La casa della paura
William L. Rose
Review by Matt Bailey
Posted on 04 October 2008
Source Prism Entertainment VHS
Categories 31 Days of Horror V
The videotape of Girl in Room 2A starts out with a “sneak preview” for another film, Psycho Sisters, which actually appears more promising than the feature it precedes. Here we have Susan Strasberg—obviously falling on hard times a couple of decades after her debut on Broadway as Anne Frank—and Faith Domergue—actually doing pretty much the same thing she was doing a couple of decades before—in a picture that promises slapping, screaming, satanists, surreptitious LSD dosing, stranglings, and exploding cars and that the announcer drowsily bills as a “bizzahh mystery of the weird, the frightening, the gruesome.” Trailers for exploitation films are usually much better than the features they advertise, but Psycho Sisters looks like it would have been a much better way to spend 80 minutes than watching the film I actually did watch.
Girl in Room 2A starts off well: we are treated to kidnapping, drugging, stabbing, naked tits, and dead bodies tossed off cliffs, all before the end of the opening credits. And about those opening credits: The abundance of Italian names in the cast and crew, and the presence of a typically lifeless, flatly dubbed soundtrack, suggest that the film is a product of the 1970s Italian giallo assembly line. This suggestion is confirmed once actors like Dada Gallotti and an uncredited Rosalba Neri show up in the film. I’d like to say that those are names that inspire confidence in a film, but they are more often indicators that you are about to watch a piece of low-grade schlock that was churned out of a back-alley studio in Rome in about two weeks. Guess what kind of movie Girl in Room 2A is going to turn out to be.
After the opening-credits orgy of sex and violence, the film jumps to a scene of a young woman, Margaret, being released from prison, or possibly a reformatory, or maybe a monastery. Who knows? But she is soon set up with a room in a house (Room 2A, to be exact. Does that send a chill down your spine?) where the first unspeakable horror to which she is subjected is the garish pink and orange floral wallpaper. As Margaret gets acquainted with her new digs, she notices a teeny, tiny little rug on the floor that just barely covers what appears to be a fresh bloodstain. Unperturbed, she mops up the blood with a rag, undresses, and jumps into bed for a mid-afternoon nap. I would have been marching straight down to the landlady to make sure this stain wasn’t going to come out of my security deposit, but apparently the trip from the prison/reformatory/monastery was just too exhausting. But wait! Her nap only lasts about thirty seconds because the window shutter is also creaky in a very spooky way and so that means that Margaret can’t sleep and she is up, in a different outfit, and on her way out the door, but not before her landlady can catch her, tell her the sad story of her dead husband and her sad sack son who still lives at home, and serve her some drugged tea. Margaret goes back up to bed, starts tripping wildly, sees a sinister figure in a red mask and cardinal’s robes, and falls out of bed. Then, suddenly, we’re in a different movie.
This new movie appears to be about a reporter conducting an interview with the leaders of some extreme Catholic sect of penitents. Speaking of cardinals and tainted tea, there’s sweaty Raf Vallone, who played Cardinal Lamberto in The Godfather, Part III, as the apparent head of this sect. The dialogue in this film, straining to be “sinister,” is truly terrible:
“Good evening. It’s hot in here.”
“Yes. I guess it is. Hot.”
“Why don’t you put out the, uh, fire?”
“Yes, Mr. Johnson, it’s very warm. Uncomfortable. Put out the fire.”
But this fascinating exchange is interrupted when the guy in red shows up out of nowhere to skewer the reporter with the fireplace poker. The reporter then yells, “Oh God, I can’t stand it anymore!” and jumps out the window. I know how he feels.
Meanwhile, back in Room 2A, Margaret is still on the floor and the mysterious bloodstain is back. I can’t imagine why this isn’t an indication to her to find a new place to live, but she just kind of shrugs at it and goes to see her social worker (Rosalba Neri). As her social worker is the person who found the room for her, Margaret complains a little, but doesn’t bother asking the woman to maybe set her up in a different house, you know, if she can swing it. Margaret heads back to the creepy house, but on the way runs into some skinny guy who tells her he must talk to her right away. So she follows him to an open-air cafe that serves the best roast beef sandwiches in town. I know this because our writer/director has deemed it important to show the sign reading “For Our Friends We Have The Best Roast Beef Sandwiches in Town,” twice, and to give Margaret’s new friend the stilted line, “They have the… best roast beef sandwiches in town.” Not just an expert on roast beef sandwiches, this skinny guy turns out to be Jack, the brother of Edie, the previous Girl in Room 2A who we saw killed in the opening credits. And finally, fifty minutes into an eighty-minute film, we get a semblance of a plot: Margaret and Jack are going to team up to find out just what happened to his poor dead sister, but only after they make out and screw.
Hot on the trail of nothing in particular, our two super-sleuths come across yet another former tenant of Room 2A who has since upgraded to a fancy new padded cell. Since this girl won’t talk, her unmotivated flashbacks have to tell us and her interlocutors that she was just one of several girls kidnapped, dragged to a torture castle (or, this being Italy, a torture villa), tied up naked, and whipped. Margaret, being totally fearless or completely stupid, continues to stay in Room 2A, and so we are not at all surprised when, that night, she is woken up by a giant skull with a flashlight, rolled up in a sheet, and carried off to the torture villa. Fortunately, Jack has moved in across the alley from Margaret. He sees Margaret’s abduction from his window and shimmies down the drainpipe of his building to her aid. Something happens to him that he gets trapped in a car, but I can’t tell exactly what thanks to the glorious murkiness of VHS. Whatever it was, it didn’t really matter because some guy helps him out of the car somehow and Jack is back on the chase. He goes into Margaret’s landlady’s apartment where he finds a hydraulic pump that has been supplying fresh blood to the Stain in Room 2A. If I were Margaret, after finding this out, I’d be so angry about having cleaned up that bloodstain every day. Maybe even angrier than about being kidnapped.
While Jack stumbles around discovering shit that makes no sense to him or to the plot, all accompanied by music more appropriate to a sports highlight show from 1973 than to a horror movie, Margaret is locked up in an upstairs dungeon of the torture villa. Her landlady’s loser son slips her the key to escape, which she does and then promptly runs upstairs. The exit’s the other way, miss! Margaret is caught and tied up while some other girl in the other room gets a broadsword to the neck (it’s the best part of the movie). This takes us up to the final five minutes, and I’m sure you are already imagining the heroic rescue and “shocking” reveal at the end (Rosalba Neri is the guy in red), so why bore you with more description of it? Whatever you’re imagining is surely more entertaining and original than the daylight foot chase across the torture villa’s lawn, with more sports highlights music, that looks pilfered from an episode of Benny Hill.
I know some people love this kind of film. I used to be one of those people. I devoted just about my entire twenties tracking down big-box VHS tapes in Mom and Pop video stores, spending night after night in front of the TV watching atrocity after atrocity by Umberto Lenzi, Lamberto Bava, Lucio Fulci, Antonio Margheriti, Jess Franco, Bruno Mattei, and of course, Dario Argento. Though I’ve moved on, I don’t look down on devoted horror fanatics. It’s good to have a hobby. But I think even the biggest fan of Italian horror—gialli—will agree that this stupid, convoluted, plotless, ugly, amateurish, and boring film is typical of the worst of the genre: terrible movies that introduce one character after another who is inessential to what little narrative exists and who stands around in sparsely decorated rooms mouthing page after page of portentous, banal dialogue. These monologues and dialogues are interrupted by, usually, one sex scene with a brief flash of body-doubled ass or tits, and one or two scenes of choppily edited, dimly lit violence. The bad guys are killed in the last five minutes and the female lead saunters down the sunny Italian cobblestones with her heroic new boyfriend to the strains of some dime-store Morricone. The end.
The tagline for this movie is “A Tale of Captivity, Torture and Death!” and, to be fair, the movie does deliver all it promises and does so all in the first five minutes. The tagline doesn’t mention anything about the tale being good or even frightening, so I suppose I can’t be too disappointed that it falls well short of being either.
A Tale of Captivity, Torture and Death!
The Dead Don’t Die1975
The Brides Wore Blood1972
Girl in Room 2A1973
Nude for Satan1974
Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare1987
Brides of the Beast1968
Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye1973
The Curse of Bigfoot1976
Dark Night of the Scarecrow1981
Moon in Scorpio1987
The Legend of Hell House1973
Grave of the Vampire1974
Rana: The Legend of Shadow Lake1975
Attack of the Beast Creatures1985
Humanoids from the Deep1980