"Only in flames lies the truth." Nietzsche.
A terrified young woman hurries down the staircase of a boarding house as Berto Pisano's fuzz guitar cues (also heard in Guilio Questi's 1973 occult thriller ARCANA, where they seemed more appropriate) resonate on the soundtrack. As the woman flees down the street outside she is grabbed by several men who drag her into a getaway car where she is subdued with a knockout drug sprayed into her face. A typical opening for what is presumably another Italian giallo entry. But what develops doesn't quite fit into that genre. After the car pulls away with kidnap victim CUT TO Interior of a strange, darkened room where the stripped woman is now hanging from the ceiling like a slab of meat in a slaughterhouse. She is then impaled by a long pointed metal pole which suddenly emerges from a hole in the wall. Still not quite dead, she is cut down by a figure wearing a red pullover mask and cape who pushes the woman into a blade protruding from another wall, impaling her again, this time fatally. This is the attention-getting pre credits prologue for William L. Rose's LA CASA DELLA PAURA (1974), a film which is a possible contender as a missing link between the "nudie-roughies" of the 1960s American sexploitation pool, the Italian gialli of the 1970s and the much more recent "torture porn" which made a controversial splash with the HOSTEL series.
As the film progresses we meet Margaret (Daniela Giordano), an attractive young woman recently released from prison, who falls into the clutches of a bizarre religious cult operating in an Italian town. In addition to the above quote from F. Nietzsche and the philosophy of the Inquistion era's Torquemada, as well as, according to liner notes, the earlier screenwriting work of director Rose in the sado-erotic OLGA series and his own directorial efforts (cf RENT-A-GIRL), this scenario also relates to the emergence of contemporary Hate groups, right wing extremism and religious conservatism. It also features typical giallo elements: the vulnerable female pursued by sexual obsessed perpetrators; baroque, bloody murders; characters who are not what they seem to be; notable giallo locations like the villa Manziana. The big difference is that this had an American producer, Dick Randall, and writer-director, William L. Rose. American actors John Scanlon and Brad Harris (a veteran of Italian genre films since THE FURY OF HERCULES) also have sizable roles. So it makes sense that the film shifts restlessly between an Italian sensibility and one of an Amercian style thriller.
The excellent new Mondo Macabro DVD presentation of THE GIRL IN ROOM 2A, taken from the Italian LA CASA DELLA PAURA print, also features the [superior] Italian language track with Engllish subtitles provided. This includes several minutes of dialogue and other minor action cut from the English language-Joseph Brenner US release which eventually turned up as a PRISM VHS. We all know what a "Dick Randall" production implies, and there are plenty of sleazy situations and characters, including the presence of Karin Schubert, who ends up getting stripped and slashed to death with a large medieval style sword . You really can't go wrong with a supporting cast of villains played by Raf Vallone, Angelo Infanti, Salvatore Billa, Frank Latimore and Rosalba Neri! Filmed at the villa Manziana, the location for SLAUGHTER HOTEL, and Rome, this film doesn't really seem like a cheap rush job nor does it have the stylish intensity of the best early 70s gialli of Martino (THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARDH), Bava (BAY OF BLOOD), Argento (DEEP RED) or even Lenzi (SPASMO), but it does have numerous points of interest. Not the least being that it seems to take a critical look at the sexy-women-as-victims element which plays a huge role in most 1970s horror films (including American productions). The moralistic torture cult could almost be a representation of audience expectations of this type of product as well as sexploitation filmmaker's tendency to make sure that "bad girls" get what they deserve: bloody, lingering, scantily clad death scenes. But Margaret is not really a fallen woman, just a victim of rough justice, both of the legal and vigilante kind.
Director Rose deploys such arresting elements as almost subliminal flashbacks and striking visual details (the recurring pool of blood which Margaret can't seem to wash away from the floor of room 2A) which punctuate the protracted investigation into the mystery. The cinematography of Mario Mancini, who also shot Dick Randall's Gothic sleazefest FRANKESTEIN'S CASTLE OF FREAKS (a project co scripted by Rose), is adequate for the most part, but does manage some interesting angles and lighting during the torture sessions. Ms. Giordano is body doubled in a brief, gratuitous, sex scene but the focus here is on violence: a decapitated head, flagellations, another head set on fire, a number of impalings, a hanging, characters being thrown from and falling off cliffs.
Giordano and Scanlon are attractive, acceptable leads but the impressive supporting cast tends to upstage them, especially Raf Vallone as the manipulative cult leader who seems to ooze repressed rage. The always welcome presence of Rosalba Neri, as Margaret's seemingly sympathetic social worker, at first seems a disappointingly minor role, but provides a memorable climactic twist. Mondo Macabro presents the feature in a fine 1:66:1/16:9 anamorphic transfer which is sharp and colorful, especially when compared to the vintage fullscreen, flat, color faded PRISM VHS, which does include a slightly longer version of one scene. Another advantage of the English language version is that most of the lead actors voiced their own characters. But the films plays better with the Italian language track (this was shot in English but then post dubbed into both Italian and English) due to the more literate and pointed Italian dialogue. The English language script is much more carelessly and crudely written. Thorough liner notes detail the career of Rochester NY born William L. Rose, who worked in 1960s New York City lensed sexploitation before going to Italy to make this film, which would be his last directorial effort. Considering this film's success of lack of it back in the day his abbreviated career is largely a mystery. He later appeared as an actor and was dialogue director in Werner Herzog's Amazon lensed Klaus Kinski adventure, FITZCARRALDO (1982). From the Grindhouse to the Arthouse but nothing in between. Special Features include the original theatrical trailer and an interview with Ms. Giordano, in which she discusses her entire Italian career, from being crowned Miss Italy to her roles in Mario Bava's FOUR TIMES THAT NIGHT (which featured producer Dick Randall in a memorable role as a slobbering voyeur) and Paul Naschy's INQUISITION (1976), as well as very briefly touching on THE GIRL ON ROOM 2A.
Reviewed by Robert Monell