Persian Mug: Red Room (1992)

Dave spends some time scratching his head at this little-seen obscurity from the legendary Tony Zarindast.

“It was like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974),” mused writer-director Tony Zarindast, on the reason why his early ‘90s thriller, RED ROOM, remained unreleased in the United States. “I haven’t been able to sell it here because of the violence. There is a necrophilia scene too, which is both very erotic and very sexy.” [1]

It’s an interesting assertion from the filmmaker – except I’d be more inclined to suggest that its absence from video stores was purely down to the fact that it’s quite awful.

Considered by many to be the ‘Persian Ed Wood’, Zarindast was born in Iran (as Mohammad Zarrindast) in the early ‘30s, and after shooting a dozen or so movies in his homeland, he scored a long-awaited breakthrough in America with The Guns and the Fury (1981), a Cairo-lensed adventure with Peter Graves and Cameron Mitchell. Ever the cinematic pickpocket, he spent the late ’80s on a couple of Cannon riffs in the form of Death Flash (1986) and the outlandish Hardcase and Fist (1989), then the following decade pushed him in the direction of the erotic thriller.

Sort of.

For all intents and purposes, Red Room does begin with a form of neon-laced urban erotica that wouldn’t seem out of place in a Gregory Dark movie. Not that we’re privy to what’s actually going on, as it’s twenty minutes until Zarindast bothers with any exposition, revealing there’s a serial killer on the prowl and that he could be responsible for the disappearance of seven women. The suspicions of the cops lie at the door of fashion photographer Ray Richmond (Charles D. Cherrier [2]) – but with an occasional glimpse of the killer teasing black gloves and a blonde wig, surely the police have the wrong man in their sights?

Before you can say ‘Brian De Palma’, one of their own (Det. Seymour, played by Mariana Morgan) has slipped undercover in an attempt to unmask the perp, and everything seems rather conventional. However, this being a Tony Zarindast film, it should come as no surprise when, after an hour, the entire production up sticks, heads to Nevada, and morphs into a rural-set slice of Hicksploitation with a mummified mom [3], backwards brother, and a delirious dad who’s certainly no Jim Siedow.

‘Never dull’ would be the closest you could come to giving Red Room a compliment, but from a technical and creative perspective there’s little to endorse. A jack-of-all-trades, Zarindast proves that editing is his weakest skill – although screenwriting isn’t far behind with a litany of lines that land with a clunk (“Have you ever seen a film called The Terminator? Well, I’ll be back.”). Its cut-and-shut demeanour will confound anyone walking into this cold, but if you’ve already encountered this plucky Iranian, then you may well enjoy shaking your head in disbelief for a hundred minutes.

Not to be put off by the lack of sales for his erot-hicka venture, Zarindast hit pay dirt three years later with Werewolf (1995). Frequently a permanent fixture in IMDb’s Bottom 100 [4], and riffed mercilessly on Mystery Science Theatre 3000, it was the late Middle-Eastern mogul who had the last laugh. His lycanthrope horror cost $350,000, but sold in excess of 40,000 video tapes – which is the equivalent of $1.5million in revenue – while he bagged a cool $1million for the foreign rights as well.

USA ● 1992 ● Erotic Thriller ● 100mins

Charles D. Cherrier, Mariana Morgan, Joel Weiss, Hal Shafer ● Dir./Wri. Tony Zarindast

[1] ‘The Last (Low-Budget) Action Hero? Interview with Tony Zarindast’ by Robert W. Welkos, Los Angeles Times, 8th August 1999
[2] Cherrier is actually a real-life professional photographer, having graduated from the Conde School in Lyon, France – although his field of expertise in animals, not ambitious twenty-somethings looking for a centre-spread in ‘Playtime’.
[3] The impressively made-up mother was an early outing for one-third of KNB, Greg ‘Nicky’ Nicotero, as he’s credited.
[4] IMDb’s Bottom 100 now demands films to have had ratings from ten thousand users in order to qualify for a place in this list, meaning that under the new regulations Werewolf is five and a half thousand short.

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