THE BLACK ROOM (15)
Director: Rolfe Kanefsky
Screenplay: Rolfe Kanefsky
Review: RJ Bland
The beautiful Natasha Henstridge. Horror icon Lin Shaye. The devilishly handsome Lukas Hassel. That's not a bad cast list. But wait – throw in a plot about a sex crazed demon and hand it all to a director with a background in mildly erotic movies and what to do you get?
The answer...The Black Room.
It's been a little while since I've seen a movie like Rolfe Kanefsky's newest feature. Trashy genre flicks were something of a 90's phenomenon and since then, the horror genre has started to take itself a bit more seriously. This change in attitude and output has seen the genre gain a bit more respect from the industry as a whole – and we've been treated to some really outstanding – and terrifying – titles since the turn of the millennium. Admittedly The Black Room isn't one of them. However, it is a lot of fun.
A quick look at Kanefsky's C.V really gives you an idea of what to expect here. Sex Files: Alien Erotica and The Erotic Misadventures of The Invisible Man are examples of his older work – but more recently he has helmed TV genre movies such as Deadly Sorority and Sorority Slaughterhouse. Kanefsky is a man who likes to mesh the salacious with the comical – and The Black Room has both those in spades.
Jennifer (Henstridge) and Paul (Hassel) are a happily married couple who move into a new house with a – yes you've guessed it – rather sinister background. However this isn't a regular haunted house. The ghosts of the previous dwellers don't haunt these walls and neither is the house situated on an old Indian burial ground. No siree. Instead, what the duo have to contend with is a sex-crazed demon (or incubus) who has been summoned years previously and who now resides in a locked room in the basement. In the prologue scene we get to see exactly what happened to the previous inhabitants and get our appetites suitably whetted. Without giving too much away let's ju....nah, screw that. A young sleeping woman gets felt up by an unseen entity. That's what happens. What follows is one of the most strikingly bizarre and gauche horror credit sequences I have ever witnessed. It feels like a cross between Austin Powers and an 80's cop show. I loved it.
That credit sequence is actually a rather good analogy for the film itself – and the way you react to it will probably be a good indicator for how you will find the rest of the movie. If you don't like schlock, stay away, this probably isn't for you. There is no denying that this feels like something of a throwback, but that's part of why The Black Room works, for the most part. It doesn't take itself too seriously and is quite aware of the sub-genre it is operating within. However, it doesn't seem to care – in fact it seems to relish it. You get the impression that everyone involved realises that this was never going to be the greatest film ever made but still had a bit of a blast making it – and this sense of fun translates onto the screen.
Sex is always on the menu in The Black Room. Moments after Paul carries his wife over the threshold and into their new house, he suggests that they christen their new house. However a workman in the basement disrupts proceedings and the couples sense of sexual frustration only increases the further the film goes on. I would say that Kanefsky is beginning a journey of social exploration into the sex lives of married couples But I'm not sure that's the case. We're just watching a couple of very horny people. This focus on sex (or the lack of it) actually takes up the focus of our central pair for quite some time and they seem blissfully unaware of what is lurking in their basement. There's a nice little scene where the couple find a spirit board in their new house and instead of sitting down in a dimly lit room and attempting to conjure evil spirits, they simply chuck it in the bin. The Black Room may not be the most original movie out there but it is littered with nice little touches like that.
The cast here are another reason that this film seems to work. Lin Shaye is always a joy to watch and whenever her name is attached to anything it's instantly worth tracking down. Whilst the production values and tone of the film itself are not exactly high-brow (that's an understatement!) leads Natasha Henstridge and Lukas Hassel deliver solid performances. Henstridge plays the role of frustrated wife Jennifer straight down the line. It's a performance fit for a much more serious film (getting herself off on a tumble dryer aside). Hassel on the other hand has a lot of fun with a LOT of corny one-liners and some amusingly ripe set pieces. It's the quality of acting that, whilst at odds with the tawdry feel of the rest of the proceedings, actually elevates the whole thing above your standard B-movie fare. Credit to Kanefsky too for not filling every single scene with irritating background music, such is the temptation for a lot of movies of this type.
Instead we get edgy violin pieces and demonic choral music that sound like they've been taken direct from The Conjuring and The Omen. Still, better to pay homage to classics than the alternative.
The Black Room won't be to everyone's taste, that goes without saying. The bawdy overtones and coarse production values will not appeal to a lot of genre aficionados. It doesn't offer up anything new or fresh or anything that we haven't really seen before and if you are after genuine scares then you'll be disappointed too. The plot itself is obviously preposterous, but again that will be something you'll either have fun with or roll your eyes at. The sheer volume of one-liners and cheesy dialogue may also test your resolve too. The ending doesn't really seem to make sense either to be perfectly honest – but the odds are that if the film isn't your cup of tea, you will probably have switched off before that point.
However, those points aside, The Black Room offers an earthy and often laugh out loud movie-going experience for anyone going in looking for a bit of fun. The practical effects are generally quite well done and there's a touch of Wishmaster about proceedings too. In once scene, a demonically possessed character turns the waiting staff of a restaurant they are dining in into quivering orgasmic wrecks. It's a scene Andrew Divoff would have lapped up – and another nod to an era of horror that passed a couple of decades ago. However, it's nice when old friends stop by every now and then.