[5 January 2009]
DVD releases of old, mostly-forgotten horror movies may not be big sellers, but that doesn’t mean they come up short on artistry (or at least entertainment). Sometimes, two perfectly good B-movies might be packed onto one disc, even though such repackaging would seem to indicate that neither film really stands on its own.
Often, when such a horror double feature is offered on DVD, the two features are closely related, as when Turner Home Entertainment released a series of DVDs each featuring two of the subtle, atmospheric B-horror movies produced by Val Lewton. However, no direct relationship exists between The Shuttered Room (1967) and It! (1966), two movies released on one disc as part of Warner Home Video’s new Horror Double Feature series.
To be fair, someone at Warner seems to have paired these movies up for a reason; two reasons, in fact. Each movie features a gorgeous actress (Carol Lynley in The Shuttered Room and Jill Haworth in It!) and a noteworthy actor (Oliver Reed in the former, Roddy McDowall in the latter) in leading roles. Likewise, neither film is notable for any other reason.
The Shuttered Room is a Deliverance-lite country nightmare. Susannah Whately Kelton (Carol Lynley) and her husband Mike Kelton (Gig Young) return to Dunwich Island, Susannah’s birthplace, hoping to refurbish and live in the old millhouse where Susannah spent the first few years of her life. The islanders, including the lascivious Ethan (Oliver Reed), repeatedly warn the couple about a curse that haunts the old mill. For most of the film’s 100 long minutes, the sex-starved men of Dunwich Island torment the couple, trying to keep Mike away from his wife so Ethan can have his way with her.
In different ways, Susannah and Mike both eventually discover the true horror that lurks in the mill. However, these revelations don’t occur until the film’s last few minutes, and in the meanwhile, the film is slow.
Every now and then, the film reveals an odd production choice (a moment of Indian tabla drums in the soundtrack, a meaningless visual fixation on an eagle) which seems to be in place to suggest that The Shuttered Room is a rich, deep, thoughtful film. In reality, there’s no subtlety here—just a simple story stretched as far as it can go.
It! is a retelling of the Golem legend and a marginally more interesting movie than The Shuttered Room, moving along at a faster clip and offering a more complex plot. Arthur Pimm (Roddy McDowell) is the assistant curator at a London museum who discovers an unusual ancient statue amidst the rubble of a warehouse fire. A representative of the New York Museum (Paul Maxwell) who hopes to purchase the statue relates the legend of the Golem to Pimm, who thereupon realizes he can bring the statue to life and control its actions.
Pimm wants two things: Ellen Grove (Jill Haworth) and to be curator of the museum. He figures that the destructive power of the Golem can win him both, but the power proves to be more than he can handle and things get a little out of hand for poor Pimm. In fact, things get really, really far out of hand. So as not to give any surprises away (for they truly are surprising), it must suffice to say that It! goes a little bit over the top, especially towards the end, making the film not only uneven but also ridiculous. Most frustrating, though, is the obvious and pointless Psycho rip-off of Pimm’s fixation on his mother’s corpse, with which he shares his home and to whom he pledges loyalty above all else.
No bonus features are included on this DVD, probably due to a lack of faith and/or interest in these films. Indeed, the only potential market for this DVD is those fans of B-horror movies that might pick it up hoping to find a lost gem. While B-gems are out there on DVD (MGM’s Midnite Movies series, for instance, includes several lesser-known but still wonderful horror flicks), they are not to be found here.