Political intrigue, double-crossing and dodgy sexual shenanigans are afoot at the Midlothian Hotel in the sadly ill-fated, not to mention ridiculously long-awaited, offering from the creators of that rough diamond, Revenge of Billy the Kid.
Any fans of 1991’s filthy Brit gem, Revenge of Billy the Kid, will have been eagerly awaiting the follow-up from the same team…and waiting, and waiting, and waiting, as this production has proved to be a real labour of love, beset as it has been by an unbelievable amount of setbacks. However, perseverance won out and 2002 saw the eventual release of their second and unrelated film, Room 36, and, although unrelated, there are a lot of touches from Billy that we know and love (and vaguely remember) still thankfully intact.
Room 36 is quite an ambitious departure from the aforementioned Revenge of Billy the Kid, with Director, Jim Groom and Producer, Tim Dennison at the helm once more, this time for a far more complex Noir pastiche. In a rather bizarre mix, a comedy of errors leads the way for a murderously dark thriller where a mistaken room number sets in motion a disastrous chain of events. Set in London, the action takes place almost entirely in the Midlothian Hotel, a downmarket and mildly sleazy hovel which brings together workers, lovers, and, in the case of Room 36, enemies with a shared business interest. Not-all-that-good hitman, Connor (Paul Herzberg,) has a rendezvous with stern MP, Woods (Portia Booroff,) the deal; her potentially government destroying film in return for a case of lovely cash. In a much more amusing and ingenious plot device than the old ‘upside-down number’ chestnut, Connor’s visitor and the visitor of another guest (the wonderfully repulsive Dick Armstrong, played to perfection by Frank Scantori) become muddled and so begins this dark comedy/thriller with all its terrible repercussions.
What a strange film Room 36 is; with its happily peculiar mix of Carry On humour, tinges of horror, and brooding noir it’s nothing if not different. Possibly the strangest thing, however, is that it actually works, sometimes better than others, admittedly, but still, it works. Not only that but it serves as a good reminder that the UK can produce something more original than the recent rut of footie films, period dramas, East End gangster flicks and other assorted depressing grimness that we seem to have become stuck in. It is a real shame that the production was hit so badly with problems as it cannot help but have hindered the final product. That said, this film still holds up remarkably well. David Read is on hand once more as cinematographer making a grand job with their specially sourced, grainy black and white stock, heightening the violence with stark red of the (much splattered) blood and the seediness with the enhanced brown of the wandering cockroaches.
Apart from the odd touch, stylization is thankfully low, allowing much of the noir feel to seep in from the brooding atmosphere of the dark deeds afoot. Similarly, rather than relying on parody to fuel the humour, Groom has opted once more for the style of comedy unique to this team. The humour is silly, child-like and grubby, just like its predecessor, but don’t saddle up your High Horse just yet as it is genuinely distinctive and amusing. Unfortunately, the comic elements work better than the serious ones as these guys have a real knack for the humour, with the thriller aspects coming over less well. As the main characters, Connor and Woods, though embedded in something far more deadly and complex, never seem as interesting or as enjoyable to watch as those who have less screen time. With the occasional touches of unpleasantly delicious Lynchian surrealism mixed with some Carry On humour, it’s the moments with the supporting characters that make this film. Dick Armstrong is a particularly wonderful creation who certainly has more than a little of the grotesque about him, and it is his repulsive character along with the surrealism of the hum-drum life of the working-class Londoners that give this film it’s edge in content to complement it’s striking visual style.
Well worth the wait, this dark comedy/noir is a British film to be proud of.