Girls check into Mrs. Grant’s boarding house, but they don’t check out in this Italian-shot Dick Randall “roughie” THE GIRL IN 2A, out now on DVD in a fresh widescreen transfer from Mondo Macabro.
Margaret (Daniela Giordano, SHADOW OF ILLUSION) has just been released from jail after serving a short sentence for getting caught at a party with marijuana. Her social worker Alicia (Rosalba Neri, THE DEVIL’S WEDDING NIGHT) has arranged for her to stay in a boarding house run by Mrs. Grant (Giovanna Galletti, LAST TANGO IN PARIS), who lives there with her Norman Bates-ish grown son Frank (Angelo Infanti, FRAGMENT OF FEAR) who has a creepy workroom full of mannequins. Not only is her room claustrophobic, but there is also a red stain on the floor that reappears no matter how many times she cleans it. Margaret is also having nightmares about a figure in a red hood. This phantom proves only too real as the sadistic inquisitor of a cult headed by the mysterious Mr. Drees (Raf Vallone, DEATH OCCURRED LAST NIGHT), who conduct "cleansing" ceremonies in the Grants’ country house (recognizable from Fernando DiLeo’s SLAUGHTER HOTEL) in Manzaria. When Margaret meets Jack (John Scanlon, ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ), she finds out that his sister Edie was a prior boarder at Mrs. Grant’s. Jack finds out from Edie’s ex Charlie (Brad Harris, ISLAND OF LOST GIRLS) – now married to Claire (Dada Gallotti, THE BEAST IN SPACE) – that Edie got in trouble with the law – through peripheral involvement with his own criminal activities – and served a short sentence in jail before going to stay with Miss Grant. Jack doesn’t believe that his sister committed suicide, and Margaret decides to tough out her stay to do some snooping; but will she end up as the next girl to vanish from room 2A?
Although it has the look and feel of an Italian/Spanish co-production (and indeed the opening sequence location looks more Spanish than Italian), THE GIRL IN ROOM 2A – aka LA CASA DELLA PAURA – was actually one of Dick Randall’s American/Italian co-productions. The pseudonymous-sounding William L. Rose was an American writer and director who had helmed RENT-A-GIRL (paired with AROUSED and HELP WANTED FEMALE on DVD courtesy of Image Entertainment and Something Weird Video) for Cambist Films and Distribpix’s PAMELA, PAMELA, YOU ARE… under his own name, as well as a couple other 1960s softcore films under the name “Werner Rose” (Rose was reportedly also one of the scripters of the muddled Dick Randall Italian production FRANKENSTEIN’S CASTLE OF FREAKS). Indeed, the cast and crew is a game of six degrees of Dick Randall. Cinematographer Mario Mancini also shot the Randall-produced FRENCH SEX MURDERS (also with Neri) and FRANKENSTEIN’S CASTLE OF FREAKS, both of which featured this film’s production manager Xiro Papas as an actor (who also appeared in THE DEVIL’S WEDDING NIGHT, edited by this film’s editors Piera Bruni and Gianfranco Simoncelli). Brad Harris had previously appeared in the Randall-produced THE KING OF KONG ISLAND and THE MAD BUTCHER and would also appear in Randall’s CHALLENGE OF THE TIGER (on Mondo Macabro DVD paired with FOR YOUR HEIGHT ONLY). Harris was also a Mancini alumnus, having appeared in the cinematographer’s westerns WANTED SABATA, DURANGO IS COMING, PAY OR DIE and DEATH IS SWEET FROM THE SOLDIER OF GOD. Assistant director Earl Rosen’s only other IMDb credit is Demofilio Fidani’s A HERO CALLED ALLEGRIA (1971), which was not produced by Randall but features Randall regular Gordon Scott as well as Papas, and was photographed by Mancini and edited by Bruni and Simoncelli. Mancini and Varriano also have a connection to Mario Bava. Earlier in his career, Mancini operated the camera on Mario Bava’s BLACK SABBATH and BLOOD AND BLACK LACE. His camera operator on this film, Emilio Varriano, also operated the camera on Bava’s HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON, BAY OF BLOOD, ROY COLT & WINCHESTER JACK, BARON BLOOD and LISA AND THE DEVIL, and would subsequently photograph Bava’s RABID DOGS. And, to bring it full circle, Randall had bankrolled Bava’s earlier FOUR TIMES THAT NIGHT (also starring Daniela Giordano).
Although the torture scenes are somewhat disturbing, a lot more is implied by having the camera cut away and in the use of Frank’s mannequin props and the drawings by a former resident of room 2A who has been institutionalized. THE GIRL IN ROOM 2A differs from most of the roughies in that the film’s sympathies lie with the victims and the “purifiers” are unambiguously perverted and hypocritical sadists. Mondo Macabro’s liner notes mention that there was also an unsavory character named Mrs. Grant who pimped out her female boarders in RENT-A-GIRL. One would imagine that if Rose had shot THE GIRL IN ROOM 2A in the states, it would have been backed and/or distributed by Harry Novak (and would probably have been more graphic than the average Joseph Brenner exploiter, including the Euro pickups). Giordano is a fetching and sympathetic lead with some great terrorized expressions, even if she is (badly) body-doubled for the obligatory love scene. Scanlon’s hero is rather stiff, but he moves the plot along conventionally; which unfortunately keeps it from wallowing in the shapeless sleazy atmosphere of some of the more claustrophobic roughies. Vallone’s Mr. Drees is appropriately sleazy (Michael Findlay might have played his part if it had been shot in the U.S., although he probably would have been more hands-on with the torture). Infanti was just two years away from playing Laura Gemser’s love interest in the first BLACK EMANUELLE film (Infanti would also star in BLACK EMANUELLE 2, in which director Bitto Albertini replaced Gemser with Sharon Lesley when Joe D’Amato usurped the series and its star with his own more entertaining string of films), and he’s convincingly timid here. Rose does not make much of Neri’s screen presence, and Harris is mainly around to beat people up during the climax (both of their characters may have been shoehorned into the script by Randall). Galletti is just as cold a mother figure as she was in her more famous Eurocult appearance as Baroness Graps in Bava’s KILL BABY KILL. Schubert - who would also appear in BLACK EMANUELLE - is pretty much here to strip and die, and she does it well. Mancini’s cinematography is colorful, and he and cameraman Varriano seem to have taken some cues from Mario Bava with some of the lighting for the suspense scenes (other expository scenes are more flatly lit). The mannequins and Galletti's widow also seem like Bavian touches, and the scenes of Giordano terrorized in her bedroom almost recall similar scenes with Daliah Lavi in THE WHIP AND THE BODY (particularly a shot of Giordano clutching invisible prison bars at the foot of her bed). Pisano’s score favors the fuzz guitar stings that would goose his mostly romantic scoring for Joe D’Amato’s DEATH SMILES AT MURDER (and it’s possible that a riffing on Stelvio Cipriani's music for BAY OF BLOOD may have inspired Pisano's work here and in the aforementioned D'Amato film). The “heroic” climax recycles Pisano’s main theme (co-written by Romolo Grano) for ARCANA, Giulio Questi’s follow-up to his utterly bizarre “giallo-ish” DEATH LAID AN EGG.
THE GIRL IN ROOM 2A was released on VHS in the U.S. by Prism Entertainment – as one of their Joseph Brenner acquisitions – in one of their early clamshell cases with a less-than-imaginative cover (although it utilizes an odd image seen in the film) more suggestive of a straightforward horror movie than a sleazy thriller (the Mondo Macabro DVD utilizes the Italian poster art). That cropped fullscreen transfer was somewhat over bright, making interiors scenes seem flatly lit. Mondo Macabro’s transfer is a touch darker, but it gives a sense of mood to the lighting and brings out some of the subtler colors in the art direction and wardrobe (such as the greens and pinks of the floral pattern in Margaret’s bedroom). The reds also stand out strikingly, particularly in the shots of the hooded inquisitor and the reappearing stain (the red scarf that Margaret wears during her walk with Frank also seems to touch upon her uneasiness in the aftermath of her apparent nightmare). Strangely, the U.S. version night tints the shot of the girl’s body being thrown off the cliff, but not the subsequent shot of the body lying in the grass (these two shots are untinted in this transfer). Mondo Macabro’s new dual-layer, progressive, anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfer utilizes an Italian master for the feature. The U.S. theatrical version featured abbreviated its credits (although not the underlying footage), bunching up the names of actors and trimming down the technical credits (as well as misspelling editor Simoncelli’s name) so that it could more imaginatively place the title card. The Italian title sequence runs over the same footage, but in a more straightforward manner with credits flashing over the torture scene. Interestingly, Randall’s producing credit comes after Rose’s credit as director. Rose receives credit for both production and direction on the Joseph Brenner credits, with no mention of Randall at all.
The new transfer also features some additional dialogue scenes not present in the U.S. cut. The scene where Margaret and Frank go for a walk is extended, and Neri also gets a smidge more screentime. Most of the other additions are tops and tails of scenes with characters arriving or leaving locations and speaking one or two additional lines of dialogue. These bits are in Italian with English subtitles on the English track; however, there are some additional lines of Italian spoken offscreen or with characters facing away from camera that do not appear on the English track suggesting that the composite English track only restores Italian dialogue to the excised scenes. Although the film was shot in English and post-dubbed, the Italian track is definitely worth listening to (or at least watching the film in English with the English subtitles on). The Italian dialogue is better written. When Margaret tries to explain to Alicia why she wants to leave the boarding house, the English version just has her saying variations on “it’s scary” while the Italian track has her conveying her feelings of persecution that are well-established by the visuals and her dialogue scenes with Frank and Mrs. Grant. A Nietzsche quote written on a piece of paper is translated by the subtitles, but not an earlier one by inquisitor Torquemada (possibly because it is glimpsed during the main titles). These and other bits of text had separate English language inserts for the export version, but they remain in Italian here. Although the dialogue on the Italian track is superior, the Italian technicians re-recorded the music and effects at a higher volume than on the English track (the dialogue track on the English version is as loud as it is on the Italian track, so the more subtle music and effects levels are intentional). The U.S. version credits Rose solely with story and screenplay while the Italian track credits Rose with the story and the screenplay to writer/director Franco Baldanello, who had directed a number of spaghetti westerns in the sixties and seventies under the name “Frank G. Carroll” (including 1966’s KILL JOHNNY RINGO which featured a Dick Randall as a supporting actor). Baldanello probably wrote the Italian dialogue since it differs so much in place from the English dubbing which better fits the mouth movements of the actors.
The major extra on the disc is an interview with a giddy Daniela Giordano (11:18), which seems to have been the interview excerpted in Mondo Macabro’s “Blood and Sand” featurette on Spanish horror films which appeared on their release of PANIC BEATS. Giordano only speaks briefly about THE GIRL IN 2A, but mostly about how starring in movies was the easiest way for a twenty-something Sicilian girl to get to travel. She mentions that Mario Bava, Paul Naschy, and Mario Ciaino were the only three directors who actually gave her direction (the others just yelled “Action”). She describes her role in Naschy’s INQUISITION as the one in which she really started to enjoy her profession as an actress (a big mistake, she says, since she soon found more serious roles harder to obtain). With regards to GIRL IN ROOM 2A, she recalls having a nice experience working with Rose. When talking about her body doubling in that film, she also mentions that the scenes with her body double were not directed by Bava. As always, Mondo Macabro’s liner notes screens (eleven pages here) are always entertaining, and they reveal some additional credits for Rose that do not appear at IMDb (including dialogue director for Werner Herzog’s FITZCARRALDO). Also included are biographies for Daniela Giordano, Raf Vallone, Rosalba Neri and Karin Schubert. The film’s U.S. theatrical trailer (2:33) is also included, as well as Mondo Macabro’s promo reel. (Eric Cotenas)
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