Review by: Dave Wain
Stars: Barbara Steele, Heather Langenkamp, Adrienne Shelley, Ray Wise, Erica Leerhsen
Written by: Jonathan Zarantonello
UK Certification: 15
UK RRP: £9.99
UK DVD Region: 2
Runtime: 84 minutes
Directed by: Jonathan Zarantonello
UK Release Date: 10th February 2014
So as the resident UKHS reviewer of all things DTV, my week usually begins with the requisite stash of newbies being delivered followed by the inevitable sort out of what to attack first. This week sees a film called The Butterfly Room released, and what makes this movie stand out is the name above the title – for I’m pretty sure the name Barbara Steele hasn’t graced top billing in a movie release for almost 50 years. The Birkenhead born actress is rightly considered an icon from performances in genre defining films such as Black Sunday, so this movie regardless of its quality presented itself as quite an exciting proposition.
If the presence of Ms Steele wasn’t enough, the supporting cast reads like a who’s who of legendary genre performers. We have Heather Langenkamp (Elm Street), Adrienne King (Friday 13th), Ray Wise (Twin Peaks), Camille Keaton (I Spit on Your Grave) and 89 year old James Karen! (Return of the Living Dead). All fawning aside, let me tell you about the movie. We begin in leafy suburbia where we find Ann (Barbara Steele) in her apartment. As a favour she takes in the neighbour’s child, Julie (Ellery Strayhorn) who is left in the hallway waiting for her mother to come home. While they wait, Ann takes great pleasure in showing the Julie her butterfly collection, especially the killing jar which she seems bewitched by with an air of sinister enthusiasm unbecoming of a septuagenarian.
The reason for Ann’s current sinister demeanour is told via flashback where we see her meeting Alice (Julia Putnam), a child who initially carries an air of innocence, but as the bond between them grows closer we find that young Alice has only extortion in mind, something which sets Ann off on a spiral of madness. Ann has long since been estranged from her own daughter whom she rejected as she began the path to adulthood, so seems desperate to re-enact another mother / daughter relationship. With Julie’s mother out of town for a few days Ann has the opportunity to look after her, but with her mental state severely frayed as well as a fractious chance meeting with her real daughter (Heather Langenkamp), not to mention the whereabouts of Alice, we build to an unsettling and bloody climax.
The psycho-biddy sub-genre has been a little quiet of late, and the industry is worse off for that. In The Butterfly Room, the casting of 74 year old Barbara Steele is an act of genius. Far too often these days actors, but mainly actresses are being pensioned off by the time they reach 50 when they have more class, ability and screen presence in their fingernails that most busty twenty-something’s do. She is brilliant, and is such a sinister presence in what it a great little movie. Its Italian director injects a notable level of style from his homeland, and the movie plays out in quite an old-fashioned style – but I say that with the greatest respect as it’s what gives the film its intensity.
The supporting cast are of course excellent, particularly Heather Langenkamp as Ann’s daughter – if only she’d do more movies. Ray Wise also has a relatively prominent role as the apartment handyman and is as memorable as always. With the aforementioned other notables in the cast there’s always a danger of star spotting dominating the movie as opposed to the actual narrative. Here though the cameos are nicely navigated and rarely get in the way of things. The Butterfly Room is a rarity as what it’s done has taken the 21st century horror rulebook of predictability, ripped it up and created a sinister tale of maternal control and feverish obsession that is dripping in class thanks to a terrific central performance.
7 out of 10