Paramount has yanked Martin Scorsese‘s Shutter Island out of its long-scheduled 10.2 opening and bumped it into early 2010. The moody insane-asylum thriller with Leonardo DiCaprio, which was heavily ballyhooed with billboard ads at the Cannes Film Festival, will now open on 2.19.10. This despite a report that it’s gotten excellent test scores (high 80s to low 90s). So what happened?

I think Paramount just decided that Shutter Island isn’t a fall (i.e., awards-potential) film and decided to punt. Shutter Island has always looked impressively dark and foreboding to anyone who’s seen the trailer, but are grand guignol films that rely on a big third-act twist generally regarded by Academy types and award-dispensing critics as award-friendly? (The trailer for Shutter Island‘ strongly hints that the third-act turn is in the realm of Alan Parker‘s Angel Heart )

I think it just looks like a cool movie to get off on. Award-level movies are generally about universal themes that touch us all on some level. I’ve never gotten the feeling that Shutter Island is about anything more than a good psychological creep-out.

Nikki Finke has reported that the studio “told the filmmakers it doesn’t have the financing in 2009 to spend the $50 to $60 million necessary to market a big awards pic like this.”

Finke was also told that the sluggish economy and DVD revenues were a factor in the decision. “Given where the DVD business is in 2009, our only hope is the economy and the retail business rebounds in 2010 because the hardest hit segment has been movies that play to an older adult audience,” a studio source told her. Another reason, she was told, is that DiCaprio wasn’t going to be available to promote the pic internationally.

“So the studio settled on the release date of February 19th because ‘that’s when The Silence Of The Lambs came out’ back in ’91 and it won the Oscar,'” Finke’s source confides.

Of course, Silence of the Lambs wasn’t a hit just because it had a great serial-killer in Anthony Hopkins‘ Hannibal Lecter but because it had a great heroine (Jodie Foster‘s Clarice Starling) whom audiences fell for big-time. It was her sympathetic character plus her relationship with Lecter that made Jonathan Demme‘s film work as well as it did.

Shutter Island bilboard at end of Carlton pier during last May’s Cannes Film Festival.