Color, 1974, 84m.
Directed by William Rose
Starring Daniela Giordano, Raf Vallone, John Scanlon, Brad Harris, Karin Schubert, Rosalba Neri, Giovanna Galletti Mondo Macabro (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)
The history of the Italian thriller strain known as the giallo doesn't get much stranger than The Girl in Room 2A, a combination of gothic girl-in-peril shenanigans, red-gloved Euro whodunit, and deeply sleazy American grindhouse schlock. To try to untangle this freaky puppy, you really have to start with the director, William Rose, a name familiar to Something Weird fans as the helmer (or at least cinematic surgeon) behind such titles as Rent-a-Girl, The Smut Peddler, and Professor Lust. With the demand for kinky softcore rapidly disappearing, he hopped over to Italy where he teamed up with the very colorful producer Dick Randall (the man responsible for such films as Pieces and Don't Open Till Christmas) for a pair of films in 1974: Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks (which Randall directed with Rose co-writing) and this film, which was released in the U.S. by Joseph Brenner Associates, sandwiched in between other giallo imports like Autopsy, Torso, and Eyeball. Marketed in its promotional art as an S&M shocker (which isn't totally off the mark), the film didn't make as much of a splash as its more famous companion films but certainly holds more than a little interest for genre fans today, especially with its nutty cast of familiar faces.
Things start with a bang thanks to a rapid-fire credits sequence in which a young woman is abducted by a red-hooded psycho, dragged to a dark room, and poked with a blade while topless before getting chucked off a cliff. Cut to our heroine, Margaret (Four Times That Night's Giordano), as she is released from a "women's prison" (which isn't jail, she insists, and is all part of a big misunderstanding courtesy of her thieving boyfriend) and packed off to a boarding house run by Mrs. Grant (Kill Baby, Kill!'s Galletti, aka Baroness Graps), who harbors a grudge against the criminal justice system since her husband's hit-and-run death. Soon Margaret's dealing with people skulking around her door at night, pesky bloodstains on the floor, and a diabolical sect hiding on the premises leaving around notes featuring quotes from Nietzsche and Torquemada. Apparently these folks use that red-clad killer as their personal "purifier" for unclean women fresh from prison who pass through the premises, and Margaret could be next on their list.
Along with the cast members listed above, The Girl in Room 2A benefits from several other pros in the cast like peplum staple Brad Harris, The Italian Job's Raf Vallone as sinister cult member Mr. Dreese, the gorgeous Rosalba Neri (The Devil's Wedding Night) as a cash-conscious neighbor, and a pre-porn Karin Schubert (Black Emmanuelle) as another potential victim. What's especially interesting about this film is the nature of the mystery; we know almost from the outset who most of the sect members are, so the only puzzle is figuring out who the red executioner is. The reveal is, ahem, rather unlikely given the physique of this individual in other scenes, so it's best if you don't contemplate it too much. That leaves plenty of time for scenes of Giordano wandering in dark hallways, the police investigating the death of her predecessor, a very unconvincing sex scene with Giordano's body double, and protracted and surprisingly vicious scenes of women being subjected to purification at the end of a whip. Interestingly, both the premise and execution play like an amped-up, Italian version of the same year's House of Whipcord; there must have been something strange in the air in '74. The pounding music score (complete with catchy fuzz guitars) is credited to Berto Pisano (Strip Nude for Your Killer), though several passages-- especially the ones involving the cops-- sound an awful lot like library music and wouldn't be out of place in a George Romero film.
Most widely available on VHS from Prism with cover art aping their simultaneous release of the Amicus Tales from the Crypt, this film was actually trimmed slightly for its English-language version; the sex and violence were intact, but a few dialogue scenes were shortened significantly. The DVD debut from Mondo Macabro (part of their astonishing continuing line of Dick Randall-related releases) restores the original 1.66:1 framing and is taken from the longer Italian version, complete with the title card as La casa della paura. Other random written items throughout the film are also in Italian with optional English subtitles. Image quality is excellent throughout, at least when one takes into account that this has always been a pretty rough, cheap-looking film, don't expect any glossy Bava-style visuals here. The aesthetic is much closer to Rose's American films -- grungy, dark, and dirty. However, those all-important reds really pop, and it's a huge advance over the smudgy-looking tape editions. The familiar English audio is included here in excellent shape and will probably be the option of choice for most viewers, as this was shot with almost all of the cast members speaking English on the set and then dubbed later, with varying degrees of success. Though its condition isn't remotely as pristine, the Italian audio does offer an intriguing variation though as it contains far more dialogue spoken offscreen in several scenes, and as demonstrated by the optional English subtitles, the meaning of several lines changes quite a bit from one translation to the other.
The biggest of the supplements is a new video interview with Giordano (who, according to her disc bio, is now a paranormal journalist!), which starts off a bit choppy but soon gets into a nice groove as she talks about the arbitrary process of transitioning from beauty queen to film actress, working with Randall and Rose, the very few directors who actually gave her feedback, and her distaste for horror films. It's an entertaining and very lighthearted chat, offering a candid glimpse at Italian filmmaking in its heyday. Also included is the original American trailer (looking pretty much identical to the old Sinister Cinema VHS one on their trailer comp decades ago) and the usual enlightening Mondo Macabro text extras, including an "about the film" section (mostly about Rose, including a note about a shameless plug found only in the American cut) and four cast bios filled with little trivia nuggets. Yet another superb release from one of the most endearing labels in the business.