The Shuttered Room (also released as Blood Island) is your typical late 60s Hammer Gothic-Horror flick – in Technicolor!
The story follows Susannah (by Carol Lynley – performance so wooden it screams Pinocchio) and her (old enough to be her father) Mike (if you could believe it, even more dispassionately played by Gig Young), as a newly married city couple, on their return to Susannah’s childhood home.
For the first few years of her life, Susannah had been raised in a mill on a green but disquietingly eerie island. She doesn’t remember much of this life as she was sent to New York (due to unclear, but indubitably superstitious logic) when she was about four.
It is equally unclear why she would want to return to this godforsaken island when she has no actual recollection of her childhood, apart from the fact that she is traumatized by events she cannot really recall.
Anyway…once the couple set foot on the island, they are told time and time again to turn tail and run back to their modern (and sane) way of life, but being the modern, open minded city folk they are, they wouldn’t bow to superstition. So, naturally, they remained. And naturally, chaos ensues. What kinda horror film it would be if it didn’t?
While, some aspects of The Shuttered Room have clearly not aged well at all, there are aspects of it that are still very effective today.
Shuttered’s pacing works as well as a modern-day James Wan horror does. The plot may be predictable and the genre acting (it is a late 60s Hammer after all) couldn’t be hammier – but the film as a whole succeeds in building suspense. The 1960s overblown jazz music accompanying mesmerizing imagery of green virgin hills took me back to those delicious childhood afternoons reading Shivers. You kinda felt safe reading in the afternoon sunshine, but knew evil was just around the bend, waiting for the opportune moment to scare the wits out of you. So yes, even by today’s standards, the overall execution works. Good storytelling is, after all, ageless.
Bad acting, however, remains bad acting, even a hundred years later. And the acting in this film isn’t only bad, it’s actually non-existent. Gig Young (in the first and I presume last performance I will ever watch) phones in a Roger Moore impression. But Young is no Moore. Moore effortlessly embodied sophistication and British suaveness through a simple glance. Young’s Mike is more castrated than collected as he remains cool as a cucumber even while his wife is being molested by a gang of village morons in front of his eyes. How could an audience respect such a leading character? Was he supposed to be a loving husband, or a sadist with a twisted sense of humour? I honestly do not know.
Another example – early on in the film, while they’re on the way to the island, Susannah instructs him to stop the car. He complies and she just walks out and stands in the middle of the road. She proceeds to inform him that she’s very afraid of going back to her homeland. But what does he do? Waits for her to calm down and takes her anyway. And once on the island, Susannah’s Aunt Agatha, her own flesh and blood instructs them… pleads with them over and over again to go back whence they came if their safety means anything to them. She even goes as far as to hint that, should they insist on staying there, death would swiftly come to them. They laugh and shrug it off as superstition.
I mean…what the hell!
In some ways, the Shuttered Room is reminiscent of another classic mood piece – Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs (1971). In this movie, the good looking, just married city couple find themselves isolated in the unknown backwoods, constantly persecuted and molested by hicks. As in The Shuttered Room, the man conveniently leaves the beautiful young wife home alone, for the gang to attack.
Straw Dogs, though, was a different film made in a different era and even though it was released only four years after The Shuttered Room, the latter’s campy period Gothic horror mood doesn’t light a candle to Straw Dogs’ brutal realism, especially acting wise.
Even Oliver Reed who is usually such a sensitive, soulful actor comes across as weak in parts and over-the-top in others, in his last role for Hammer. He seems so adamant on giving the character that extra layer of psycho that he comes across as a insecure doofus with a clearly fake American accent. Nothing more, nothing less.
Questions left Unanswered
I thought I’d close this review by going through the most popular / prevailing questions this film leaves unanswered, as The Shuttered Room’s main flaws are simply weaknesses in the screenplay.
One: Why, after seeing the kind of character Ethan he first runs into them (quite literally – by ramming their classic car with his truck over and over again), do the couple trust him enough to follow him to Aunt Agatha’s?
Two: Why, when first entering the old rundown mill, and Susannah is so obviously terrified of the traumatic events she kinda recalls from her childhood, does Mike ask her in soothing concern – ‘Sure you’ll be ok here all alone?’ She might have answered in the negative for all he cared, cos off he went, leaving her alone in the possibly Satanic, cobweb laden old mill.
Three: Why, after Mike does grow a pair and shows Ethan a thing or two using his Karate skills set to the mandatory ‘60s jazz drum rolls (where did that come from?) does he offer one the most suspicious-looking member of his gang a lift in his car? Not only that, but he also engages in small-talk about electricity poles or whatnot with him. Only to get the shit beaten out of him, tied up and almost run over with his own car. Twice. Well…serves him right I guess.
And why, oh why did Susannah think that she would stop Ethan, who incidentally also happens to be her cousin (as if this character wasn’t creepy enough in the first place, they decided to add incestual overtones to boot) from raping her, by actually stripping half naked and almost shoving her chest in his face? Come to think of it, he seemed so traumatized by this, I kinda felt sorry for him. Yep, you heard that right. He was traumatized by her.
Why would –
Oh what the hell. Why can’t I just enjoy this peace of ham for what it is and leave the unanswerable questions for scholars?