The Butterfly Room (2012) | This dark psychological thriller demands to be seen by a wider audience of horror fans
Reviewed by Alan Hoare
The Butterfly Room is a 2012 American-Italian psychological thriller-horror film directed by Jonathan Zarantonello, based on his unpublished novel Alice dalle 4 alle 5 (Alice from 4 to 5). A reclusive, butterfly-obsessed, elderly lady suffering from bipolar disorder develops a disturbing relationship with a mysterious but seemingly innocent youngster…
Barbara Steele as Ann
Ray Wise as Nick
Erica Leerhsen as Claudia
Heather Langenkamp as Dorothy
Camille Keaton as Olga
Adrienne King as Rachel
P. J. Soles as Lauren
Ellery Sprayberry as Julie
Julia Putnam as Alice
James Karen as Sales Clerk
The film opens with a young girl taking a bath, as her mother knocks on the door, the girl’s period starts and her mother bursts in, calling her a filthy child and saying she was so much nicer when she was younger. The mother pushes the child’s head into the bath water.
We next see Ann, a reclusive elegant lady, walking down the street, kicking a workers ladder causing him to fall of the ladder, only being saved by his lanyard. His supervisor, Nick, apologies to Ann, claiming it was the workers fault. Ann returns to her apartment and hears the sobbing nine-year-old Julie in the hallway. It seems her mother has failed to collect her from school, so Ann invites her in, and introduces Julie to her world of butterfly collecting.
Julie’s mother, Claudia, eventually turns up and thinks Ann, inviting her to dinner the following evening. Before leaving, Claudia queries the frequent banging noises emanating from Ann’s apartment. Ann denies any such noise, but as Claudia and Julie return arguing in their apartment the banging starts.
The narrative takes its first jump and introduces us to Ann’s earlier meeting with the eerily beautiful young Alice whilst in a shopping mall. Using her seductive innocence, Alice establishes a disturbing mother/daughter relationship with Ann, which is based around receiving money from Ann. We soon learn Ann craves this relationship to replace the loss of her own daughter. Each time they meet Ann has to pay more and more money to Alice.
Once again the narrative jumps and we see Ann in full fumigation gear in a lift spraying acid on bodies hidden in the lift shaft. The scene is made even stranger when an obviously stoned passenger joins her. As the relationship between Ann and Julie continues to develop, the back-story of Alice’s other “mothers” unfolds. Ann soon learns of this and begins to murder them, throwing one down the lift shaft and causing an air embolism in the other. Anne is now free to look after Alice, however they have a row, and the resolution of this is never resolved.
Claudia asks Ann to look after Julie whilst she is away for a romantic weekend. With the inevitable curiosity of a child, Julie begins to explore the corners of Ann’s apartment, discovering the dark secret of the girl (Alice) hidden in the walls of the forbidden butterfly room. No one believes what Julie has seen except for Ann’s estranged daughter Dorothy.
The next day, Ann asks Janitor Nick to block the door to the butterfly room with a large wardrobe. Nick offers to do some cash in hand work for Ann as he knows she is illegally breaking down a plasterboard partition in the apartment. She reacts violently to this and throws him out. Ann’s estranged daughter Dorothy visits Ann and it becomes clear she was the girl seen in the opening scenes. They argue, causing Julie to hide in the wardrobe where she discovers the back is flimsy and can gain access to the butterfly room.
Claudia returns from her weekend to collect Julie and is drowned in the bath by Ann, just as Julie learns the terrible truth of the butterfly room. Nick arrives to find Claudia’s dead body and the body of his missing co-worker and see Ann chasing Julie with a sledgehammer Ann and Julie run out to the street where Ann is run over and killed by Dorothy who has just arrived at the scene after summoning up the courage to confront an evil that has haunted her for years.
The narrative jumps forward and we see that Julie now lives with Dorothy’s family and as they pose for a family photo Dorothy says the chilling words to her son ‘you were so much nicer when you were younger’.
Jonathan Zarantonello has produced a marvellously-complex, dark psychological thriller that examines the human psyche on many levels. His use of the regular jumps (backwards and forwards) in narrative confuses and misinforms the viewer, however all the disparate plot strands come neatly together in the final reel when we discover the true nature of the psychotic Anna.
Barbara Steele is amazing in the role of Anna, making her both malevolent and sweet at the same time. She clearly relishes the role and has some wonderfully playful dialogue and marvelouslly bizarre scenes, such a meeting the dope head in the lift whilst she is fully dressed in bug spraying costume. It’s not made clear if Anna is psychotic from the start, or has been made this way by her own experiences with her daughter Dorothy, and surrogate daughter Alice. But this just adds nicely to the mystery and darkness of the plot. All the characters, except Julie, appear to have agendas that will benefit themselves, at the expense of others. Alice has several mothers for reasons unexplained, Claudia has a clandestine affair with a co-worker, Ann certainly has her own agenda and Nick appears to be besotted with Ann.
The use of former horror scream icons is handled well and they all play their part very well in this densely plotted well acted film. The soundtrack is suitably dark and aggressive and matches the on screen action very well indeed. The film won the Denis-de-Rougemont Youth Award at the 2012 Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival, but seems to have been relegated to sell through DVD Oblivion. This is a real shame as the film certainly demands to be seen by a wider audience of horror fans.
The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) | Roger Corman’s ghoulish Gothic horror starring Vincent Price swings again onto Blu-ray
‘…the agony of my soul found vent in one loud, long, and final scream of despair’
This has been a great week for Vincent Price fans. Hot on the heels of the Arrow Video Blu-ray release of Theatre of Blood and ahead of The Complete Dr Phibes release on 9 June comes the Blu-ray release of The Pit and the Pendulum, director Roger Corman’s 1961 follow-up to The Fall of the House of Usher.
The Greatest Terror Tale Ever Told!
16th-century Spanish nobleman Nicholas Medina (Vincent Price) is a haunted man: he fears his late wife Elizabeth (Barbara Steele) was prematurely interred and now stalks his gloomy seaside castle as a vengeful spirit. But he’s mistaken. Elizabeth is very much alive and is using a childhood trauma – Nicholas witnessed his mother being entombed alive by his inquisitor father as a child – to drive him insane. But her sick plan works only too well – Nicholas goes over the edge and becomes his own raving mad father, which puts the lives of Elizabeth’s brother Francis (John Kerr) and the rest Medina household in mortal peril…
Bring me my pendulum, kiddies!
Roger Corman’s second stab at Edgar Allan Poe, 1961’s Pit and the Pendulum, is a wilder, darker, more violent ride than the previous year’s The Fall of the House of Usher. Aiming to repeat that film’s success, Corman used the same team and stylistic design, even the same story. But he ended up crafting a Gothic masterpiece that’s definitely its own beast and another commercial success in his Poe/Price cycle of films.
Again Richard Matheson was called on to flesh out Poe’s original 1842 tale, which essentially was a monologue about the torments suffered by a prisoner at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition. While not pure Poe (you have to watch the great extra on this release for that), the film certainly has a Poe-esque atmosphere about it: all dread and madness draped in mauve cobwebs and rococo furnishings.
Floyd Crosby captures this with some wildly fluid camerawork and rich colour cinematography, while Daniel Haller’s art direction comes to satanic fore in the scenes involving the titular rat-infested pit and blood stained pendulum (which was 18ft-long and weighed over a ton). Les Baxter’s minimal electronic score, meanwhile, lends the film a schizophrenic air – beginning with the film’s lurid liquid sky opening titles, which makes you think you are entering a terrifying acid trip.
While Crosby’s camera has full reign of Haller’s superb castle interiors, Vincent Price really lets loose with a performance that’s become as iconic as the film’s nightmarish set-pieces. Watching him go from morbidly depressed to murderously deranged while spewing Matheson’s fruity dialogue is a hoot. It’s also what made audiences want to come back year after year. If 1960’s House of Usher officially launched Price’s Master of Menace persona, Pit and the Pendulum most certainly crowned him the new king of Horror. This was what seeing ‘a Vincent Price’ movie was all about.
Price, whose first appearance in the film is ‘like a ghost in an amusement park funhouse’ according to Tim Lucas in his audio commentary, certainly outshines the likes of the stiff John Kerr (who later ditched acting to become a doctor), Luana Anders (who looks lovely, but that’s all) and Antony Carbone (who looks too much like Kerr to bother with), while Barbara Steele shows her mettle as the new horror queen with her sleek feline-like performance as Price’s scheming ‘dead’ wife. While some critics felt Price overdid it, director Corman thought his star was on the mark: ‘He was able to convey the intensity and the madness of the character, bringing it to its fullest extent without going over the top’.
[SPOILER’S AHEAD] The sequences which follow Price being lured down into the crypt to the grisly, heart-stopping finale (Steele gets locked up in an iron maiden, Kerr is almost cut in half by the razor-sharp pendulum, and Price tumbles into the pit) are the film’s visual highlights. And the final shots of Price glaring up out of the pit with his dead eyes open and Steele’s eyes peering helplessly from within the iron maiden have stayed with me for years. They also had a huge impact on other fans, including director John Landis, who said: ‘It scared the shit out of me! The ending is amazing… I’ve deliberately never seen that movie again. Not so much because it scared me, but because I know it couldn’t possibly be that good, you know?’
On its original release, the film, which was made in just 15 days on a budget of US$300,000, earned close to US$2million and became a hit with both critics and audiences alike, with the plaudits ranging from ‘a physically stylish, imaginatively photographed horror film’ (Variety) to ‘a thoroughly creepy sequence of horrors’ (New Yorker) and – my favourite – ‘Engagingly cornball insanity-in-the-castle hokum, with Vincent Price in fine eyeball-rolling, scenery-chomping form.’ (Joe Dante, Castle of Frankenstein). Even American International Pictures chief, Sam Arkoff praised it, saying: ‘I thought it was really good – the best of the Poes’.
THE ARROW BLU-RAY RELEASE
Arrow Video‘s high definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation is transferred from original film elements by MGM, featuring original uncompressed PCM mono audio, optional isolated music and effects track and optional English SDH subtitles. According to the experts over at DVD Beaver, its a robust transfer with a much higher bitrate than the US Shout! Factory edition, smoother and superior, supporting an excellent 1080P image despite some frame-specific damage, while the replication of the original production audio has noticeable depth.
• In Roger Corman’s audio commentary (which is also on the Shout! Factory Blu-ray release), the maverick producer/director looks back at the making of the film, revealing the visual tricks he employed in his ‘Freudian-inspired’ horror. Who knew that doors represent the vagina and the dark corridors are an initiation into sexuality? You’ll certainly read the film differently after listening to this.
• The other audio commentary, by Video Watchdog’s Tim Lucas (*), is packed with juicy nuggets (I always wondered why those castle matt shots ended up in The Monkees). And when it comes to the film’s technical minutia, Lucas really knows his stuff. Film buffs will lap this up.
• Behind the Swinging Blade – This new documentary on the making of The Pit and the Pendulum features interviews with Roger Corman, Barbara Steele and Victoria Price, while director Brian Yunza, who is a big fan of the film, also pops up. (43-min)
• Added TV Sequence – Shot in 1968 for the longer TV cut, this scene features star Luana Anders and is set in an asylum. Its a real curio, but for the life of me, I couldn’t work out where it would have been placed in the storyline. If you know, please enlighten me. (5-min)
• An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe – This terrific 1970 TV special, shot on video, gave Vincent Price the chance to do Poe unplugged, reciting The Tell-Tale Heart, The Sphinx, The Cask of Amontillado and The Pit and the Pendulum as he always wanted to do. The transfer quality here is on par the 2003 MGM DVD release. But did you know the period costumes were all designed by Price’s second wife, Mary? (53-min. With optional English SDH)
• Original Trailer
• Limited Edition SteelBook packaging featuring original artwork (SteelBook only)
• Reversible sleeve featuring artwork by Gilles Vranckx (Amaray release only)
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by author Jonathan Rigby, illustrated with original archive stills
(*) Tim Lucas is also co-author of The Man With The Kaleidoscope Eyes: an original screenplay about Roger Corman and the filming of The Trip, which Joe Dante is in line to direct.
The Films of Roger Corman: Shooting My Way Out of Trouble, Alan Frank, 1998
LIGHTS! CAMERA! AZIONE!
Film director Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni) – who looks like the Italian director Federico Fellini – struggles to make a movie but can’t. Withdrawing, he recalls events in his life, from his boyhood in a beachside Rimini (where Fellini himself came from) to his romantic entanglements as an adult with his wife (Anouk Aimée) and mistress (Sandra Milo). But as his dreams and memories intertwine with reality, Guido eventually discovers his missing muse (Claudia Cardinale) and learns to let loose and go with the flow.
1963’s Otto e mezzo is Italian director Federico Fellini’s eight-and-½th film and his most personal – a self reflective musing on the artist’s struggles with creativity following success. Released to worldwide acclaim, it scored two Oscars and has become the ultimate art-movie and the cinephile’s must-see.
Audaciously avant garde yet in perfect synch with the Fellini’s restless on-screen alter ego Guido, this is the director’s finest moment in cinema where the spirit of the cartoon (Fellini started out as a newspaper cartoonist) is brought to exuberant life within the director’s consummate choreography of people and camera movement, while Nino Rota’s catchy circus-theme score cements everything together. Not surprisingly, 8½ has become a highly influential work that has informed generations of film-makers – most recently Paolo Sorrentino and his sublime The Great Beauty.
8½ is truly unmissable, and thanks to this new HD transfer, looks and sounds as fresh and enthralling as ever.
THE UK ARGENT RELEASE
The UK Region B/2 Blu-ray and DVD release from Argent Films features a HD-remastered print in the as-exhibited aspect ratio (1.85:1), as well as the following extras.
• Lost Sequence – Fellini on Fellini: a 50-minute documentary where the director discusses his life, love and making 8 ½.
• Interview with Fellini’s former assistant assistant, Lina Wertmuller.
• Tribute to Fellini’s speech on receiving his Life Achievement Award.
• Theatrical Trailers.