Occult gestures


Dean Stockwell freaks out: The Dunwich Horror (1970).

I’m off to the NecronomiCon later this month so HP Lovecraft and all his works will be a predominant theme for the next couple of weeks. I’m also extremely busy right now so posts may tend to be brief.

One of the films showing in Providence for the convention is Daniel Haller’s 1970 production of The Dunwich Horror. I have a low tolerance for bad horror films, and this is a bad one despite being closer to its source than other AIP quickies. Dean Stockwell plays Wilbur Whateley whose goatish qualities are here reduced to a gesture which even the filmmakers may not have known as “the Horns of Pan”, a borrowing from the famous photo of Aleister Crowley in his magician’s robes. I noted an earlier borrowing of this gesture some time ago after stumbling upon an obscure silent film serial, The Mysteries of Myra. The use in The Dunwich Horror provides another odd link between Lovecraft and Crowley, and makes me wonder whether any other films have nodded to Crowley in this way.


Aleister Crowley in 1912.

Another stray connection worth noting: Dean Stockwell was good friends with Dennis Hopper, and the pair are described in a number of sources as living for a while in a house run by Marjorie Cameron, an artist with a direct connection to Crowley via her husband, Jack Parsons. This may be rumour but Hopper and Cameron did appear together in Curtis Harrington’s beguiling Night Tide in 1961.


Finally, the gesture appears again on the cover of the soundtrack album which AIP smartly titled Music of the Devil God Cult: Strange Sounds from Dunwich. The title was too much for easy-listening maestro Les Baxter to live up to but he does have the distinction of being the first composer to record a piece of music entitled Necronomicon.

Previously on { feuilleton }
NecronomiCon Providence 2015
The horror
Die Farbe and The Colour Out of Space
The Mysteries of Myra

5 thoughts on “Occult gestures”

  1. Thanks for the shout-out John, even if this film has you fleeing in terror aesthetically. You’re not alone in that! ;)

  2. Also the pair starred together perhaps even more dramatically in Blue Velvet, Stockwells make-up always makes me think of “Inauguration Of The Pleasure Dome” too in a strange sort of way?

  3. Michael: I almost mentioned Blue Velvet but thought that would be straying from the point a little. I’d not thought about his makeup being Angeresque before but the song Blue Velvet features in Scorpio Rising, of course.

  4. Okay, so this might be a little bit of a stretch, but… I’ve often wondered if there is a subtle Horns of Pan reference when Helen Mirren/Morgana is ‘shown the dragon’ in Excalibur. She brings her fists up to her temples and when she turns you can see that her thumbs are out. It’s always reminded me of Crowley’s hand gesture.


  5. I think that’s more a gesture of pain than any deliberate occult symbolism. A shame since it wouldn’t have been out of place there.

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