Black Room, The (1982) (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Dennis Seuling
  • Review Date: Feb 29, 2024
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Black Room, The (1982) (Blu-ray Review)


Elly Kenner/Norman Thaddeus Vane

Release Date(s)

1982 (January 30, 2024)


Century International/Vestron Video (Vinegar Syndrome)
  • Film/Program Grade: B-
  • Video Grade: B
  • Audio Grade: A-
  • Extras Grade: B

The Black Room (1982) (Blu-ray)

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Ever since Bela Lugosi descended the stairs of a Transylvanian castle to introduce himself as Dracula, vampires have been the subject of countless films. To keep the subject fresh, writers and directors have provided twists over eight decades. In The Black Room, writer and co-director Norman Thaddeus Vane updates the tale to the Hollywood Hills in the 1980s.

The film opens with a naked man and woman writhing in a candle-lit room, secretly watched through a one-way mirror. A door silently opens and another man and woman enter the room, chloroform the couple into unconsciousness, drain all their blood with elaborate equipment, and transfuse it into the male killer’s veins.

Cut to Larry (Jimmy Stathis, Dogs and Vultures) and Robin (Clara Perryman) as they’re interrupted from having sex by their two children, who’ve awakened in the middle of the night and are calling for their mom. These interruptions have been occurring frequently enough to put a serious strain in their marriage, and when Larry sees a newspaper ad for an exotic room for rent, he goes to the address to investigate. He finds a huge mansion and is met by the owner, Jason (Stephen Knight, Necromancy), who shows him the room. It’s a luxurious space illuminated by scores of candles. It’s also the room where the earlier murders took place.

Larry wants to use the room, and pays Jason the first month’s rent. All he has to do is call and Jason will light the candles, turn on the stereo, and pour the wine.

The next day, cruising in the UCLA vicinity, Larry picks up a student named Lisa (Charlie Young, Nice Dreams), and takes her to the mansion, where they have passionate sex while being watched and photographed by a clandestine onlooker.

Larry then meets Bridget (Cassandra Gaviola, Conan the Barbarian), who says she’s Jason’s sister and lives with him in the mansion. Bridget tells Larry that Jason has suffered since childhood from a rare form of anemia and survives through a combination of expensive drugs and regular blood transfusions. Larry and Bridget eventually head to the Black Room and engage in unbridled sex. This time we see that the voyeur is Bridget’s brother, rapidly snapping photos of the action.

Knight’s Jason gives off a creepy vibe and Gaviola’s Bridget exudes an exotic, sensual allure. The two make for a starkly lethal team as they play upon potential victims’ libidos to lure them in rather than risk discovery by hunting for them out in public.

The film has a sluggish beginning. Much of what the characters say could have been shown. Later, however, the pace picks up as more gruesome activities dominate. Larry’s unfulfilled sexual appetite appears to be his motivation for seeking to spice up his sex life, but would a husband and father risk losing his family for self-gratification? That point is hard to accept.

There are other flaws in the script and behaviors that don’t seem to reflect their characters but the role of Larry is the most troublesome. Engaging in secretive extra-marital liaisons seems like an extreme choice when one has children to consider. Wouldn’t marriage counseling be a more constructive path? But then there wouldn’t be much of a horror film.

Co-directors Vane and Elly Kenner have given this low-budget film a rich look, beginning with the mansion and its grounds. Production design is far more elaborate than in typical bargain-basement horror flicks, and the performances are unusually good. Vane based the screenplay on his own promiscuous activities when he was UK editor of Penthouse magazine and conducted extra-marital trysts with various centerfold models in a room similar to the one in the film.

Special effects look pretty good, considering that they were accomplished by a novice make-up artist improvising as he went along. The transfusion apparatus, in particular, looks authentic and those scenes look as if blood is actually being drained from victims. There’s a lot of blood, spurting from victims and stored in glass bottles as Bridget sees to it that her brother receives a regular supply.

The direction encourages actors to add nuance to their roles. Knight never overacts in a role that could have easily gone off the rails. Perryman’s Robin is more intelligent than the usual horror heroine, and she’s the character we root for the most. Her conversations with Larry reflect care and concern over a developing rift in their marriage and she’s clearly troubled. Young’s Lisa, when we first meet her, is happy to share some sex with a stranger, and never realizes the danger she’s in. Lisa later invites a friend, psychology student Terry (Christopher McDonald, The Hearse), to accompany her and Larry to the Black Room, which leads to some grim plot twists.

In many of the Dracula films, there’s a helper—the person who looks after the vampire’s coffin, lures victims, and protects the vampire by day, when the vampire is helpless. Vane has altered considerably the notion of vampire in The Black Room. Though Jason requires blood, he doesn’t mesmerize his victims and drink from their jugulars. He can thrive in daylight, doesn’t fear the crucifix, and doesn’t hunt down victims. Bridget, dedicated to her brother, is at Jason’s side to take care of his demanding needs.

The Black Room was shot by director of photography Robert Harmon on 35 mm film and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. According to information on the packaging, the Blu-ray is newly-scanned and restored in 4K from 35 mm negative elements. Though the film looks better than it has in TV prints and an old VHS tape, there are still problems. Surface dirt and scratches have been removed, but the film is very dark in places and images appear washed out. Even a scene set on the beach lacks vibrancy. The Black Room contains candles mounted on ornate candelabras, a table, and a bed. Walls are pitch black. Red dominates many scenes with blood running through transfusion tubes, stored in bottles, and oozing from wounds.

The soundtrack is English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD Master Audio. Dialogue is sufficiently understandable but lacks the clarity of more recent films. This may be due to the age of the film. The music, by James Ackley and Art Podell, is a deliberate, constant accompaniment to the weird happenings in the mansion and adds to the atmosphere of forbidden danger. Sound effects include the dripping of blood into glass containers, the whirring of transfusion machinery, footsteps of characters walking and running outside the mansion, car engines, and the moaning of victims.

Bonus materials on the Region Free Blu-ray release from Vinegar Syndrome include the following:

  • The Other Side of the Mirror (22:34)
  • Acting on Impulse (12:53)
  • Getting Revenge (20:49)
  • Blood and Black Room (15:41)
  • Working Their Asses Off (23:28)
  • Bodies of Work (30:43)

The Other Side of the Mirror – Director Elly Kenner notes that he had been in Hollywood for five years and attended parties where he made connections with various filmmakers. He majored in film at Boston University, worked as an editor, and directed commercials and short films. He read the script by Norman Thaddeus Vane and thought it was slow- paced. He felt everybody had sex with everybody, so the housewife, Robin, should remain pure. Kenner discusses casting and financing The Black Room. To save money, the production used “loose ends,” the remains of unused film stock reels to obtain 35 mm Kodak color film at bargain rates. Kenner was involved in the film’s pre-production. Through his contacts, he was able to secure a steadicam, a coup for a low-budget film. Steadicam was new at the time, and its ability to film continuous tracking shots contributed to the atmosphere of the film. The working relationship between Kenner and Vane was contentious. Vane wanted co-director credit and threatened that he’d scrap the production if he didn’t get it. When the film was finished, it was screened for potential distributors, but it took a long time to secure a distribution deal. After making The Black Room, Kenner worked on Israeli TV series.

Acting on Impulse – Actor Jimmy Stathis discusses how producer Norman Thaddeus Vane asked him to audition. Rehearsal was limited to going through a scene right before it was filmed. Vane was bored with his sex life and rented a room to bring girls to, just as in the film. Vane started out directing the picture, then Kenner came in and finished it. Both men allowed the actors to “do their thing.” Stathis remembers that shooting the film was fun.

Getting Revenge – In this interview with Claire Corfu (formerly Clara Berryman), the actress notes that she appeared in many TV episodes but left show business to get married. Her husband taught voice and worked regularly. She apprenticed with him for seven years before teaching herself. She was working on a play in Los Angeles when she was approached by Norman Thaddeus Vane to audition for The Black Room. She was thrilled to get the lead in a feature film. Everyone in the cast and crew was professional. She understood the character (Robin) she was playing. She comments on how good the restored version of the film looks.

Blood and Black Room – Special effects artist Mark Shostrom says he worked on The Black Room early in his career, when he had little experience. He was suggested to the producer by the film’s script supervisor. Vane was a major producer/director who was into the horror genre. Vane wanted him to do both make-up and special effects. At the time, Shostrom’s living room was his workshop. He talks about how he devised the transfusion scenes, the needle in the arm, and other effects. He used make-up master Dick Smith’s blood formula for The Black Room.

Working Their Asses Off – Production assistant Lisa Cronin notes that her father was the executive producer of The Black Room. He had been an engineer but got the show biz bug. She read the script and was asked by her father to help out. During production, things changed from the written script, more money was needed, and other problems arose. The producers tried to get George Chakiris (West Side Story) but he wasn’t available so they looked for a Chakiris lookalike, finally settling on Stephen Knight. They filmed at Ginger Rogers’ former Hollywood Hills home, built in 1927. Cronin’s tasks varied from reading with auditioning male actors to cooking and preparing meals and snacks for cast and crew. She was amazed at how long it takes to set up and film a single shot. She saw the film for the first time when it was released on VHS, and feels it gets better as it progresses, as the actors get a more secure handle on the characters they’re playing.

Bodies of WorkNightmare USA author Stephen Thrower speaks about The Black Room and the career of writer Norman Thaddeus Vane. Thrower provides a detailed biographical overview of Vane. He was from a family of Polish Jews from Long Island, New York. He changed the spelling of his last name from “Vein” to “Vane” and moved to California, writing for the theater and building a reputation as a playwright. He returned to the east coast and wrote his first play, The Penguin, in 1952. In 1956, his play Harbor Lights opened on Broadway but ran for only four performances. He moved to the UK, produced plays in small venues, and was known for hosting wild parties in London. He was married three times, the last time to a woman 21 years younger. Vane and Elly Kenner divided directing duties on The Black Room. Vane worked with the actors and Kenner took care of the technical aspects. The film spent a long time in post-production. Vane was not involved in its editing. The film never received a wide release. It played in California and New York but never built any momentum. Over the years, however, it has developed a cult following. Vane was difficult to work with. He and Kenner left on bad terms. According to Thrower, Vane “left a trail of unhappy relationships behind him.”

The Black Room pushed boundaries in the early 1980s with its frank depiction of kinky sex combined with horror in a variation of the vampire tale. The film is slow getting underway with an excess of unnecessary verbiage. Though literate, less dialogue would strengthen the story and make it more cinematic. With Vane as co-director, he may have been reluctant to trim his own screenplay. The film deals with the collapse of morals, the exploitation of sexual passion, and the consequences of exploring forbidden, erotic temptation. With plenty of blood and graphic imagery, it takes the viewer into a lurid fantasy world.

- Dennis Seuling