J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Black Room: Natasha Henstridge Faces Temptation

How sad is it when people get possessed in Ouija movies just because they were playing a commercially produced board game? At least victims of the “us” demons (succubus and incubus) get a little gratification before damnation. That is the sort of entity that lurks in the basement of the Hemdales’ new home. They are in for a scorching hot time and it not just because of their overheating boiler in Rolfe Kanefsky’s ridiculously silly, shamelessly horny The Black Room (trailer here), which opens this Friday in Los Angeles.

As soon as Paul and Jennifer Hemdale move into their amazingly affordable new house, strange things start happening. You might ask what “strange” means in this context. Let’s just say when you see Natasha Henstridge orgasming from the vibrations of a demonically possessed washing machine, you know you haven’t walked into a long-lost Val Lewton film.

Apparently, the previous owner sacrificed herself to save her granddaughter from the demon lurking within the hidden room in the basement. Of course, why she would let the nubile teen sleep over knowing there was a sex demon barely contained downstairs is such a blindingly obvious question, we keep asking it throughout the film.

Before long, the entity is making the Hemdales all hot and bothered, while sowing dissension through their resulting misunderstandings. Soon, it flat out possesses Paul, just in time for the arrival of Jennifer’s obnoxious gothy, occulty little sister. She ought to realize something is off about Paul’s outrageously sexualized behavior. Unfortunately, Jennifer will have to face it on her own, with only the counsel of the still defiant grandmother’s spirit for help.

Every time you assume this film can’t possibly go any further over the top, it goes and does something even more nuts. Its spectacles of infernal orgies are neither erotic or scary, but they are a sight that must be seen to be believed. Forget logic, forget modesty, and just hang on and try to enjoy the ride as this train wreck of a film careens off the bridge.

Henstridge from Species still looks like a scream queen sex symbol, which is obviously why Kanefsky cast her. Somehow, she manages to stay relatively grounded and maintain the shreds of her dignity, washing machines notwithstanding. In contrast, Lukas Hassel understandably figures the only way out is to fight fire with fire. “Scenery chewing” doesn’t even begin to describe his outrageously flamboyant turn as Paul Hemdale. Apparently, the mania was contagious, because even the typically reliable horror film stalwart Lin Shaye sounds wacky and forced as Grandma Black. Oh and by the way, Tiffany Shepis plays Monica the realtor in what might be the film’s most restrained performance.

It is impossible to recommend a film like The Black Room, but if you see it now, you will reference it for years to come. It is just so weird and smarmy, it is hard to believe it actually exists—and yet it does. Words fail when The Black Room opens this Friday (4/28) at the Laemmle Music Hall in La La Land.

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