I heard about The Butterfly Room – an American suspense thriller with an Italian sensibility, starring the British-born Barbara Steele – almost a year ago, and I’ve been waiting ever since on the proverbial pins and needles to see it.
Well, I got plenty of pins and needles in the squirm-inducing scenes involving the pinning of butterflies to specimen boards! Be sure to read my The Butterfly Room review for the details!
In a nutshell, it was well worth the wait.
I figured I’d be lucky to catch a streaming link somehow, never dreaming I’d actually get a personal invite from the film’s director to see it in a historical indie movie theater just down the street from my house – and what’s more, the regal Ms. Steele was in attendance!
She took part in a Q&A along with screen legend James Karen (who’s only in the movie for a couple of minutes, but he’s a joy to see). In spite of some serious spotlight-hogging from a long-winded, self-serving moderator (nope, not Elvis Mitchell – but almost as overstated!), we did manage to hear a few words from director Jonathan Zarantonello and his illustrious cast members.
Proceed with caution… spoilers lie in wait.
Jonathan Zarantonello: Well, the idea [for the movie] was to portray a mother and to make it as universal as possible. For example, there is a line in the movie that says, ‘It was so much better when you were younger; you were so much cuter when you were a kid.” And this is a line that Barbara says and that all the ladies in the movie say. So the idea was to portray, definitely, a killer as an unusual character but with some traits that may be common to mothers in general. And, as a matter of fact, at the end, when there’s the close-up with Heather and her daughter, yeah, of course she may have inherited something from her mother. She says the same line even when she touches the hair of her son, Matthew, ‘You were so much cuter when you were younger.’ So, once again, the same line… I was hoping that they would show us that motherhood sometimes cannot be that sweet and kind thing that we’re all used to, especially in the movies.
What I like to see in horror movies is the everyday life turned into something dark. Especially figures like little kids, beautiful children… and eerily gentle women who are portrayed in movies as victims or just as innocent people who will seem then as being evil. And Alice, I guess, is even more evil than Ann. She is manipulative and takes advantage of lonely ladies. So I wanted to show an evil side of something that usually is beautiful, and maybe that’s what butterflies are. Butterflies are usually a symbol of something that’s beautifulm and instead here it’s a symbol of death.
Barbara Steele: I think that all horror should be made in black and white. I think, essentially, that the psyche is actually more acute and more personal and more intense when things are black and white. Because I have a nostalgia for all those great film noirs as well from the Forties, etc., and the silence in them and the darkness. As far as I’m concerned, the films of today are just too hyper-lit and everything is just too excruciating and so you don’t have to reach into anything. It’s all thrown in your face like acid. But working with Jonathan was a very civilized experience because he’s very civilized. I think that Jonathan made a very quirky, clever, original film.
JZ: Once Barbara decided to make the movie, [she] basically made my life much happier because, I mean, I’ve seen her when I was growing up. I saw her movies, and being able to have her in the movie and being able to see her on set saying lines that I’ve written has been a tremendous privilege.
James Karen: The most important thing is, all we’ve got left today are our performances because the enhancement and all the machinery, that’s not what counts. What counts is what the director can give to the actor to produce something wonderful that’s on the screen. And I just spent three days at the Turner Classic movie festival; we’ve seen an awful lot of pictures, and really, it’s all in the performances and not in the mise-en-scène, and what we saw tonight was the performance of a great actress and nothing else counts.
JZ: The idea was more general to show that even the lady who solved the problem of the movie basically, killing the killer, may become a killer herself. Not particularly because she was her daughter but just because sometimes, when you were a kid it was much easier, those lies reveal some madness that could be in everybody.
I grew up with [Dario] Argento’s movies. All the details when she cuts the butterfly and then she cuts the fabric in her butterfly room, those are somehow Argento homages. Of course he’s been so inspirational for generations of directors in Italy. Growing up and watching all those movies, even if you don’t want to, you make references because they are so much inside of us.
You’ll find full screening information over on The Butterfly Room‘s official website!
Also starring are P.J. Soles, Adrienne King, Erica Leerhsen, and Camille Keaton.
Ann, a reclusive, elegant lady with an obsession for butterflies, is surprisingly befriended by the eerily beautiful young Alice. Using her seductive innocence, Alice establishes a disturbing mother-daughter relationship with Ann. Lured into her twisted world, Ann soon discovers that she is not the only recipient of the girl’s affections.
Confronted by Alice’s other lady friends, Ann’s shock awakens a dark, hidden past, unchaining a spiral of madness: a series of brutal and bizarre crimes that Ann will have to commit to preserve her harmless and deceptive appearances. The only one who recognizes there’s something unsettling about Ann is nine-year-old Julie, her next-door neighbor’s daughter.
With the inevitable curiosity of a child, Julie begins to explore the corners of Ann’s apartment, discovering a dark secret hidden in the walls of the forbidden butterfly room. No one believes what she’s seen except for Ann’s estranged daughter, Dorothy. Horrified, she realizes that the fate of the young girl lies in her hands. To save both Julie and herself, she must summon up the courage to confront an evil that has haunted her for years.
With special effects created by Academy Award winning AFX Studio and elegant and refined visuals, in contrast with the sickness of the story, The Butterfly Room is an all-female story, an American thriller with a European soul.
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