AKA: Blood Island
DIRECTED BY: David Green
FEATURING: Oliver Reed, Gig Young, Flora Robson,
PLOT: In this H.P. Lovecraft adaptation, a a string of grisly killings is linked to an unnameable creature inhabiting the loft of an abandoned New England mill inherited by newlyweds.
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: The Shuttered Room showcases a strange story of monsters and madness. The setting is claustrophobic and creepy, the characters are downright bizarre, and so are the situations that the protagonists stumble into. The cinematography is expertly, if not artfully, executed. Thus the viewer expects a conventional storyline, and it is unsettling when shocking events unfold.
COMMENTS: A newlywed couple, Mike and Susannah Kelton (Young, Lynley) travel to an island off of the Connecticut shoreline to visit an old mill which Sue just inherited. It was once her childhood home. From the start, she has reservations, but the couple perseveres at Mike’s urging. They need to view the property with the goal of renovating the mill into a bed and breakfast.
As soon as they arrive on the island, the locals begin subjecting them to the old “Yew ain’t from around here!” treatment (even though Sue is). Mike meets her uncle who insists that they should leave. The uncle’s employee shows Mike his mutilated face, missing an eye, and reports that the injury was caused by the devil when he got drunk and spent a night in the abandoned mill. The couple also meet the local ruffians, a gang of unsavory toughs led by a psychopath named Ethan (Reed), who happens to be Sue’s cousin. Mike is a dignified magazine editor. Both he and Sue are city-slickers—and it shows. The hooligans waste no time expressing their country-fried contempt for the educated, well dressed pair. They brazenly leer at Sue, and even her cousin Ethan has incestuous rape in mind.
The initial scene in The Shuttered Room furnishes a glimpse at some sort of childhood trauma caused by an insane relative who attacked Sue when she was a toddler. A dirty back room secret, the miscreant is kept confined to special quarters in the old mill. The restraint chamber is blocked by a sinister red door with a very weird peephole protected by cruel spikes. Sue represses her early memories, and the denial is causing her to have psychological issues. The couple find Sue’s old toys, family furnishings, and can’t help but note that strange door. What was once behind the door holds the answer to Sue’s latent angst. Discovering answers about her past was part of her motivation to return to the island; she quickly begins to question the wisdom of digging them up.
As soon as the couple settle in, they share an intimate moment interrupted by Ethan licentiously peeping at them through a window. He leads them to a decrepit lighthouse where Sue has a reunion with her eccentric Aunt Agatha (Robson), who warns the Keltons about a curse on Sue’s family. She learns that her parents were killed by lightning and that the old mill harbors a deadly secret. Auntie implores the pair to leave the island at once lest the curse befall them too. As the couple explores the mill and the island, they have several unsavory encounters with the gang of nutty, violent locals. Ethan’s girlfriend shows up at the mill late at night to steal a coveted item from the Keltons and is mysteriously and monstrously slashed to death.
The old mill itself is as creepy as can be with a sinister overhanging loft several stories over the entrance. The loft features a mysterious trap door in its floor once used for winching up sacks of grain. An imposing structure, it is the room behind the creepy red door and holds the danger that the islanders dread.
Ultimately the thugs ambush and waylay Mike to divert him while Ethan attempts to rape Sue. Mike gets away and rushes to his wife’s rescue, where they discover that Ethan has unleashed the dreaded family curse. When it manifests itself, Ethan and the Keltons fight for their lives in a bizarre and cathartic showdown.
The Shuttered Room is a Gothic story about isolation, the unknown, dreadful places, and being trapped. It is not a fast paced splatterfest of a horror movie, but the setting and situations are dreadfully creepy, unusual and memorable. Basil Kirchin’s (The Abominable Dr. Phibes) lively, innovative score enhances the film’s atmosphere of psychic anxiety.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“… the story lacks a single legitimate character with any semblance of logic, depth, or motivation. It’s almost surreal in this sense, like watching one of those bizarre giallos where the killer seems to draw all sorts of attractive women into his path as if through some unspoken gravitational force.”–Mike Lorefice, Raging Bull Reviews (DVD)