Shuttered Room is supposedly based on the short story by Lovecraft's
zealous disciple August Derleth. Derleth, a solid writer of
pulp fiction, is better remembered as the co-founder of the
Wisconsin-based publishing firm Arkham House. But Derleth
was first and foremost a writer, and used Arkham House as
a vehicle for his own storiesincluding those he claimed
to be "posthumous collaborations" with Lovecraft. These tales
were based on "fragments" found among Lovecraft's writings,
bearing titles like "The Shadow Out of Space," "Innsmouth
Clay," "The Lamp of Alhazred," "The Watchers Out of Time,"
and the famous "The Lurker at the Threshold." They were almost
entirely Derleth's inventions, tales in which Lovecraft's
bleak cosmic vision got transformed into a classic battle
between Good and Evil, a concept irrelavent to HPL.
Derleth's 1959 short story "The Shuttered Room" belongs
to this group of "posthumous collaborations" and is a sequel
of sorts to not one, but two Lovecraft tales, attempting to
pick up where both "The Dunwich Horror" and "The Shadow Over
Innsmouth" left off. But no fragment of HPL's can be blamed
for the film The Shuttered Room and neither can August Derleth,
because what made it to the screen hardly resembles the Lovecraftian
pastiche he penned.
The film starts off promising enough, as we see a '67 T-Bird
speeding down a lonely road past a sign reading: FERRY TO
DUNWICH ISLAND1 MILE. Unfortunately, this Dunwich has
nothing to do with HPL's most popular story. It has much more
in common with the "horny hillbilly" movies made popular a
decade before by Russ Meyer.
The perfectly coifed and ever-smirking Gig Young is behind
the wheel, while his lovely trophy wife, Carol Lynley, occupies
the bucket seat next to him. Almost immediately they are accosted
by a pick-up filled with a pack of howling Dunwichians, a
truck driven by Ethan Whateley played by one of the greatest
screen bad-boys of all time, Oliver Reed (The Devils, Tommy,
The Three Muskateers).
It seems that Gig's wife, Suzanne, is a Dunwich Whateley
who was raised in New York and is now returning home on the
occasion of her 21st birthday to claim an old sawmill she
has inherited. This immediately raises the hairy eyebrows
of a distant relative, Zebulon Whateley, because one of his
foundry workers lost an eye in the cursed Whateley Mill. "There's
no one but demons live there," the one-eyed worker tells Gig
who, being from New York City, naturally wants to turn the
cursed and demon-haunted place into a summer house.
Meanwhile, the locals are getting up close and a little
too personal with Suzanne. "A race by themselves," Lovecraft
wrote in "The Dunwich Horror" and Derleth borrowed, "with
the well-defined mental and physical stigmata of degeneracy
At the old mill, Gig smirks at the decrepit building but
the long shot of the 18th-century structure is one of the
creepier ones of the film. Sometimes a picture is worth a
thousand words, and the decaying structure on the river evokes
Lovecraft in every splintered board and broken window. The
star of the story, the shuttered room itself, is immediately
apparent as a bizarre shack ominously overhanging the building,
like the eldritch past heavily weighing on the present, a
picture both Lovecraft and his disciple Derleth would have
Reed is quick to take the couple to see Suzanne's aging
aunt Agatha Whateley (played by Flora Robson, best know for
her role as Queen Elizabeth in the Errol Flynn classic The
Sea Hawk). Agatha lives in a lighthouse and warns them of
"the Whateley curse." She's sure doom will come to Suzanne
if the young woman spends even one night in the Whateley Mill.
Gig, smirking as usual, thanks the old woman for her "advice"
and takes his wife back to their future vacation hide-away.
Unfortunately the mood quickly ossifies into the oh-so-standard
hand-held and wide-angle POV shots of someone or something
watching the couple. The movie is liberally padded with such
exciting scenes as: Oliver Reed endlessly running around the
island; Gig tooling around in the T-Bird; Suzanne dusting;
Suzanne getting undressed; Suzanne being watched; the Whateley
"kissing cousins" kissing their cousins; Suzanne rape-chased
by Oliver and the thugs; Suzanne brilliantly eluding them
by running onto the dead end of a pier; Suzanne being rescued
by Gig's Kung-Fu mastery (he is, after all, a New York magazine
editor); some . . . well, you get the idea.
The Shuttered Room finally slow-walks to its climax inthe
shuttered room! There we learn that the source of all the
clichÖ POV's is none other than Suzanne's mad and raving sister,
who has been kept alive by her auntie. The aunt, in her infinite
wisdom, figures out a way to free Suzanne from the curse.
Her solution? Conflagrationbuilding on a trend disturbingly
common to Lovecraftian cinema.
The Whateley Mill consumed by flames is probably the most
emotional scene in the entire picture. Not because of anything
the filmmakers were trying to accomplish, but because we've
been robbed of an excellent location that could have been
used for a real Lovecraft adaptation.
Yet another ending in flames and all we are left with is
a burned-out husk! Sort of like someone who, possessed by
powers outside of all normal time and space, decided to sit
through the entire running time of The Shuttered Room.