Jonathan Zarantonello, Paolo Guerrieri and Luiji Sardiello
Barbara Steele as Ann
Ray Wise as Nick
Erica Leerhsen as Claudia
Heather Langenkamp as Dorothy
Ellery Sprayberry as Julie
Julia Putnam as Alice
Camille Keaton as Olga
P.J. Soles as Lauren
Following 1981’s Butterfly (with Pia Zadora) and The Butterfly Effect (2004), Jonathan Zarantonello’s The Butterfly Room, with its overwrought melodrama, bad acting and silly plotting, completes a trinity of lepidopteran laugh riots. When screened at the Abertoir Horror Festival, viewers were left uncertain if the sight of Barbara Steele beating a crippled hooker with her own crutches was supposed to be funny. After all, how seriously can you take a picture where the horror legend breaks down a door while growling “I’m your mommy now”?
Steele plays the lonely, spinster-ish Ann who, when not obsessing over her butterfly collection, is a surrogate mother to a pair of local girls, one of whom has since disappeared. That Ann is both culpable and unstable becomes apparent when she kicks a ladder out from under one witness and later guarantees his permanent silence with a faceful of bugspray. She also has a grown daughter (whose identity we’re not privy to at first) given to hokey flashbacks of abuse at Steele’s hands, scenes that certainly weren’t intended to be amusing, but the staging is so incompetent, the acting so unbelievable and the drama so flat that it rivals I Know Who Killed Me for unintentional guffaws.
In fact, for all its dark undercurrents, the action was so badly handled by director/ co-writer Zarantonello that the whole sorry mess brought down the house. Apparently reaching for cult status with the (gimmick?) casting of Steele alongside the likes of Heather Langenkamp, Camille Keaton, James Karen, PJ Soles, Adrienne King and, in his first part since Beverly Hills Cop III, Joe Dante, this could become a camp classic, though it’s hard to say if that’s due to something being lost in translation. Zarantonello’s previous effort, 2003’s Uncut, was a bawdy Italian farce about a bed-ridden man’s attempts to roll some dough with every woman in his address book, though the explicit nudity provoked more disgust than laughter among critics. The Butterfly Roomis far tamer – and funnier.
Which is not to say that the film isn’t entertaining, just that it’s entertaining in a different way. Steele is fun to watch, too, whether she’s trashing a room, disposing of a corpse down an elevator shaft or informing a young girl her mother is a prostitute. Smart viewers will check their brains at the door.