H.P. Lovecraft gets the Brit-horror treatment. RICHARD PHILLIPS-JONES takes a look.
TITLE: The Shuttered Room
RELEASED: 27th June 1967
STARRING: Carol Lynley (Susannah Whateley Kelton), Gig Young (Mike Kelton), Oliver Reed (Ethan), Flora Robson (Aunt Agatha), Rick Jones (Luther Whateley), Judith Arthey (Emma)
WRITERS: D.B. Ledrov and Nathaniel Tanchuck (from the story by August Derleth and H.P. Lovecraft)
DIRECTOR: David Greene
Newly-wed Susannah Kelton travels with husband Mike to the island of Dunwich, Massachusetts. Susannah has inherited a mill-house there from her deceased parents, but on arrival the two find the locals hostile and insular. The ancestral home looks in need of plenty of restoration as well.
Susannah is reunited with her Aunt Agatha, who warns that the house is cursed and that the two should return to where they came from as soon as possible. Despite Mike’s disbelief, it soon becomes apparent that something may be living in the mill attic, something which gave Susannah nightmares as a child…
An interesting curio this, an attempt to produce a Lovecraft story in the UK, but with Kent and Norfolk posing as New England, and a mixed Anglo/US cast getting to grips with their accents to varying degrees of success.
Director David Greene was apparently unhappy with the script, and tinkered with it throughout production. Unfortunately it very much feels like it. For what was essentially a short story, the film is easily 20 minutes too long, and the fiery climax lacks the intended punch. Considering that a genuine mill building was purposefully wrecked in the process, it feels like a waste.
In its best moments, however (and there are plenty scattered throughout) The Shuttered Room has some great touches of Lovecraftian weirdness. A scene where Susannah is reunited with her Aunt Agatha, while the Aunt nonchalantly feeds raw meat to her pet bird-of-prey works very well. The gang of local hoodlums headed by Oliver Reed are an unnerving bunch, and it’s heavily hinted that there may be a lot of inbreeding on the island (everyone seems to share the same surname for one thing).
Ultimately, The Shuttered Room is well worth a look, if failing to capitalise on the sum of its considerable parts, with powerful and effective moments punctuated by stretches of tedium. There is at least fun to be had looking out for Yoffi from Fingerbobs (sans beard) as one of the local thugs.
TRIVIA POINTS: The story of The Shuttered Room was actually written by August Derleth, based upon unfinished notes left by H.P. Lovecraft after his death. Derleth referred to himself as a “posthumous collaborator”. It has a mixed reputation amongst Lovecraft’s admirers.
The building destroyed in the film’s climax was Hardingham Mill in Norfolk, which had been built in the 1830’s. Although it had been disused for some time, locals and environmental campaigners (including Spike Milligan) protested the film crew’s destruction of it to no avail.