Susannah Whately (Carol Lynley) cannot recall much about her childhood, and now her parents are both dead it's even more difficult to feel any connection with her past. She does not remember the mysterious presence in the old millhouse she grew up in, one her parents were keen to keep locked away, but surely that is all behind her now? Maybe not, as she and her husband Mike (Gig Young) are travelling to the New England island she originally hailed from to see if they could move into the her first home, or at least spruce it up as a holiday destination. Which would be a mistake...
The Shuttered Room proclaims in the opening titles itself as being based on one of those stories August Derleth created out of material left by H.P. Lovecraft, but even the contemporary The Dunwich Horror came across as more from the mind of the great horror author than this effort did. Screenwriters D.B. Ledrov and Nat Tanchcuk made this an up to date tale with far more concentration on the vulnerability of Lynley's doll-like, blonde, milk-white Susannah than what should have been a dread of whatever was lurking in the room of the title.
It didn't really help that although Lynley and Young were Americans, the majority of the other actors were British putting on an accent, and sounding pretty obviously doing so. Oliver Reed, as local rowdy Ethan, is introduced with his unlovely mates when they menace the New York couple after bumping into Mike's car while dragging someone along behind their truck as if they were waterskiing on land. No matter what he's doing with his vocal twang, Reed doesn't convince as an American, though on the other hand he seems very capable indeed of sexual assault.
This is because for some reason the film is less concerned with the threat of murder - that barely-glimpsed (until the end) creature in the attic is chained up for most of the story - and more with the threat of rape. Ethan and his friends are like a pack of dogs sniffing around Susannah, so time and again she is left at their mercy when Mike gets sidetracked, or even leaves her alone for long stretches, all the better for the scriptwriters to place her in danger. Lynley was rarely an actress to project much in the way of hard as nails grit, so she does seem in authentic peril, just not from the creature.
In fact, so caught up in the rape angle is The Shuttered Room that you begin to grow impatient with it and wish it would return to the mystery, which is what most of the audience would have been watching for. The only person who knows what is really going on is Susannah's aunt Agatha (Flora Robson), who appears to live in a nearby and disused lighthouse, but she's not letting on and advises the couple, quite rightly as must have been plain from the first ten minutes, to get the hell out of there and don't look back. In the film's favour there is a very a picturesque look to all of this, a weird contrast to the seedy plotting of the rest of it, but the final revelation of what was in the attic is a disappointment, and doesn't explain how it was able to leave to murder other characters if it was chained up. Genuinely uneasy, then, but not successful; Young's karate belongs in another film, too. Music by Basil Kirchin.