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RETROSPECTIVE: A VACANCY IN “THE BLACK ROOM” (1982)

Tuesday, March 5, 2019 | Retrospective, Review

I recently revisited this overlooked little film – it’s not an “undiscovered gem” but it’s also pretty good and deserves a larger audience. Totally out of synch with the big-budget, slick, Hollywood-friendly horror of the 80’s (so current nostalgists need not apply), THE BLACK ROOM (1982) is more similar in tone and budget to an indie obscurity of the time.

Larry (Jimmy Stathis, VULTURES) rents “The Black Room,” in the fabulous Hollywood Hills, as a pied-à-terre for extramarital assignations. The room is located in the home of strange, decadent, worldly siblings Jason (Stephen Knight, NECROMANCY) and Bridget (Cassandra Gava, THE AMITYVILLE CURSE) and Larry’s wife, Robin (Clara Perryman), thinks his stories of the room and what he does there are sexual fantasies, but they are not. As Jason & Bridget are secretly taking photos of the visitors through two-way mirrors, and while Bridget seduces Larry, some of the free-spirited girls he picks up are disappearing afterwards. And then there’s Jason mysterious blood disease, which is reportedly getting worse…

“…the initial creeps come from clinical, laboratory bloodletting…”

There are bits of the dry (no pun intended) Australian film THIRST (1979) and David Cronenbergs’ earlier, colder films resonating through THE BLACK ROOM, where the initial creeps come from clinical, laboratory bloodletting, and one could read the movie as an early 80’s, reactionary, pre-AIDS critique of the free-love 70s, deliberately resonating on older tropes (watch out for wealthy decadents, ala 1971’s DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS, which BLACK ROOM would make an interesting contrast with). But while the upended family order (including the annoying kid) may be restored in the end, the film is noteworthy to me for the intense coda moment, where the (until this point) slick and prosaic presentation is suddenly overridden by an intense and unexpected image of resurrection that implies something far older and less clinical.

THE BLACK ROOM is a neat little film, unjustly overlooked, and it has that low-budget, indie film, “shot in the real world” feel that I really appreciate, especially now in our current world of slick, soulless “product.” As stated, there’s something both realistic and oddly fable-like in its narrative, the combination of sex and death creating a real frisson. It may not blow your socks off, and fails to feature (outside of that brief coda previous mentioned) an eye-catching or noteworthy set-piece to make its name, but it is still worth seeking out.

 

Shawn Garrett
Shawn M. Garrett is the co-editor of PSEUDOPOD, the premiere horror fiction podcast, and is either the dumbest smart man or the smartest dumb man you ever met. Thanks to a youth spent in the company of Richard Matheson, Vincent Price, Carl Kolchak & Jupiter Jones, he has pursued a life-long interest in the thrilling, the horrific and the mysterious – be it in print, film, art or audio. He has worked as a sewerage groundskeeper, audio transcription editor, pornography enabler, insurance letter writer – he was once paid by Marvel Comics to pastiche the voice of Stan Lee in promotional materials and he spends his days converting old pulp fiction into digital form for minimal pay. He now lives near the ocean in a small metal box and he hopes that becoming a Yuggothian brain-in-a-jar is a viable future, as there is NO WAY he will ever read all the books he has on his lists, or listen to all the music he wants to hear. Everything that he is he owes to his late sister Susan, a shining star in the pre-internet world of fan-fiction, who left this world unexpectedly in 2010. He spends an inordinate amount of time reading, writing and watching movies.