The Black Room

Director: Elly Kennedy                  
Stephan Knight, Cassandra Gaviola, Linnea Quigley

An interesting horror movie, though mainly in the sense that it's more "interesting" than entertaining, The Black Room will at least be watchable for most viewers. The viewers with more patience and offbeat tastes will find this the most rewarding.

Los Angeles. In a darkened room lit only by candles, a couple makes love, not knowing there are unseen observers watching them from outside. Eventually, the voyeurs secretly step into the room, and murder the lovemaking couple. Days later, in another part of L.A., a married man reading the classified ads sees an ad for a room for rent for the use of couples wanting to indulge in something different. Curious, the man inquires at the home, occupied by a mysterious brother and sister. The black-draped room, for a low rent, offers piped-in music, alcohol, and candles. The man sees it's perfect, pays the first month's rent, and goes home to tell his wife about the room. But not in the sense that you are thinking. That night, and other nights, he tells his wife about his kinky "fantasies" of making love to various women in a mysterious black room. What she doesn't know that the fantasies that he tells her are actually recollections of his various rendezvous with prostitutes and other women earlier that day. Meanwhile, the brother and sister watch and photograph these going-ons.

Eventually, she discovers by accident that what her husband tells her are not fictional stories. Hurt, she decides to look at the black room herself, meeting the brother of the sibling duo. Partly in sadness, and partly for revenge, she initiates an affair with the brother in the black room. Meanwhile, unknown to the man and his wife, the brother and sister are secretly killing the man's flings when he leaves or when he arrives late. It turns out that the brother suffers from a rare blood disease, which can only be cured with large amounts of "donor" blood. Though the man is currently bringing in enough fresh blood, the increasing amount of transfusion means that the brother and sister will need a larger donation soon.

It's interesting to see this movie now in the AIDS era. It's ironic that the brother is being held back from the deadly effects of his blood disease with transfusions - and these transfusions being provided indirectly from sexual activity. Also, it's interesting that a movie made before AIDS having a negative portrayal of casual sexual activity; of course, there's the cliché straight from slasher movie of "sex before death", but it's also interesting that all the people who indulge in casual sex are shown to be pretty dumb and unsympathetic people. On this note, there lies a problem; there is really no one to root for in this movie. We can't root for the brother and sister, because they are murderers. And we find it hard to root for the man because he's an adulterer, and dumb to boot. Though sympathy might be generated for the wife because of her betrayal, she's not that much smarter than her husband, and we don't really feel any hurt or curiosity she might be feeling. And the various women the husband brings into the black room are really just mindless bimbos.

Storywise, it's disappointing. Much of the movie is focused on the relationship with the man and his wife, or of the encounters in the black room. The relationship of the siblings, and their need for blood, is surprising an afterthought. The climax of the movie is also pretty disappointing. It becomes laughable when various people keep getting killed, and coming back to life. There's a scene involving a closet which is a blatant rip-off of a scene from Halloween. However, I will give director Kennedy credit for somehow managing to deliver a genuine jolt with this scene, despite it not being original. And there isn't really an ending, with the fate of the brother and sister not being resolved.

There's still a lot to like in The Black Room, though. The movie does give the sex scenes a somewhat surprising light treatment by themselves (little nudity). Director Kennedy instead adds to the eroticism by mood; The addition of voyeurs watching adds eroticism, as well as the candlelit lighting, quietness, and slow motion. The camerawork also gets marks for activity outside of the room with some impressive stedicam work, especially during a point-of-view shot during a foot chase. And though there are several scenes where the blood really flows, it's admirable that the filmmakers were trying very hard to make the movie chilling during the non-gory parts. Since, however, the movie is mainly focused on the relationships of the participants, there isn't much chance for the filmmakers to work on this.

The Black Room is a curiosity, nothing more, nothing less. Certainly, it's nothing to be really ashamed about - it is frequently an interesting movie. On the other hand, I don't think it's quite what renters will be expecting if they pick it up and look at the box. The movie feels more like a practice run than a full-out effort, so peel your potatoes or fold your laundry during the parts when the movie deserves the least of your attention.

Check for availability on Amazon (VHS)

See also: The Black Room, Crawlspace, Don't Go In The House