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Warner Bros / Seven Arts invested heavily in English co-productions in the 1960s, making deals with horror specialists Hammer Films and many other smaller companies. This Warner Bros. Horror Double Feature presents two independent productions that were given a full release and once saw heavy rotation on late-night television. The Shuttered Room enjoys a fairly positive reputation for its star cast and literary pedigree. By comparison It! receives little in the way of respect; even Roddy McDowall fans tend to be underwhelmed. But how many horror movies end by detonating a nuclear bomb in a London suburb?
Filmed in England, 1967's The Shuttered Room feigns an American setting and succeeds fairly well, a few awkwardly dubbed voices aside. It gains in interest for being derived from a book by H.P. Lovecraft and August Derleth, a fact confirmed by a rickety road sign reading "Dunwich Island" in the very first scene. New York marrieds Mike and Susannah Kelton (Gig Young & Carol Lynley) drive his convertible T-Bird to the remote New England birthplace she left as a small child, to find out what happened to her long-lost relations, the Whately family. Susannah's Aunt Agatha (Flora Robson) is an eccentric living atop an abandoned lighthouse. Agatha tells them that her childhood home in an old mill is cursed -- any Whately who goes there, dies. Young hoodlum Ethon (Oliver Reed) is concerned about losing his inheritance to Susannah, and his crude attempts to harass her develop into a stalk-and-rape scenario. Meanwhile, it becomes clear that some entity indeed inhabits the old mill, and watches Susannah as she undresses.
The Shuttered Room is signed by the prolific and accomplished TV director David Greene, who may have been responsible for the class-act casting of the notable Dame Flora Robson and the busy Oliver Reed. Greene lends the show a stylish visual surface, with many subjective-camera shots and an entire prologue filmed from the point of view of the "thing in the attic". His eventual defeat is due to a script that gives the show away before the main titles and moves laboriously from story point to story point. Dunwich Island and its crazed inhabitants are so obviously sinister that we quickly lose sympathy with the clueless Mike and Susannah. Faced with Ethon's open malice and Agatha's blunt promise of dire consequences, they nevertheless walk calmly into the mill. Mike goes to town for groceries, leaving the vulnerable Susannah to play at sweeping cobwebs. A haunted eye watches from a hidden panel in the wall ...
The script provides a town strumpet for some sex teasing and sends Susannah on a beach stroll to be menaced by Ethon. To provide a hot trailer moment, Susannah inexplicably avoids rape by provocatively disrobing. Meanwhile, Madison Avenue ad man Mike (we can visualize him returning to Manhattan to dine with Rock Hudson and Doris Day) uses deft karate chops to best four or five yokels and the strapping Ethon. All of this strains credibility, especially with the English cast performing as if this hack 'n' slash horror movie were a Faulkner classic.
The ending gives us an entirely non-supernatural cause for the haunting, and has much more in common with Friday the 13th than Lovecraft tales like The Dunwich Horror. The Shuttered Room earned some positive reviews for some atmospheric scenes stalking about the decrepit mill, and camera techniques that would become celebrated in later 1970s Eurohorror films. Good intentions aside, its horrors remain stubbornly formulaic.
It! was written and directed by Herbert J. Leder for Warners / Seven Arts at the same time as The Frozen Dead, a cut-price melodrama. That film wins the bad taste award by having Dana Andrews revive dead Nazis to launch a Fourth Reich. It! is nothing less than a modern-dress version of the classic Der Golem, written to sidestep most of the original story's fuss about Cabalistic Jewish magic. The new Golem is a piece of "primitive art", a non-clay statue complete with Hebraic inscriptions and a handy toe-box containing the secret scroll that brings it to life.
Ambitious museum assistant Arthur Pym (Roddy McDowall, his name misspelled on screen) is frustrated because his boss's shapely daughter Ellen (Otto Preminger protégè Jill Haworth) only wants to remain good friends. The careless script has Arthur keep the mummified corpse of his Mum in a rocking chair, an angle that puts the entire show off balance. It! isn't an outright satire and it doesn't even possess a sense of ironic detachment. After a visit to a local Jewish scholar, Arthur begins using his newfound indestructible friend to eliminate people he doesn't like. He orders the Golem to cover his thefts from the museum's exhibits, and on a whim dispatches it to knock down Hammersmith Bridge.
Unfortunately, neither money nor unlimited power can buy Pym true love. As Scotland Yard closes in he kidnaps Ellen and holes up in his new estate with Mum's gnarly remains. When field artillery shells bounce off The Golem's supernatural hide, the authorities calmly choose to nuke Pym's country house. But don't worry, because they're using a special bomb guaranteed not to bother residents outside of a five-mile radius.
Filmed in bright color and enlivened by McDowall's spirited performance, It! is weak in most departments. The pointy-headed Golem looks like a driftwood carving. Aside from a hesitation or two it shows no personality, unlike the clay monster of legend that rebelled against ill use by humans. Arthur Pym's desiccated mother is a completely extraneous Psycho riff added for horror content, as arbitrary as a salacious bit in which Pym hallucinates that Ellen is lying nude on his couch, eager for his attentions. Pym makes just one effort to rid himself of the monster before greed and lust "force" him to continue its misuse. He's crazy all right, but not scary-crazy like Norman Bates or fun-crazy like McDowall's wonderful Allan Musgrave in George Axelrod's Lord Love a Duck.
Leder's direction is on the weak side; he can't enliven the finale's laughable conclusion in which the dull hero outruns a nuclear bomb on a peppy Honda motorbike. The Golem legend has produced classic cinema starring German Paul Wegener (1920) and Harry Bauer (1936) but Roddy McDowall's effort has to be chalked up as an also-ran. Soon afterward, McDowall became a horror director in his own right with the obscure but worthwhile Tam Lin (1970) based on a Scottish folk song and starring Ava Gardner.
Horror fans will welcome the Warner Home Video Horror Double Feature of The Shuttered Room and It! Both shows are much improved from TV airings interrupted by used car commercials. The studio has delivered excellent enhanced widescreen transfers with fine color and clear audio. Otherwise the presentation is without frills or extras. Although the disc has chapter stops, the one menu card serves only to choose which film to view.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
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