"The Shuttered Room" is a 1967 British psychological horror movie ostensibly based on an HP Lovecraft story. It's about a couple, with a wide age gap, who move back to the lady's childhood home on a remote island to visit the old mill she's due to inherit. The locals however, do not intend to make her feel welcome. Aside from Oliver Reed, who instantly needs to do the mad nasty with youthful wife Susannah.
Oh and there's a monster in the attic. But, y'know, whatever.
Psyhcological horror is, at it's heart, about creating an atmosphere and building a world. It's a shame then that the gaps in "The Shuttered Room's" atmosphere are often so large I wouldn't have been surprised to see a group of people holding a craft fare in them. Carol Lynley spends a large amount of the running time, when she's not wincing at the mill or being groped, just wandering around. This is is supposed to be her getting a sense of where she was born but often genuinely seems like she's trying to remember when she last purchased milk. Sure, she's relentlessly pursued by twangy jazz music but even that doesn't seem to bother her.
Far being a bother actually, the music might be one of the sole redeeming features of this movie. Alternating between jaunty free-ish jazz and ominous bass twangs, this seems to be one of the more conscious attempts by the filmmakers to make things seem Properly American, a far cry from the kind of pastorally creepy sounds that this movie probably would have had, had it been set in England. Of course, as you and I know, English people cannot contain their discomfort when having to act with any sort of jazz music, even if it is applied in post production. This actually helps the score give the movie some of the uneasy feeling it clearly wanted to have but didn't manage to cultivate.
There are hints of the kind of odd detail that create good psychological horror: the biblical interpretation one local has of the time he was attacked, the locals almost cheerful attempts at sexual assault and Oliver Reed's use of a headless teddybear as an improvised torch. Sadly though, most of the “WEIRD, RIGHT?” attempts at establishing atmospherics fall flat. The setting is benign and the token scary old lady is the kind of woman who could plausibly announce she is going to be giving yoga classes after the movie's twist. Any chance this movie has at creating unease is left mostly to the wild-eyed Oliver Reed and his implausible jeans. And by God, he does his best.
Most of the performances in this movie are hampered by the poor ADR, seemingly delivered by people living inside their microphones, accents, and non-committal acting, vaguely manic is the best you can hope for. This makes Oliver Reed's performance the only real beacon of acting weirdness in the movie. But it's a fucking big beacon.
Reed's crawling, sexual aggressiveness is to the fore the minute Mike and Susannah arrive on the island. Even if it is uncut with a sort of awkward chastity, he's definitely a threat. It's always clear that he will do anything, including stopping in the middle of a very-public attempt at dropping the paw on a local girl, to garner her affection.
What's not clear, however, is what accent he thinks he's doing. Reed plays fast and loose with phonetics in this movie, veering from mid-Atlantic to Fonz-caricature in the space of a single sentence. His accent aerobatics and weird, chaste-perviness combine to give the movie its most memorable line: “I like de taste o' yer wivezzz earzzzz”. Between this, having his eldery aunt give him baths and his kryptonite being naked breasts he makes a valiant attempt to save an otherwise fairly non-descript setting for a “psychological horror” movie.
But what of the horror in the movie? Truthfully, there was more violence in an email I got about swapping shift in work just now than there was in this movie (and I have a desk job). The monster-in-the-attic story always has potential and the movie's opening POV shot showed definite promise for a potential creepfest.
Sadly, it swiftly became apparent the “horror” part of the movie wasn't going to come till the very end. And when the horror does come, it doesn't feel like a build and release House Of The Devil maneuver. Instead it smacks quite obviously of “Jesus, what are we going to put in the trailer for this?”. This panicked inclusion of excitement near the end of the film extends to the plot, with a pathetic, obvious twist and a non-sequitorial late development of psychic powers (“what do people like in other movies, chaps?” you can almost hear them cry).
I must mention Gig Young who plays Susannah's skeptical New York husband Mike Kelton. He gives a great performance, just not one that should have anything to do with this movie. Your chief reaction to an island full of sexual deviants and women howling about curses should not be an occasionally raised eyebrow and a cool witticism. You should weeping with fear.
Not old Mike though. Even when the locals get directly physically aggressive with him he manages to fend them off with the Kung-Fu he inexplicably knows. Eventually though, he's overpowered by locals and has the ultimate indignity visited upon him: they put him in a net and drive his large car near him. If this sounds underwhelming that's because: yep, it totally is.
I'm a nerd and so I've been pretending to have read HP Lovecraft for years, so I can give you no real insight into whether the movie is loyal to his story or not. It's nothing like Stuart Gordon's adaptations I can tell you that much.
Ultimately The Shuttered Room is a British attempt at horror in an American setting that, for the most part, deserves to be forgotten. You probably thought “Oliver Reed as a manchild rapist” could never be boring. Well, think again.