Murders in the Rue Morgue/The Dunwich Horror - Double Feature [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Shout! Factory
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (19th July 2016).
The Film

The culling of MGM’s defunct Midnight Movies line continues, with Scream Factory offering up a double dose of terror from two of horror’s most celebrated writers: Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. The films contained within - “Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1971) and “The Dunwich Horror” (1970) – are each laden with camp and barely work as representative material from their respective originators. Despite this, both films are at the very least mildly entertaining, with each featuring reasonably strong casts and the typical trappings of American International Pictures production values. That latter feature can be seen as the biggest selling point for old-school horror aficionados who can’t get enough of what the 70's had to offer.

“Murders in the Rue Morgue” leads off this twofer, though it is definitely the weaker half of this double feature. Jason Robards leads here as Cesar Charron, a theater director who lords over a troupe specializing in Grand Guinol style plays. The picture goes meta, as the group is currently performing Poe’s “Murders in the Rue Morgue”, with the results of the gruesome stage show spilling out into reality. Someone is murdering members of Charron’s acting troupe in unspeakably horrific ways. His wife, Madeleine (Christine Kaufmann), has been having recurring nightmares, dreaming of an axe-wielding killer not unlike the one stalking the theater members. Flashbacks heavily suggest the killer is Rene Marot (Herbert Lom), a once-distinguished member of Charron’s inner circle who was horribly disfigured in an on-stage accident involving acid. Long thought dead, it would seem Rene is in fact alive and exacting his revenge on those around his former boss. But there is more to the story than it appears. Rene’s motives for revenge go beyond suffering the anguish of an “accident”, and Charron has a lot of explaining to do once the truth is set free.

At times it feels like this film is moving at a glacial pace, even though it runs an average 98 minutes. It can be easy to understand why AIP initially trimmed it down to a tight 87 minutes, though for home video releases (this one included) director Gordon Hessler’s original running time has been reinstated. The main problem is the utter lack of tension, due in no small part to the killer’s identity being revealed very early. We know Rene is behind all of this, and while the machinations behind his motivations aren’t made clear until the climax comes around there’s plenty of wheel spinning to get there. Once the big reveals do come there isn’t much surprise since the film telegraphs the revelations, with the denouement sputtering out before the credits roll. As a viewer, I found myself mentally checking out more often than expected because the story just sort of plods along, and if you’ve seen enough of these sorts of pictures you’ll know exactly where things are headed. Just about all I can commend here are the production design, some of the acting, and the murders, which are somewhat inventive.

After working with Vincent Price on a trio of AIP productions, Hessler employed Jason Robards as his leading man for this film. Obviously no one can substitute Price but Robards does a fine job as the patriarch of his acting troupe. Plus he had this amazing, gravelling voice that is practically a character unto itself. Robards isn’t entirely right for this role, however, and it shows through in his performance. He just doesn’t seem to be fully invested in this character. At least Lom is having some fun here, hamming it up as a “Phantom of the Opera” type, hidden behind a flesh-colored mask that looks… kinda weird. I was most pleased to see Adolfo Celi pop up as the inspector working alongside Charron to solve the mystery, although I do prefer him as a posh villain.

Next up, “The Dunwich Horror”. H.P. Lovecraft conjured up immeasurably awesome otherworldly creatures and occult creepies from his mind and in his prose, but filmmakers have struggled to realize these abstract concepts on the big screen. Perhaps with today’s technology, and the right filmmaker (GDT?), it could be done but back in 1970 the best we could get is a tentacle monster that looks straight out of a Roger Corman production.

After an opening scene establishes that a woman has given birth under strange circumstances, the film cuts to present day at Miskatonic University, where Dr. Armitage (Ed Begley) has just concluded a speech on the Necronomicon. When his assistant, Nancy (Sandra Dee), heads down to the library to place the book in its case she’s met by Wilbur Whateley (Dean Stockwell), a self-proclaimed student of the occult who wishes to study the tome. Dr. Armitage stops Wilbur mid-study, however, and proclaims the book as too dangerous. Once he learns Wilbur is a member of the Whateley family he becomes even more concerned. Later that day Wilbur misses his bus and talks Nancy into giving him a lift back home. There, she meets Wilbur’s grandpa (Sam Jaffe), who tells his grandson to leave that damn book alone. It seems the Whateley family has a history with the Necronomicon and back in the day they gained a reputation for being a bunch of loonies.

Wilbur drugs Nancy and convinces her to remain at his property for the weekend. When Dr. Armitage and her friend Elizabeth (Donna Baccala) track her down to the Whateley place they are unable to convince her to leave. Concerned for their friend, the two do a little digging and discover Wilbur’s mother is still alive, locked away in an asylum. They learn from the town doctor (Lloyd Bochner, in terrible “old man” makeup) that Wilbur’s mom had given birth to twins; Wilbur survived while the other was reported to be stillborn. His mother went mad in the process. Armed with this knowledge, Dr. Armitage and Elizabeth head back to the Whateley estate to confront Wilbur and Nancy, unaware of what cosmic horrors await them.

In terms of doing justice to Lovecraft this film misses the mark, although if you’re content with simply being immersed in the trappings of his work it sort of works. It’s cool seeing Miskatonic University and the Necronomicon and hearing Wilbur speak of the “old gods” while reciting some of Lovecraft’s gobbeldygook. The California filming locations can just as easily be mistaken for the New England coastline, and as such the locale manages to invoke a sense of Lovecraftian oceanic terror. The one creature glimpsed here is an expectedly tentacled beast, though the film wisely shows it in fraction-of-a-second bursts so as not to reveal just how goofy it truly is. Director Daniel Haller also made another smart move by using a psychedelic trove of colors to signify the beast’s rampage, making the avoidance of actually showcasing the monster far less conspicuous.

Stockwell plays the role of Wilbur as somewhat meek, making him out to be a modest, misunderstood individual with unknown ambitions. He is both aloof and strangely comforting, though that’s likely just because he wants to get Nancy on his ritual slab. You never get the sense that he’s crazy or devilish, which is how the townsfolk see anyone named Whateley. An actor with that air of unpredictability or intimidation might have been able to bring a bit more to this limited character. Ed Begley is great here as Wilbur’s main foil. What makes his character work so well is that he’s a smart old dude who knows Wilbur is up to no good; he offers up constant challenge. And he’s just as strong mentally, making for a decent battle of wits at the finale.

There you have it; two average AIP films from the 70's, cleaned up beautifully for HD and slapped together to make for a fine double header. “The Dunwich Horror” has the most replay value of the two features, but, again, if you dig old-school AIP horror then “Murders in the Rue Morgue” won’t be such a chore to get through.

“Murders in the Rue Morgue” film rating: C
“The Dunwich Horror” film rating: C+


It seems like most AIP films look very similar in HD - assuming any kind of cleanup has been done - and the results are no different here. “Murders” is framed at 1.78:1, while “Dunwich” is slightly more open at 1.85:1, with 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded images. The print used for each film looks remarkably clean; only minor specks and damage can be seen. Film grain is tight and fine, resulting in a very cinematic picture. Color saturation is great, with vivid hues – especially in “Dunwich” during the monster POV shots. Details in close-up are very striking, with cloth textures and skin showing off minute specifics. There is some minor softness to a handful of shots, likely inherent to the source. Black levels are generally solid.


Similarly, both films receive the same audio here – English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. The sound is clear and clean, with no hisses or pops to be heard. Dialogue is balanced well for each film, registering equally in the mix alongside score and sound effects. “Murders” features a strong Morricone-style score, while “Dunwich” is practically wall-to-wall with its scoring. Subtitles are included in English on both films.


The extras here are light but given the dearth on most secondary (read: non-Collector’s Editions) Scream Factory titles at least there is something here.

“MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE” bonus features:

An audio commentary with author & film historian Steve Haberman is included, featuring his usual scholarly, well-researched topics of conversation. His tracks are often very educational.

“Stage Tricks & Screen Frights” (1080i) is a featurette that runs for 11 minutes and 39 seconds. This was included on the old 2003 DVD, featuring Hessler discussing why Price didn’t do the film, Robards in the role, re-cutting the film, and more.

A theatrical trailer (1080i) runs for 2 minutes and 52 seconds.

“THE DUNWICH HORROR” bonus features:

Steve Haberman pops up here, too, to deliver another strong audio commentary track.

The film’s theatrical trailer (1080i) runs for 2 minutes and 16 seconds.


The single disc comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keep case.


Scream Factory has a knack for putting out great “lazy Saturday afternoon” double features and this set joins those ranks. Neither film is a classic, nor are they worthy of many repeat viewings, but together the make for a fun double-header of old AIP entertainment.

The Film: C Video: B+ Audio: B Extras: C- Overall: C


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