The Black Room [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Vinegar Syndrome
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (24th January 2024).
The Film

Larry (X-Ray's Jimmy Stathis) is a thirty-something husband and father looking for a place to cheat. He finds an ad in the newspaper for a room for rent in a mansion in the Hollywood Hills owned by a mysterious photographer Jason (Necromancy's Stephen Knight) and his fetish model sister Bridget (Conan the Barbarian's Cassandra Gaviola). The room for rent is the titular "black room" with mirrored walls, dark furnishings, and black walls with the only light sources being candles and a glowing glass table. Larry starts taking girls there and having sex, not knowing that Jason and Bridget are watching and photographing them through one of the room's two-way mirrors. When Larry goes home to his Robin (Clara Perryman), he uses the details of his supposedly imaginary encounters to spice up their sex life. The girls, however, unbeknownst to Larry, are unwillingly providing blood transfusions to keep Jason's rare blood disease under control. Thinking that Larry could be a lucrative source for fresh blood, Bridget seduces him in the black room and Jason photographs it for blackmail purposes. When Robin finds the newspaper ad about the room for rent in Larry's car, she visits the mansion and discovers the room is real, that Larry must really be cheating on her, and things take an unusual turn…

Ostensibly a horror film, The Black Room is more concerned with the ambiguous nature of human relationships than the subplot of busty gals having sex and being killed in a remote horror house. Our protagonist is a husband and father with a cheerful home-life that becomes complicated in the bedroom with children who will not go to sleep, having to be quiet to not wake them when they do, and the general staleness of his marriage. He uses his encounters with other women in the black room to heat up his sex life with his wife, referring to them as "word pictures." Even when Robin believes that the room is imaginary, she feels excluded from part of his life as he tells her he would never do the things he does with those women to his wife ("You tell me what you do in there but you never let me inside," she tells him in bed). The encounters with various women in the black room are not excuses for T&A as the chiaroscuro lighting does not allow for that nor does the editing. The focus within the room is on Larry exploring himself psychologically with character-probing small-talk as foreplay. The voyeuristic brother and sister are depicted in the act of looking rather than showing us what they are looking at. Even Bridget's nudity during her encounter with Larry is obscured by the artful body paint with which she coats herself and Larry.

Robin's discovery of the black room does not lead to a stalk-and-kill scene. A sinister-looking Jason finds Robin sitting in the garden and they speak frankly about Larry's activities and Jason's and Bridget's roles in the arrangement. He even shows Robin the two-way mirror and snaps photographs while Larry has sex with another woman and Robin cries on the sofa. Jason's suggestion that Robin turn the tables on Larry and make use of the black room as well for her pleasure seems less motivated by the opportunity to procure fresh victims than as an erotic diversion; making the bloodthirsty sibling set seem less single-minded than they would be in a more straightforward horror film. The black room itself is an enclosed setting that allows for interior exploration, experimentation, and improvisation signified by the Steadicam camerawork which glides back and forth between the onscreen light sources and complete blackness only to come across more candles or indistinct bodies whose writhing either in passion or in terror is amplified by multiple mirrors. It is a place where Larry and Bridget (and later Robin) can step outside themselves even as afternoon partners try to deduce their "real" personalities.

Extraordinarily for an American independent film, neither the staging of long sequences in the black room or the mansion and its grounds nor the rushed and cramped nature of the exterior shooting make the film feel stage- or set-bound precisely because of the film's Harold Pinter-like association of interior lives with interior spaces and the threats of intrusion from without and the greater one from within (before attempting to break into movies including the subsequent recursive horror film Frightmare, co-director Norman Thaddeus Vane was a playwright on both sides of the pond). Of course, it does eventually lead to the obligatory stalk-and-kill sequence with Halloween shadings involving butcher knives, closets, a coat-hanger impaling, and "he's not dead yet!" surprises – featuring an atypically clothed and non-screaming Linnea Quigley (Return of the Living Dead) – and a circular ending. Christopher MacDonald (The Eighteenth Angel) also has a supporting role in the film and merits an "and – as" screen credit in the opening titles. What we have here is a low-budget, independent arthouse picture masquerading as a horror film. Had this film been made in Europe in the seventies it would be a piece of prime Eurocult with added nudity. Had it been made more recently in Europe, it would be an edgy art film. Had it been made in the nineties in the states, it would have been an DTV "erotic thriller" bogged down by lingering, slow-motion, scored with sax and keyboard with an added horror tinge not unlike Fred Olen Ray's usually diverting twists on the genre. David Hewitt (Gallery of Horror) gets a special thanks credit and may have been responsible for the title optical as he had moved from DIY opticals on his own low-budget productions to for-hire opticals in the seventies and eighties.


Finished in 1982, The Black Room took nearly a year to find theatrical play and had scattered screenings around the country over the next two years before Vestron Video released the film on VHS. The dark, washed-out transfer that was the source of various unauthorized DVD releases is easily bested by Vinegar Syndrome's new 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray which comes from a new 4K scan of the original camera negative. Reds pop immediately with the credits while the higher resolution better conveys the gliding moves of the Steadicam through the titular black room with light flares from candles and reflections present but no longer smearing and trailing as they did with NTSC video, and the credit sequence's zoom into an apparent flaw in the mirror becomes more obvious as the reveal of the two-way reflection of Stephen peering through it. While some nudity is more apparent than before, it is also obvious that some of the sex scenes were always lit and framed strategically to show less, while daylight exteriors around the Hollywood Hills now look naturally hazy rather than overly-diffused in the style of early eighties cinematography. The make-up effects appliances of Mark Shostrum (Phantasm II) hold up well enough in HD given that it was only his second Hollywood assignment.


The sole audio option is an English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track which cleanly conveys the dialogue, music, and effects – especially moments in the soundtrack where cries, moans, and cackling become part of the scoring – while optional English SDH subtitles only contain one or two spelling errors.


Extras start off with "The Other Side of the Mirror" (22:34), an interview with director Elly Kenner who recalls going to film school on the East Coast and coming to Hollywood where he expanded from working as an editor for American Film Institute student film projects to forming his own post-production house and directing commercials and shorts. Producer Aaron C. Butler approached him with Vane's screenplay, and Kenner reveals that he was discouraged from criticizing it and only later did Butler reveal that Vane wanted co-director credit for sitting in on table readings with the actors. A compromise was made by giving Vane the "written and co-directed by" credit and Kenner the director credit but he still feels robbed. Kenner did not hire future The Hitcher director Robert Harmon as cinematographer but admires his work, although his network connections got the production a Steadicam and owner/operator in Andrew "Jeff" Mart (Rush Week). He also reveals that he left the production during its protracted post-production period.

In "Acting on Impulse" (12:53), actor Stathis reveals that he already knew Vane who offered him the lead role in the film. His recollection of the dual directorial credits is that of Vane working with the actors and Kenner replacing him during the shoot, and he also hazily recalls the original ending before the post-production changes.

In "Getting Revenge" (20:49), actress Claire Corff (formerly Clara Perryman) reveals that her career as a film and TV actress lasted only three years before she got married to voice teacher Bob Corff and going into teaching herself. She recalls the shoot including the Hollywood Hills mansion location, guerilla shooting the locksmith scene – requiring four takes – and her anxiety about doing her nude scene. While she recalls that Kenner did let the actors do their own thing, he did sit with her and discuss her character in the aftermath of Robin discovering her husband's infidelity.

In "Blood and Black Room" (15:41), special effects artist Shostrom recalls the film being his next job after Too All a Goodnight and having to learn a lot of the effects gags on the fly with Butler constantly over his shoulder badgering him. He also recalls that the film was the first in which he used Dick Smith's blood formula.

"Working Their Asses Off" (23:28) is an interview with production assistant Lisa Cronin who confirms that her executive producer father Doug Cronin was also the uncredited first male victim rolling around nude in the opening credits and that the engineer-by-day, producer-by-night got her involved in the production. Her duties included production assistant, catering, and reading with the actors during auditions (she refused a role because of the required nudity). She recalls the tension between Vane and Kenner and her father having to mediate, and the film being a thorn in her father's side as he tried to find a distributor.

In "Bodies of Work" (30:43), "Nightmare USA" author Stephen Thrower provides little-known background on co-director Vane who he had interviewed for his book that covered both Frightmare and The Black Room. He discusses Vane's early days as a playwright on both the East and West coasts, moving to England where he became as notable as a playwright as a roue for his rowdy parties, his early and inaccessible independent British films, and his multiple marriages including one to a sixteen-year-old that inspired his screenplay for Twinky in which thirty-eight year old Charles Bronson marries schoolgirl Susan George, as well as the sleazy inspiration for The Black Room involving a room he rented when he was in Los Angeles editing adult magazines. Although Thrower was apparently not aware of Kenner's interview, he is skeptical of Vane's account of his and Kenner's duties on the film, noting a recurring motif in Vane's negative working relationships.

While most of Vinegar Syndrome's Blu-rays have featured optional English subtitles for English-language interviews, The Black Room is a recent exception.


The disc comes with a reversible cover, with the original artwork on the inside while the first 7,000 copies ordered directly from Vinegar Syndrome include a special limited edition spot gloss slipcover designed by Ralf Krause (the standard edition without slipcover can also be ordered there at a lower price).


Ostensibly a horror film, The Black Room is more concerned with the ambiguous nature of human relationships than the subplot of busty gals having sex and being killed in a remote horror house.


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