Did everyone have a late-night horror show in their local TV market? Cleveland had The Hoolihan and Big Chuck Show (later The Big Chuck and Lil’ John Show), which aired every Friday night at 11:30 PM. As a kid I would relish Friday nights, fighting weary eyes to watch those guys perform corny skits with ethnic (read, Polish) humor in the commercial breaks of mediocre 1960s horror films. It wasnâ€™t so much the movies that made me want to stay up till two in the morning, it was the feeling of camaraderie the audience had with hosts â€œBig Chuck” Schodowski, Bob â€œHoolihanâ€ Wells, and â€œLilâ€™ Johnâ€ Rinaldi. I bring all of this up because when I sat down to watch the Warner Bros. Horror Double Feature DVD with It (1966) and The Shuttered Room (1967), I felt a pang of nostalgia for those Friday nights long ago when a glass bottle of Coke and some Pringles were all I needed to keep me going for a couple of hours.
As Robert Cashill wrote about in an earlier post, Warners is releasing several of their cheesy horror films from that bygone era. The two films I watched this week were particularly bad, at times laughable. Yet I couldn’t stop watching.
It stars Roddy McDowall as a Norman Bates-like character who lives with his motherâ€™s corpse and works as a museum assistant. When he isnâ€™t borrowing the ancient jewelry on display to bring home for mommy to wear, Roddy is pining after the museum curatorâ€™s pretty blonde daughter (Jill Haworth). The film opens with a museum warehouse fire that destroys all of the artifacts in the building except for a primitive sculpture. When people who are around this statue begin dying, Roddy slowly realizes it’s the fabled Golem from the 15th century, and figures out how to make it bid his command. What he soon learns is that the Golem was created for good, and anyone who corrupts it for evil is doomed to suffer. The whole film is a series of setups to show a man walking around in a spooky latex Golem suit that’s supposed to look like stone. McDowall seems to have only two expressions in the film. Come to think of it, everyone in the film has only one or two expressions — the acting is so casual youâ€™d think a walking stone statue and the supernatural were pretty commonplace in England. The end of It is so preposterous it has to be seen to be believed. I will only say that it involves a motorcycle, Haworth in a nightgown, and a nuclear bomb.
As bad as It was, I found myself appreciating some of the camera work and the use of a real orchestra for the score. (Nowadays when youâ€™re watching a horror movie you hear cheap synthesizers playing over adequate digital video.) There’s a part of me that believes McDowall knew this movie was crap while he was filming it; he plays some scenes so over-the-top itâ€™s almost camp. Then again, I didnâ€™t notice all that much difference from what he was doing in It and what he did in Planet of the Apes (1968), so maybe we saw his full range all these years and only thought he was great in the Apes movies because he was able to emote under a mask. By the time I finished It I almost wished it was the adaptation of Stephen Kingâ€™s novel of the same name, which was adapted into an ABC miniseries in the early ’90s. Then I recalled how horrible that was and changed my mind.
It took me a day to feel clean again before deciding to watch the second film in the double feature, The Shuttered Room, which is based on a story cowritten by H.P. Lovecraft. In this film Gig Young (two years and one film away from winning his Academy Award for Sydney Pollack’s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?) plays Mike, who has just married his young bride, Susan (the lovely Carol Lynley). We first see them driving in a massive convertible on some remote island in who the hell knows where. Itâ€™s never really established where they are, and the accents go all over the place, from southern to midwestern to a touch of English (the film was shot in England).
Susan was raised in a mill house until she was four. When her parents died, her aunt sent her off to New York City, where she met Mike, who’s much older (but still a hunk, got it?). Susan’s just turned 21 and has inherited the mill house, so the newlyweds decide to check it out. Big mistake. See, them locals donâ€™t like no city folk invadinâ€™ their island, see? Oliver Reed is around as the leader of a bunch of hoodlums who decide to terrorize Mike and Susan. Heâ€™s some sort of half cousin of hers, which drives him nuts because he wants to jump her bones. Heâ€™s also pissed because his aunt (the same one as Susanâ€™s) has promised him the land where the mill house stands. Oh wait, did I mention that the mill house is cursed? Sorry, I forgot that part.
Yeah, the mill house is supposedly cursed, and the simple townsfolk are plumb darn scared of that there spooky haunted house. The place is really run-down, which essentially means a lot of cobwebs. The Shuttered Room has lots of long takes in which Young drives his car, or Lynley takes a walk along the rocky shores, or Lynley is chased by Reed and his thugs. Meanwhile, someone allowed the composer to write a jazz score featuring a soprano sax player who’s trying to be John Coltrane. Look, Traneâ€™s later music was weird enough. I donâ€™t need someone copping his style and pasting it over images of Oliver Reed in waste-high dirty jeans copping a feel from his cousin.
Once again, I couldnâ€™t stop watching. I marveled at how well the cinematography creates an unnerving mood out of a thin plot. Many shots feature an object out of focus in the foreground, giving you the feeling that Young and Lynley are always being watched. Furthermore, several hand-held POV shots are disorienting and creeped me out. There are a couple moments that made me feel like an 11-year-old again, still awake at 1:30 in the morning watching some old movie with all of the lights out and everyone in the house asleep upstairs. It was fun to feel that way again.
In the end, nostalgia was the only thing I got out of watching both It and The Shuttered Room. The quality of the prints is mediocre, the sound cuts in and out in spots, and the scares are far and few between. Still, nostalgia isnâ€™t a bad thing. Who doesnâ€™t want to feel that young again? I only wish Warner Bros.’ double feature had some corny skits to break up the movies.
Buy the Warner Bros. Horror Double Feature at Amazon.com.