Monday, January 09, 2017

The Black Room – review

Directors: Elly Kenner & Norman Thaddeus Vane

Release date: 1982

Contains spoilers

I had spotted a (German) DVD of this but it was a tremendously expensive edition for an obscure 80s horror/thriller. As it was I then stumbled across a video rip with hardcoded Greek subtitles on YouTube and so used that for the review.

The film itself has a TV movie feel but with its sexual subject I assume it was actually a straight to VHS job. It perhaps feels more like it should have been spawned in the previous decade.

Messy Transfusion
The look begins with a couple naked and grinding in the Black Room of the title. The room is windowless with black soft furnishings, mirrors and candles (and a glowing white table). Unbeknownst to the couple they are being watched through a one-way window (when we see the other side of the window, it too is clearly a (small, ornate) mirror that the cast pretend they can see through). They are also unaware that there are secret doors into the room. We see figures (later revealed to be Jason (Stephen Knight) and his sister Bridget (Cassandra Gava)) coming with chloroform and a (large) hypodermic needle. Quick cuts shows us a machine drawing blood, a transfusion that ends with the blood bursting from an overfull vein (!) and the two drained bodies thrown unceremoniously into a coffin and then shallow buried.

Larry in the Black Room
Larry (Jimmy Stathis) is in bed with his wife, Robin (Clara Perryman), but his passion is quickly cockblocked by their young kids. Frustrated, he smokes a cigarette as she settles the kids back down. In the morning Larry gets in his car and sees a classified ad for a room for rent. He goes to see it and it is the black room, available for $200 per month essentially as a place to bring girls back to. Jason arranges that Larry should call ahead, if he intends to come, and in return Jason will light the candles, set music playing and pour out wine for Larry and his guest. Larry tells Robin about the room but puts it in terms of a fantasy, telling Robin he couldn’t do to her what he would do in the room as he loves her.

cut finger
It doesn’t take Larry long to pick up a girl, Lisa (Charlie Young), a student who is hitching. He is upfront about being married and tells her that he will tell his wife everything – as she will not believe him. Larry takes Lisa to the room and Jason voyeuristically watches and takes photos. Cutting back home we get one of the homages to more traditional vampire movies that this film plays with – we see Robin cut her finger and then put the finger into her mouth and suck the blood. It is a scene that has been played with ever since Nosferatu and in this case it does two things. It knowingly tells the audience that this is a vampire film as it plays with the tropes and it also segues into the next scene.

Bridget and Jason
This is one of Larry arriving at the house and meeting Bridget. She tells him that a woman has called and cancelled, puts Larry right in his assumption that they (Bridget and Jason) are lovers and tells Larry about Jason’s rare blood disease. He has Cooley's Anemia, a name for Thalassemia. This is a real world genetic illness that leads to abnormal formation of haemoglobin. Jason clearly has a severe form of the disease as he needs regular transfusions – at one time every 60 days, it increased to monthly and is now twice weekly. Larry and Bridget end up having kinky “toreador” sex.

Sandy in coffin
So Larry is a lure and when he brings a prostitute, Sandy (Geanne Frank), back and then leaves her there for half an hour, she is quickly taken and hooked to the machine. Again, in homage to the traditional vampire, they extract the blood through her neck with a two-pronged needle that leaves a vampire like mark. Sandy actually nearly escapes but ends up buried in the grounds. Meanwhile Larry and Robin’s sex life improves… that is until she finds out that the room and his activities are real. She is tempted into sampling the delights of the room but soon the siblings turn on the husband and wife… and their kids…

Looking at the vampiric elements, whilst this is a true genetic condition that needs transfusions (and Bridget suggests live transfusion direct from the donor is better than the plasma used by hospitals) the film really does equate Jason with a vampire. Indeed, the fact that he is transfused to the point of blood exploding out of overfull veins offers almost a greed of consumption to the process. Beyond this, when we see Jason being transfused we actually see a rapture on his face, again more reminiscent of a vampire consuming blood than a patient being transfused.

Jason the dark seducer
We have noted some of the traits/tropes used and Jason is portrayed as a dark seducer when he convinces Robin to turn the tables on Larry and sample the delights of the room. Much more interestingly is the ending – so massive spoilers coming – Jason is strangled, manages to recover from that and is subsequently repeatedly stabbed with the double needle and left face down in a bath of blood. Bridget is stabbed in the neck and, by the gush, an artery is hit. Both (as the family make their escape) are seen getting up but their movements have more than a touch of the ‘risen dead’ about them. We hear Robin ask if people like that ever really die? Then she supposes that they go on living forever.

Bridget rises despite her wound
This is a supernatural bent to an otherwise entirely mundane worldview within the story, where the homages to the vampire skews into them truly being the living dead and is quite a strange way to end the film. The film is perhaps a little too dated without a truly inspiring performance to lift us beyond that but it is perfectly watchable as a moment in cinematic time. Despite being dependent on sex for its plot, its content is almost demure and we see very little. The reaction of Larry to discovering that his wife has slept with another man is hilarious given that he knows that his indiscretions have been discovered and she has only done what he did – talk about a double standard.

Not the greatest film but it wasn’t that bad and I enjoyed the way it played to the traditional vampire film, whilst ploughing its own furrow. 4 out of 10. The imdb page is here.

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