IT! (1966)/THE SHUTTERED ROOM (1966)
Directors: Herbert J. Leder, David Greene
Warner Home Video

Warner Home Video’s new “Horror Double Feature” series (initially available as Best Buy store exclusives) is bringing some often neglected horror relics to DVD, and hopefully the line will continue. Ten or even five years ago, the prospect of Warner considering these two titles for DVD would be followed by a crack about pigs flying, but thankfully, the company continues to skim through its vast film library. Both IT! and THE SHUTTERED ROOM (unless you count an unauthorized VHS edition under the title, “Blood Island") have never been available on video in the U.S., so this double feature is warmly welcomed and comes a pleasant pre-Halloween treat.

The warehouse of a British museum is burnt to the ground, and all that remains is a tall, rather horrible-looking statue. On examination of it, the museum curator (Ernest Clark) dies mysteriously and suddenly, leaving his young assistant Arthur Pimm (Roddy McDowall) to ponder what exactly just happened. Pimm, who talks to his mummified mother and garnishes her with stolen jewelry, discovers the secret of the statue. An ancient Golem from Jewish folklore, it has the ability to be mobile and kill on command, and Pimm is the one now in control of its power. Pimm wastes no time having "it" off the snobbish new curator, but the police are heavily suspicious of the deaths piling up in and around the museum. A New York museum director (Paul Maxwell, BLOOD OF DRACULA) arrives to bring the Golem back to the States, and as he is suspicious of Pimm and makes the moves on his girl (Jill Haworth, TOWER OF EVIL), this only puts more fuel on the fire (and there are many fires here).

Often regarded as a terrible misfire, IT! is a British-made update of the Golem legend (first brought to cinemas in the silent era) that’s mostly half-baked in its presentation and ridiculous in its storyline. The film can be talky and stagy, but its still beautifully photographed and can be fun due to McDowall’s fervent, non-mechanical performance. One of the half-baked ideas is Pimm’s upkeep of his dead mother (established in the first few minutes); this is most likely a nod to Norman Bates and PSYCHO, but this underdeveloped subplot really goes nowhere as we’re already convinced of Pimm being a sociopath. There is however a great dream sequence which has Pimm fantasizing about the lovely Ellen (Haworth) with only a sheet spread around her beautiful body, only to turn into the the image of the horrible rotted corpse of his mother as he makes his approach.

As Pimm, McDowall lets go as a frustrated misfit, bent on revenge, and quickly turning around and feeling sorry for his various actions. Had it not been for him, IT! would probably have been a total waste as the Golem itself (played by actor Alan Sellers) looks pretty rubbery and pathetic when walking around. A scene where the Golem demolishes a bridge is laughable, especially when the payoff is an undistinguishable matte painting. IT! also features an early bit performance by future cult horror actor Ian McCulloch (ZOMBIE, ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST) and New York-born director Herbert J. Leder also helmed THE FROZEN DEAD, another British B monster effort which was originally double-billed with this.

In a millhouse on a secluded New England island, a little girl is menaced in her bedroom by an unseen assailant; her parents are able to lock up the mysterious being in a room with a red door and a spiked peephole. Years later after being sent away from the place, Susannah (Carol Lynley) is now a young woman in her early 20s, and returns to her home with her much older magazine editor husband Mike Kelton (Gig Young). Although Susannah is inheriting the long-abandoned millhouse, her Aunt Agatha (Flora Robson, THE BEAST IN THE CELLAR) warns that the place is cursed and that she and her husband should leave at once. The couple stays on, but there is a constant sense that someone is watching, and rowdy boy-man Ethan (Oliver Reed) is forever tormenting the newcomers, with an intent on sexually assaulting Susannah.

Based on a book by August Derleth and H.P. Lovecraft, THE SHUTTERED ROOM is something of an underappreciated gem of British horror, even if the characters and location are American. Although it played on TV many times in the 1970s and early 1980s (in New York, it was a staple of Channel 7’s “The 4:30 Movie”) it pretty much has disappeared except for circulating video bootlegs. The haunting themes of Lovecraft are nicely handled here, from a welder (played by genre favorite Bernard Kay) lifting his visor to reveal half his face horribly disfigured, to the “thing” in the attic which is kept under lock and key, to a small town full of superstitious denizens who seem to fear everything. Television director David Greene creates a tense sense of shadowy mystique, with POV shots of the unseen menace being very creepy, something surely etched in the minds of those who saw the film in their youth.

It’s a bit jarring to see familiar British actors simulating American accents, but they actually come off well, especially Flora Robson, who is an asset to the film. Scenes of Gig Young sparing with Oliver Reed and his mob of ruffians are sometimes awkward, but these themes of violence and competition for the much younger wife of a newcomer (in a new secluded habitat) foreshadow similar events in Sam Peckinpah’s STRAW DOGS, made some years later. Reed is essentially reworking the same character he played in Joseph Losey’s THE DAMNED in 1963, though he’s always great to watch and is a scene stealer. The film also provided a good starring role for Carol Lynley, who flirted with the genre on and off throughout her career. The score by Basil Kirchin (THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES, THE MUTATIONS) is an odd mix of jazz and other styles, and it offsets the chilling on screen action rather effectively.

Both IT! and THE SHUTTERED ROOM are presented in their original 1.85:1 aspect ratios with anamorphic enhancement. Both films look terrific, with bright colors and crisp detail, and even though they sometimes suffer from minor print blemishes, the transfers are a pleasure to watch. Both films have excellent English mono audio tracks. Initially, THE SHUTTERED ROOM seemed to have some dialog distortion, but since the problem quickly went away, it was probably a minor issue owing to the original soundtrack (or maybe it was just my imagination). Both titles have optional English and French subtitles. (George R. Reis)