Mondo Macabro // 1974 // 85 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // March 28th, 2012
A Prison in Hell
Italy was a happening place for moviemaking in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Though horror and exploitation features were being made all over the world, there was something about Italy that brought a particular blend of attractive women, visual style, and crazy murder together. The giallo subgenre is perhaps the best-known outgrowth of underground Italian cinema of the period, but these films were far from the only ones to combine gore, sex, and mystery. Witness The Girl in Room 2A (though its original title La Casa Della Paura means The House of Fear), a murder mystery with both gore and exploitation strains as well. Though probably not the best place to start for Italian horror/mystery fans, The Girl in Room 2A is an interesting footnote note in national cinema history, and Mondo Macabro has given the film pretty solid treatment.
Margaret (Daniela Giordano, Four Gunmen of Holy Trinity) has just gotten out of prison and must stay in a boarding house until she gets settled with the help of a friend. However, her room seems to have a history, and a sadistic cult may have her targeted as its next victim.
Film scholars still don't have a satisfactory answer as to why film looks the way it does now. By now, I mean the roughly 80-120 minute feature film. Shorter films that didn't have as much coherence dominated before 1920, and a relatively thriving short-film market existed for decades after that. Then suddenly, shorts were only screened at special festivals, and if a script wasn't between 80 and 180 pages, it had serious trouble getting financed. I mention this because the first 2 minutes and 30 seconds of The Girl in Room 2A create a strong little murder set piece. A woman is kidnapped, she's tortured, she's murdered, and she's then thrown off a cliff. It's a compelling way to start a film: Who is this woman? Why was she killed? Who did the killing?
These would all be great questions, but the film isn't intent on answering them. Instead, this two-and-a-half-minute sequence stands almost as a movie on its own. Sure, we learn that the murdering was done by the cult, but the rest of the film lacks the kind of frenetic, visually inventive tone of those first two-and-a-half minutes. Which is why I wonder why this had to be a feature film. Though it's not entirely obvious, it seems like someone had a really good idea for a short scene -- i.e., a woman gets kidnapped, murdered, thrown off a cliff in a self-contained story -- but then decided to make a film to kinda-sorta explain what happened in that first scene. Though it's a common strategy in horror films to make the first scene a kill scene and then take a while getting to the plot before killing again. The hitch with The Girl in Room 2A is that it never gets back to the fever pitch of that early scene.
Which is not to say that The Girl in Room 2A is a bad film. Rather, it's just not the film that the first scene promises. Instead, we get a slower, more surreal kind of mystery film. Everything unfolds gradually, there's a lot of handheld camera work, and the ending is pretty strange and wonderful. Though the film is hardly in the top tier of Italian '70s productions, it has a weird charm.
From this DVD, you'd never know that The Girl in Room 2A wasn't a classic of Italian mystery films. The standard definition 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is taken from an amazingly well-preserved print of a forty-year-old film. Grain is a little heavy and there are a few specks, but overall, this transfer looks good. The '70s color stock is reproduced well, with decent skin tones. Blacks aren't very deep, but that's not a distracting problem. The audio includes the original Italian track and an English dub. Both are fine -- dialogue is pretty clear and well-balanced, though these tracks show their age. Subtitles are included for the Italian (though they differ from the English dub).
The main extra is an 11-minute interview with the film's star, Daniela Giordano. She's candid about the film and her career. She's able to laugh and joke about the films, which is great. There are also some production notes, director/cast bios, and a trailer for the film. There are also some preview materials for Mondo Macabro releases as well.
The Girl in Room 2A is a weird little Italian genre picture (aren't most of them?). It's got some interesting violence, a bit of sex, and a lot of atmosphere/mystery. Not for everyone, but anyone who's been bitten by the Italian horror/mystery bug will at least appreciate a rental of this disc.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Mondo Macabro
* 1.66:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Italian)
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Year: 1974
MPAA Rating: Unrated