SEPTEMBER 24, 2009
Leave it to me to get the one Lovecraft-based movie without any goddamn monsters. The Shuttered Room features some typical HPL elements (seaside Massachusetts town, something in an attic, etc) but there is nothing supernatural or even psychological about it. It’s just a crazy girl chained in the attic. There is talk of a death curse and such, but again, it’s not like an actual curse, best as I can tell. The characters in the movie don't seem cursed, merely so dumb that it’s a wonder they haven’t gotten themselves killed long before any of the events in this story.
For the life of me I cannot tell what it is that makes our hero couple want to stay in this town. Their house seems to be “cursed”, the locals are constantly picking fights with the hero (Gig Young) and trying to rape the heroine (Carol Lynley), and, according to one local, they don’t even have any use for magazines there (our hero is a magazine editor). Oddly enough, just last night I re-watched Funny Farm for the first time in years, and in that film (which also features a city couple moving to a small town full of weirdos), whenever something really bad happens, the filmmakers provide a moment of joy that gives Chevy Chase and his wife a reason to stay there. Even if it’s a rather flimsy one, it’s SOMETHING, but this movie offers no such explanation. It’s an island, but one that is only a few miles (if that) from the mainland - if they wanted to leave they could.
But if you ignore that, and the lack of a monster, you will find yourself with a pretty good little British chiller. I never figured out the twist, which is always a plus with me, and the gothic mansion is a great setting. It’s also largely set during the day, something that I find eerie. And Oliver Reed is in it, so you know there are some wonderfully batshit moments (the best of which, naturally, revolves around his finding a bottle of some sort of alcohol on the floor, and then sort of sneaking up on it to drink it).
There are also a couple of great little setpieces. Early on in the film, they establish that Young's car horn is malfunctioning, causing it to go off and stay blaring. And by the time you forget this little factoid, it comes into play. It goes off in the middle of the night (one of the very few night scenes), and Young investigates, which drowns out the sound of an attack inside the house. Good stuff.
I was often reminded of Straw Dogs, which is odd because I’ve never seen that film. But I know enough about it to see many plot similarities, and since Dogs came along a few years after this film (as did the source novel) , I wonder if it was an influence. And when I double checked the dates to be sure, I discovered that Shuttered Room was apparently only based on some of Lovecraft’s notes, which a guy named August Derleth cobbled together and made cash-in stories from (allegedly). So I guess I can forgive the lack of a monster.
The only thing I really didn’t like is the jazz score (2nd movie in as many weeks to have an ill-fitting jazz score!). Again, it’s not that I don’t like jazz, and I don’t, but it just doesn’t fit with what’s going on most of the time. It’s more successful a pairing than Haxan’s, but it’s still very jarring. I don’t buy into that “the best score is the one you don’t notice” nonsense - instead I believe that there’s a difference between memorable (Jaws, Halloween) and distracting (this). Especially for a film that is built around atmosphere; I can’t really get that “you are there” feeling when all I can hear is a detached “tiss-tss, tiss-tss-tiss” sound of a drum cymbal followed by some improvised sax.
Like I said in the It! review, this disc is worth owning if you find it cheap enough. It’s the barest of barebones (not even a chapter selection screen), but you get two 60s British horror films that aren’t from Hammer (itself a rarity) and despite some plot elements that might be shared with other films (moreso in It! than Shuttered), neither of them feel like movies you’ve seen a million times already. And coming from me, I do believe that is saying something.
What say you?