Thursday 26 January 2023

The Girl in Room 2a (1974)

The Girl in Room 2a (La casa della paura) is a giallo, or at least that’s what you’d assume. It’s an Italian-made film, shot in Italy, it has murders and weirdness but it was directed and co-written by an American, William Rose. Rose’s background was in the New York sexploitation scene of the 60s. He wrote and directed the superb 1965 sexploitation roughie Rent-a-Girl. So what you’re getting here is a combination of two of the most fascinating cult film genres of the 60s and 70s, the giallo and the American sexploitation roughie. And they are genres with a few things in common, both being concerned with weirdness, sex and violence.

Margaret (Daniela Giordano) has just been released from prison. She has served a very brief term behind bars before the rather dubious charges against her were dropped. Her kindly social worker Miss Sundberg (Rosalba Neri) has found her a room. Margaret’s new landlady, Mrs Grant, seems just a little bit odd. Margaret is also a little disturbed by the bloodstains on the floor.

Mrs Grant notices that Margaret is a bit upset so she offers a drop a harmless tranquilliser tablet into Margaret’s tea. Margaret, perhaps foolishly, doesn’t object.

Margaret is even more disturbed when three guys, one of them in a creepy red mask, force themselves into her room. But it’s OK, it was just a dream. It must have been a dream. What else could it be?

Mrs Grant’s son Frank takes an interest in Margaret but he seems a bit too interested in her past. And Mrs Grant and Frank tell her conflicting stories about what happened to the late Mr Grant.

What we, the viewers, know but Margaret doesn’t is that Frank is involved in some shadowy group. It’s run by a rather scary guy named Mr Dreese.

Then Margaret runs into Jack (John Scanlon). Jack is trying to find out how his sister Edie died. Edie had also been living in Mrs Grant’s house.

So there’s lots of subtly weird stuff going on.

That shadowy group mentioned earlier is a kind of cult that sees itself as a modern version of the Inquisition, seeking out sinful women and punishing them. We know the identities of most of the cult members, apart from the leader, the one dressed in the Spanish Inquisition getup topped with a red mask.

There’s not a great deal of mystery but theres some decent suspense. We know the cult is going to go after Margaret and we don’t know if Margaret and new friend Jack are going to figure out what’s going on in time to save her. And the cult is pretty ruthless. They unhesitatingly kill cult members who betray the cult.

Daniela Giordano makes a fine heroine. Rosalba Neri gets far too little screen time. Angelo Infanti had a long career as an actor and he gives a nicely subtle but creepy performance as Frank. The performances by the other cast members are rather variable in quality.

There is some genuine horror here and some of the torture scenes are rather disturbing. The horror comes from the fact that you have a bunch of crazed deluded people convinced that they are punishing evil and that’s always effectively chilling. It’s more chilling in this case because the victims are not even guilty of their supposed crimes, they really are just innocent victims of circumstance. Of course one has to agree with Margaret that even were they guilty the cultists are still doing evil. There’s no greater evil than evil done in the cause of misguided morality.

This movie was shot with all the actors speaking in English but being an Italian production it was then dubbed. So as with many Italian films there isn’t really an original version so whether you watch the English-language dub or the Italian dub subtitled in English (the Mondo Macabro DVD provides both options) is largely a matter of personal choice. Apparently there are a few differences between the Italian dialogue and the English dialogue. I watched the English version.

This movie bears some slight resemblance to Rose’s earlier (and excellent) Rent-a-Girl and it is in some ways more like an American roughie spiced up a bit by being shot in colour with a lot more blood.

It’s very unfortunate that writer-director William Rose’s career fizzled out after this. He was one of the more interesting sexploitation film-makers.

Mondo Macabro’s DVD release is still in print and it offers a pretty decent transfer with a few extras.

The Girl in Room 2a is an odd hybrid but I like odd hybrids. It’s a movie that is unusual enough and interesting enough to qualify for a highly recommended rating.

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