains a vibe of menacing weirdness, and with the music and hyped-up atmosphere of spiritual dread, it's all generally pretty fun. Stockwell is a hoot, Dee seems stoned and dazed (of course, she is in a trance), and there are plenty of goofy sights. And yeah, that's about all there is to it.
If you like the whole 70s horror vibe.