The Butterfly room is a glossy, but very grim thriller come gore movie which heralds a return to the big screen for vintage scream queen Barbara Steele.
Beneath the movies visceral and dark exterior lies an even more sinister and unsettling undertone. Steele plays an aged, and somewhat unbalanced spinster. Throughout the movie we understand that her raising of a children doesn’t quite follow standard practice, she has an unhealthy obsession with butterfly samples and that her need to feel loved and to nurture go beyond any sane limits. It isn’t, however, until she is rather oddly befriended by a child looking to exploit this very extreme of mothering needs, that we see a frighteningly engaging rendition of how the mind will form justifications for the most extreme acts so long as its desires are satisfied. By the time this woman is finished you won’t be able to view that nice old lady across the street in the same light!
The plot spirals well beyond anything cliché - believe me! The strong, but unlikely lead character, only adds to the refreshing feel that ‘the Butterfly Room’ is going to be remembered as a bit of a sleeper hit for many years to come. Steele is supported by a range of horror heavyweights including ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’s’ Heather Langenkamp, Erica Leershen (‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’) and Adrienne King (Alice, the counsellor who ended Mrs Voorhees’s murder spree in ‘Friday the 13th’, ‘Carries’’ P.J. Soles and ‘I Spit on your Grave’s’ Camille Keaton. Putting the XY into the cast is always constant Ray Wise. This sort of roster is no accident; this movie is cult to the core.
The script is tight, real in themes, but with an unnerving edge of surrealism that ensures the viewer is engaged and kept in a constant state of tension. The atmosphere is dark, really dark. The cinematography helps to ensure that this theme is reinforced visually using a bland, clinical pallet of colours and ensuring that the screen maintains a dim, washout look throughout. Skilfully the blacks of the movie are possibly the most striking tone, contrasting the pale skin tones of all lead characters and locations. This attention to the artistic details confirms to me, that for once, the promotion of the movie taking on the looks and feel of my favourite European Giallo movies can be reported as true. For an American movie it is strikingly subtle.
The story is quite easy to follow, although it covers a breath-taking amount of ground before it reaches its conclusion. When compared to many recent one dimensional horror releases it is a movie which perhaps benefits from a more mature audience. Its interwoven reliance on adult themes, both emotional and physical, are perhaps more appealing to viewers who want to have a film get under their skin, enjoy the full experience, rather than the instant gratification form jump scares or gruesome dismemberment.
That’s not to say ‘The Butterfly Room’ doesn’t have its fair share of gore and kills. She might not sport a hockey mask, or wield a weapon fiercer than an icy glaze, but fuck me is she resourceful. Literally, I was as shocked as the victims, her whole apartment makes the Bates motel seem like a relaxing get-away! Drugging, acid, stabbing, dismemberment - it’s all in there, and the most shocking thing - it was all horrifically feasible! Effects look amazing, and as with all thrillers these set pieces are completely gripping, always with an edge that she might get caught, and in some cases it even seems that the targeted victim might manage to get away should they make the right choice! - Naturally they seldom do, but it all adds to the sport!
Overall, ‘The Butterfly’ room was for me the highlight of Grimmfest. It’s a movie which hasn’t left me since, and I cannot wait until its Blu-ray release. There is bit of dodgy acting (mainly from the kids), and it’s far too dark to be classed as anything near mainstream, but this doesn’t detract from what is an almost flawless example of when US pacing meets European cinematography. The story is well crafted and gripping, Barbara Steele is mind-blowingly cruel, helming one hell of an emotional rollercoaster. What’s in the Butterfly room? pray as a parent you never find out..