The Shuttered Room (1959)(1967)

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Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Shuttered Room (1959)(1967)

The Shuttered Room and Other Pieces is a collection of fantasy, horror short stories, essays and memoirs by American author H. P. Lovecraft and others.  It was released in 1959 by Arkham House in an edition of 2,527 copies and was the fifth collection of Lovecraft's work to be released by Arkham House.  August Derleth, the owner of Arkham House, and an admirer and literary executor to Lovecraft, edited the collection and wrote the title story, "The Shuttered Room", as well as another story, "The Fisherman of Falcon Point" from some lines of story ideas left by Lovecraft after his death.  Derleth billed himself as a "posthumous collaborator".

“The Shuttered Room,” first published in the Arkham House anthology The Shuttered Room and Other Pieces in 1959, is one of these stories culled from a few lines of Lovecraft.  In some later anthologies Derleth’s contribution is sneakily tucked away in small print (“with August Derleth”) to make it look as if “The Shuttered Room” is entirely the work of Lovecraft, even though he only contributed the idea from his notebooks.

August Derleth The story uses a plot structure that Derleth employed many times: a character receives the inheritance of an old house in rural New England from a recently deceased relative, and discovers a horrific legacy—often in volumes of forbidden lore.  “The Shuttered Room” disposes of the forbidden tomes, at least; the deadly legacy is mobile and tangible this time.  The inheritor in this case is Abner Whateley, who receives a mansion from the will of his grandfather Luther Whateley in the rotting town of Dunwich, Massachusetts.  Abner once lived in the house, where he went in fear of his grandfather and his Aunt Sarey, who never left the locked and shuttered room over the mill attached to the house.  When Abner takes up residence in the dusty mansion, he finds strange instructions from his grandfather to destroy the mill and kill anything living he finds there, thus completing some obscure task that Luther failed to finish.  Abner isn’t very observant of what he considers insane orders from a strange man, and enters the shuttered room and smashes open the nailed-shut windows.  He also ignores a tiny, frog-like (i.e. “batrachian,” a Lovecraftian word that Derleth swings around with little regard for life or property) creature that escapes the room through a break in the glass of the windows.

The story then follows Abner attempting to piece together his family’s recent history and understand what his grandfather expected of him through piles of letters, most which concern Aunt Sarey and her visit to her relatives, the Marshes, in the coastal town of Innsmouth.  This is the point where all Lovecraft readers will understand the core of what is occurring.  At first it seems “The Shuttered Room” is meant as a sequel to Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror” because it concerns the Whateley family from that story, and Derleth frequently refers to Wilbur Whateley and his mysterious brother, who was also kept locked away.  But as Abner peers deeper into the Marsh side of the family and the history of Innsmouth, and reports of strange killings along the Miskatonic start reaching him, it becomes clear that the Whateleys are a red-herring for a story that is actually a sequel to Lovecraft’s “The Shadow over Innsmouth.”

The Shuttered Room (1967)

  • Actors: Oliver Reed, Gig Young, Carol Lynley, Flora Robson, Judith Arthy
  • Directors: David Greene, Herbert J. Leder
  • Writers: Herbert J. Leder, August Derleth, D.B. Ledrov, H.P. Lovecraft, Nat Tanchuck
  • Producers: Alexander Jacobs
  • Format: Color, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Warner Home Video
  • DVD Release Date: December 9, 2008
  • Run Time: 196 minutes

Susannah Kelton returns with her husband, Mike, to her childhood home on an isolated island off the New England coast to inspect an old mill she has inherited.  She has not been there since she was sent to New York City after both her parents died.  The islanders, openly hostile to the couple, are aghast at their plans to use the millhouse, which has an ominous history, as a summer house.  Mike and Susannah ignore the warnings of her brutish cousin Ethan and her morose Aunt Agatha.  Curious about the shuttered room on the top floor of the millhouse, Susannah conducts an investigation.  She does not know that Mike has been waylaid and beaten up by Ethan's gang of wastrels.  Frightened by the dark old building, Susannah is about to leave when she is suddenly confronted and nearly assaulted by the lecherous Ethan.  She takes refuge in the shuttered room, but Ethan follows her with a lighted torch.  As he pursues Susannah, a strange figure lunges at him from out of the shadows, causing him to fall to his death.  Mike, meanwhile, has learned the truth about the millhouse from Aunt Agatha, whose silence has been broken by the murder of Emma, Ethan's sluttish girl friend.  The strange figure in the shuttered room is Sarah, Susannah's insane and physically malformed sister, who, chained in the room, has been sustained through the years by the devoted Agatha.  Racing back to the millhouse, Mike arrives in time to drag Susannah from a fire started by the lighted torch Ethan dropped when he fell.  Agatha then appears and locks herself in the shuttered room, choosing to perish in the flames with Susannah's terrified and bewildered sister.

The film was originally offered to director Ken Russell, who turned the project down.  David Greene, a successful TV director, took it on because, in his late 40s, he thought it a last chance to get away from TV and into movies; he was, however, greatly dissatisfied with the script and it was being rewritten right up to the end of filming.

The burning of the old mill at the end of the film was done for real.  The mill was an ancient landmark in the area which the film company purchased specifically for the purpose of destroying it by fire.  Although the mill had long fallen into disuse, local people strongly protested this action, as did journalists, but to no avail.

William Devlin's part (Zebulon Whately) was entirely dubbed by the uncredited Donald Sutherland.

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