Movie Reviews 390 – The Shuttered Room (1967)

Did you ever remember a movie from your childhood where you can vividly recollect a number of particular scenes and the gist of the film and yet the title totally eludes you? Worse yet, any attempt to question others in search of an answer elicits nothing but blank stares? A few months ago my brother brought up such a film that we both saw as kids long, long ago which was terrifying enough to that we still remembered certain scenes. Being so young at the time neither of us had even an inkling of a title. But as the cinephile in the family (and more than a bit familiar with classic horror as this blog hopefully has proven)  I thought I should be able to deduce that fleeting title fairly quickly with a few well crafted internet searches. My first attempts were fruitless and the title dogged me for more than a month and after talking about it with my brother on a second visit I was determined to track that sucker down.

I didn’t have much to go on. We both remembered some feral woman either peeking through a barbed hole and otherwise spying on people, the main object of her prying eyes being another woman, her lovely sister. The only other thing I could remember was a haggard looking grey haired elderly lady and that in the finale she and the wild woman burn among the flames of a building fire.

It took awhile but I finally came up with a title – The Shuttered Room – and promptly managed to secure a copy.  In the back of my mind I worried that watching the film today would not live up to my childhood memories and that I may regret finding a turd erasing my fond recollection. My only glimmer of hope was seeing Oliver Reed as one of the stars.

The story is basically about a newlywed (Carol Lynley) reluctantly returning to her childhood home at the urging of her husband (Gig Young).  Sarah Whately has only vague memories of the place and even her parents, never having understood the circumstances in which she was ushered away as a child to be reared in a foster home. Almost as soon as the couple arrive on the island on which her ancestral home is located and Sarah’s identity is revealed to the locals the couple receive a frosty welcome with dire warnings to pack up and leave immediately for their own good. A chance encounter with a bunch of rowdy youths led by Ethan (Reed), Sarah’s cousin, is no more cordial but does come with an invitation to visit her aunt Agatha (Flora Robson) who basically gives the same warning, claiming a “Whately Curse” that has claimed many victims.

But the couple are determined to stay overnight in the mill house despite Sarah’s sporadic feelings of unease. Before long victims do surface as the mysterious individual keeps a keen eye on Sarah and other visitors. Before the couple end up as victims themselves aunt Agatha fesses up to the truth and takes matters into her own hands to end the ‘curse’.

Not only did this movie live up to my memories but I can honestly say that as I watched it and other memories clicked in my mind, it deepened my appreciation for this forgotten jewel of a thriller. Based on a short story by horror heavyweights H.P. Lovecraft and August Derleth, the film is rife with rattling scenes. From the very beginning in which a man is riding a pallet dragged by a pickup truck next to a barbed wire fence to it’s chilling frankensteinian ending, this film will chill and tingle. The ambiance of the gloomy English coast – I didn’t buy into the notion that this was supposed to be somewhere in Massachusetts – is a perfect setting. While there are little things like a focus on Sarah’s old doll house and Agatha’s servant’s infatuation by hosiery that add to the atmosphere, Reed of course caps all the performances as he was at the peak of his ‘bad boy’ years with the real life facial scars – prominent here – to prove it.

This is not a perfect movie by any means. The prelude to the film gives us a pretty good idea to who and what is up in that attic but leaves just enough to entice us to get the details.Gig was well beyond Lynley in age to their relationship being even remotely believable even as a May-December romance. But the parts that do work do so remarkably. It’s time this movie gets the credit it deserves and that starts by giving it your attention.

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