Blu-ray Review: Murders In the Rue Morgue & The Dunwich Horror

American International Pictures made their name with exploitation films about teenagers, bikers and aliens. But AIP also had a literary bent. They scored gold in the early ’60s with the workds of Edgar Allan Poe. Director Roger Corman and actor Vincent Price made Poe his own genre. Later the studio approached the work of H.P. Lovecraft, a horror writer who wasn’t quite taught in high school America literature courses. The Blu-ray of Murders In the Rue Morgue & The Dunwich Horror represent the last time the studios would dip into the works of both authors. Both films are presented in longer cuts than their AIP theatrical releases so there’s more than you remember from the drive-in.

Murders In the Rue Morgue (1971 – 98 minutes) is not a straight forward retelling of the Poe short story. Murders gets told as part of the performance by a Grand Guignol playhouse directed by Cesar Charron (Jason Robards). The audience is frightened by the on stage gore. Sure it’s all theatrical killing until real murders happen around the theater. Turns out there’s a masked madman lurking in the wings with an ax. This is bothersome since Robard’s wife’s mother was axe murdered. The suspect is Herbert Lom (Pink Panther Returns) who had previously played The Phantom of the Opera. Robards keeps things interesting as the story keeps getting filtered through his wife’s nightmares and premonitions. He adds a sense of class to this period homicide piece. This was director Gordon Hessler’s last film with AIP and the only one that didn’t star Vincent Price. Hessler would go on to make the classics The Golden Voyage of Sinbad and Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park.

The Dunwich Horror (1970 – 88 minutes) captures H.P. Lovecraft’s most popular short story about really non-identical twins. Nancy Wagner (Gidget‘s Sandra Dee) is an honor student at Miskatonic University. Professor Henry Armitage (Ed Begley) trusts her to return the Necronomicon to the library. During this extra credit trip, she encounters Wilbur Whateley (Blue Velvet‘s Dean Stockwell). Wilbur wants to check out the spellbound book and she feels compelled to give into his demand. She is startled back when Armitage arrives. He knows about Wilbur’s family and their connection to the occult. Even though she ought to be avoiding Wilbur, she gives the guy a trip back to Dunwich for an unexpected lost weekend. Wilbur lives with his creepy dad. Mom it turns out hasn’t been the same since she gave birth. She’s at Arkham Asylum. Nancy’s car breaks down and she really starts to dig Wilbur. Mostly because he might be drugging her. But she also digs his occult talk. He takes her out to an altar by the sea where she’s turned on by his talk about how the Old Ones. At this same time, Armitage looking for her discovers that mom delivered two babies and Wilbur’s brother wasn’t still born. Is Nancy really going to go through and get knocked up by a supernatural being?

This film must have been a bit of a shock with the sweet girl Sandra Dee in a Rosemary’s Baby situation. The movie does a fine job adapting the short story with a few liberties to make sure it can appeal to moviegoers. Director Daniel Haller had previously made Die, Monster! Die! that was also an AIP production. This one is a bit more adult with a higher carnality on the screen. Stockwell rules the screen as the awkward kid always living in the shadows of his twin brother. The special effects probably would look rather hokey if they hadn’t done major opticals to make the twin look extra fiece on screen. This was the third and final Lovecraft production at AIP and feels like a crowning achievement.

As double features go, Dunwich Horror is the more gripping of the bill. The longer cut contains a little more carnal action on the screen. Both film together make a fun night of literary scares with the tag team power of Poe and Lovecraft.

The video is 1.78:1 anamorphic for both films. The transfers really look nice and bring out the scenery on the screen. The audio is DTS-MA mono for both films. They sound much richer than the mixes from when they were released as part of the Midnite Movies Double Feature DVDs. Each film is subtitled.

Audio Commentary with Author and Film Historian Steve Haberman explains how Poe was adapted for the final time by AIP. He returns to give details of Dunwich Horror. Both commentaries give plenty of background on the films.

Stage Tricks & Screen Frights (11:39) has Gordon Hessler explain why they went with the play within the play. AIP had already gotten backing for the Poe tale, but Hessler wanted to do more than a remake.

Theatrical Trailer (2:52) promises more AIP Poe action even with Jason Robards.

Theatrical Trailer (2:16) makes the Dunwich Horror look absolutely occult infused.

Scream Factory presents Murders in the Rue Morgue & The Dunwich Horror. Directed by: Gordon Hessler & Daniel Haller. Starring: Jason Robards, Herbert Lom, Dean Stockwell & Sandra Dee. Rated: PG-13. Boxset Contents: 2 movies on 1 Blu-ray. Released: March 29, 2016.

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