Teenager Heather(Lesleh Donaldson) moves in with her devoutly religious grandmother Maude Chalmers(Kay Hawtrey in a terrific performance) who, along with her absent husband, once ran their place as a funeral home, now starting up a tourist bed'n'breakfast for visitors in town. Heather soon discovers her grandma chatting it up with someone in the cellar, or so she believes. Maude forbids her passionately to stay out of the cellar, and has it's door pad-locked. Heather begins dating a local, Rick(Dean Garbett)who informs her of sordid details regarding her grandfather which she initially rejects angrily, but, over time, begins to question her grandmother's story of what happened to him. Rick's brother, newly hired Deputy Joe(Alf Humphreys)has been investigating a rash of disappearances plaguing his small town, against his sheriff's(Robert Warner)wishes, and soon realizes that those missing connect to Maude's tourist locale. A customer of Maude's, Mr. Davis(Barry Morse), is also pursuing the disappearance of his wife, who was rumored to be the lover of the missing Mr. Chalmers, as he often reports to Joe on any information which might become available. When a visiting salesman and his mistress, using Maude's place as a refuge for their affair, wind up dead thanks to a mysterious truck driver who pushes their car over a cliff surrounding a watering hole, and Davis, whose snooping leads to a difficult confrontation with Mrs. Chalmers, suffers himself a grim fate, it's only a matter of time before the secret of the cellar becomes known.
Through the developing mystery of director William Fruet and writer Ida Nelson, the film gives us subtle hints over time as to who might be behind the murders/disappearances. Throughout, we get facts about the main character unseen, the missing husband, and bit by bit everything falls in place leading to quite a suspenseful conclusion as Heather and Rick find themselves in danger as the ax-wielding nutcase in the cellar rears his/her face for the first time. The ending might not be a major surprise to those familiar with Psycho as the twist is eerily similar in psychological content to Hitchcock's masterpiece. It's still a doozy and I wish I could define how neat it is regarding the performance of the cellar psychopath, but I wouldn't dare spoil how it unfolds. Kay Hawtry is the whole show and displays with her face and demeanor a wealth of various emotions, especially when anyone approaches the subject of her husband and the cellar. Besides the ending, her reaction to Morse's amateur sleuth is a definite highlight. Donaldson was a perfect protagonist, the teenager blossoming into a woman, displaying her as mature, conflicted(..because she loves her grandmother and worries about her, not at all responding well to the supposed gossip regarding her grandfather), and scared. Stephen E Miller is memorable as a lurking handyman peeping tom, rather dumb and creepy, often spying on people in the bushes around Mrs. Chalmers' place, or popping up on Heather as she snoops around trying to uncover mysteries that are bothering her concerning a history uncertain to her. The house at night and where it's located(..in the boonies surrounded by rural wilderness with country roads leading to a minor little town with people who have known each other forever)are used rather well. And, the black cat Heather is frightened of is of major importance to the plot..it's a clever plot-device who sees a great deal and will lead others to the film's secret. Great scene where a body is discovered by a local girl swimming underwater in the watering hole nearby Mrs. Chalmer's place.