ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mitchell Hillman is a freelance writer who has spent most of his time in print writing about music, movies, art, and pop culture. He is also a professional artist, occasional pop-up chef, and suffers an addiction to curiosity and discovery. Over the last year he has watched over 300 Giallo and Giallo related movies, finding that they influence not only how he thinks about film, but also art.
The Girl in Room 2A (1974)
‘La casa della paura’
Directed by William Rose
I promised myself that if I ever found a better transfer of this particular Giallo, I’d have to watch it again. The first time I saw it was like watching a muddied copy of a copy from VHS. I came across a much nicer transfer recently and thought I’d indulge myself. It’s got a great story going for it and it’s a completely underrated entry into the genre in my estimation. Perhaps it’s because it’s the crowning achievement in William Rose’s otherwise unremarkable catalog of films that it’s overlooked, but it has charm and mystery and something that sticks with you somehow. Of note the original Italian title translates to “House of Fear,” but there were several of those in English already, so we get The Girl in Room 2A.
It’s got a pretty brutal opening sequence, with Bruno Pisano’s soundtrack sinister intensity backing it as we see a young women leave a dark boarding house, only to be abducted off the street, thrown in a car, drugged, subsequently tortured, murdered and thrown from a cliff. It’s a harsh start that leaves you wondering, but it all comes together in the end. Next we see Margaret leaving a women’s prison, and after missing a bus and calling her social worker while being followed by a strange man, she checks into the boarding house run by the strange Mrs. Grant. Nothing is right about the house, from Mrs. Grant, to the blood red stain in her room, to the strange footsteps outside her door as she tries to nap. The creep vibe is everywhere.
Mrs. Grant invites Margaret to tea and a sedative, while explaining the death of her husband, and her loneliness in the house with her son. She then lays down a heavy speech about how justice and vengeance must prevail over forgiveness and her tone is more than a little worrisome as she talks about the felon that killed her husband. Margaret doesn’t go for any of that. Her first night is a creepy one as she envisions a red clad masked person coming into her room, but does it happen? We don’t know, she may have been dreaming, she was sedated after all.
We then cut to a villa in the countryside where the creepy son from the boarding house is hanging out with a writer named Mr. Johnson who wants to document what the group seemingly led by “Mr. Dreese” is doing. Dreese shows up and it’s the man that was following Margaret, who immediately turns on the writer with a Nietzschean speech about how “everyone must feel the pain of his own sins,” echoing Mrs. Grant’s sentiments from earlier. Frank, the creepy son is sent back home, by Dreese while Johnson is locked in the parlor. He is subsequently tortured by two other men, and the caped stranger in the red mask from Margaret’s vision. Johnson jumps to his death out the window to escape the torture and they drive his car off a cliff in a fiery cremation.
This sets the stage for all that is to come. On the one hand you have the creepy house and Margaret’s ever-escalating post-prison life trauma, and on the other a weird cult adding a folk horror flare to the whole affair. It’s a pretty detailed intense story and while it could be better acted or shot with a better budget there’s something appealing about it and something deliciously appalling about it. Whether it’s Margaret’s uncomfortable interactions with Mrs. Grant’s strange son Frank, or the stain that keeps returning to the floor, which she dutifully cleans up repeatedly, there’s always something going on that will become clear in the last act. Rosalba Neri is always a delight and here she plays the social worker who arranged the housing arrangement for Margaret. After confessing her discomfort, Neri promises to help find her new housing and loans her some money, before going out of town.
Margaret continually professes her innocence, but also seems like the only genuinely decent person here, except perhaps for the social worker. When she bumps into Jack on the street, the interaction is suspicious and brilliant, he’s looking for his sister who supposedly killed herself while staying at Mrs. Grant’s place. He ends up renting the place across the alley from her. Once Jack is introduced to the story, the movie really picks up. It turns out that a lot, or maybe all of the “troubled girls” who have stayed in 2A have died or gone mad–but what exactly is the connection to the cult that’s hell-bent on maintaining the war of “Good and Evil.” As the two become lovers, they also begin to investigate just what is going on at the Grant house in earnest.
Both times I’ve watched this I thought this would be an amazing film to reboot, there’s much more of a horror aspect to it than the usual gore laden bloodbath. It’s got a great story at the heart of it and I’d just love to see it treated to a decent budget. Everyone is creepy, it seems that only Margaret and Jack are on the level, but you can never be sure about anything. There are many elements that are just sheer fun, like Frank’s strange workshop or Mrs. Grant’s odd gatherings discussing vengeance, of course. It’s not a top tier Giallo by any means, but it probably fits inside the Top 100 or Top 150 due to its peculiar originality and rather complex story. The intertwining story between all the players is what keeps you going and the finale more than pays off in the end, and in this case, somehow, I didn’t see it coming. You might not either, which makes its 90-minute weight (and wait) worth it.