Room 37: The Mysterious Death of Johnny Thunders – USA, 2019 – reviews

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Room 37: The Mysterious Death of Johnny Thunders is a 2019 American horror feature film written and directed by the Cordero Brothers. The movie stars Leo Ramsey, Devin McGregor Ketko, Timothy Lee DePriest and Jason Lasater.

Plot:

Famed rock and roll guitarist Johnny Thunders arrives in New Orleans to begin a new chapter of his life by following a new musical sound and staying clean from drugs in order to see his kids again.

After he settles into the St. Peter’s Guest House Hotel, things start to go awry. His room is robbed which contained the last of his money and his only methadone supply.  Johnny’s journey to recovery quickly turns dark when he takes desperate measures to get better, all which propel him deeper into the chaos that ultimately leads to his unexplained mysterious final hours…

Review:

Most movies that blend horror with rock’n’roll turned out regrettable camp-fests with stuff like guitar-wielding zombies (even Brian de Palma had to play it semi-satirical when he offered one of the more upscale specimens, Phantom of the Paradise). With Room 37, in its better moments, the sibling directing team of Fernando Cordero Caballero and Vicente Cordero tap instead into psychological phantasms like Kubrick’s The Shining and the Coen Brothers’ Barton Fink for a low-budget what-if riffing on a real-life tragedy in the music world.

Room 37 focuses on the still-shadowy 1991 death in New Orleans of John Anthony Genzale, aka `Johnny Thunders’ of the glam-proto-punk outfit the New York Dolls. In retrospect, it’s hard to imagine a band more suited for “curse” gossip, given the casualty rate of being a Doll (of course, more than a dozen hard-living folks filled out the Doll’s lineup over time); early on there was the drug-related asphyxiation of New York Dolls drummer Billy Murcia. Later, bassist ArthurKiller’ Kane succumbed to leukaemia, after having detoxified (and become a clean-living, devout Mormon, a saga related in the documentary New York Doll). Another drummer, Jerry Nolan, would die from a stroke a year after Thunders’ demise.

Thunders, who would leave the Dolls to perform solo and with his own combo, The Heartbreakers, also wrestled with sobriety and apparently spent his final days teetering around the Crescent City in unknown circumstances (reminiscent of macabre writer Edgar Allen Poe’s final, fatal binge in the 19th century). It is apparently still uncertain whether he ultimately perished from a narcotics relapse or leukaemia that had long escaped diagnosis…or foul play of some sort.

In the movie, Leo H. Ramsey plays the rocker, battling addiction as he checks into a seedy French Quarter hotel, in a bid to stay straight long enough to see his little daughter, kept from the rocker in a custody fight. The inn is a creepy place, heavy with menace and faded old wallpaper, and Thunders is informed that the person in the adjacent room is only an old lady confined to a wheelchair. Yet, straightaway the musician finds his methadone missing – apparently stolen by the old invalid woman after all.

That sends the fragile guy off the edge. As he tries to secure help from unsympathetic local doctors and authorities, the former New York Doll succumbs to episodes of eerie paranoia, deranged visions and apparitions, including the waterlogged ghost of Billy Murcia (here stated to have died in an intoxicated bathtub drowning) and a recurring bayou-redneck pusher with a homicidal temper. Nobody else seems able to perceive the strangeness engulfing Thunders except for a female hotelier in simpatico with the “Voodoo” dark-magic ambience of the town.

In the end, the filmmakers offer a non-paranormal explanation for the weird events – and it’s an old one that was a wheeze when Chris Columbus and Steven Spielberg employed it to explain away the supernatural in Young Sherlock Holmes. Yet, the material casts an effective spell while it lasts. Although, with horror-genre competition from the downmarket likes of pop-music shockers such as Terror on Tour (1980) and Black Roses (1988), material here can’t help but come out ahead.

I have been blessed with editors in the film-reviewing racket who are far more attuned than I am with this rock’n’roll music you young people so enjoy nowadays. And it is possible they could pick Room 37 apart, as poor musicology, or as chiller-theatre exploitation of an ill-fated performing artist whose bereaved admirers and family should be righteously indignant. As personified by suitably doom-haunted-looking Ramsey, there’s little to the film’s Johnny Thunders that the backstory does not provide, but not much I would say is demeaning or defaming either, given the plot that ultimately makes Johnny the victim of a conspiracy more so than intrinsically damned. But then again, I am tone-deaf to such things (and have heard classical-music critics condemn Amadeus, the play and the film, as tabloid-trashing of Mozart).

In any case, the distributor also markets a concert film with Thunders and his own band, The Heartbreakers, in performance in Madrid (plus an unrelated rock-themed occult shocker The 27 Club, trailered as extras on both the Blu-ray and the DVD. The deluxe edition adds a full soundtrack CD, with audio featuring Thunders himself and fellow New York Dolls Sylvain Sylvain and Walter Lure.

Charles Cassady Jr., MOVIES & MANIA

Other reviews:

“While the plot of Room 37: The Mysterious Death of Johnny Thunders takes on a few random mind-bending fantastical scenarios, it does base itself in the time and place it exists in reality appropriately. Additionally, one aspect of the movie that is consistent is its metaphorical use of song titles and band references in the dialogue.” Cryptic Rock

Room 37: The Mysterious Death of Johnny Thunders is a can’t miss flick, especially if you love punk rock and suspense-packed dark thrillers in equal measure; it’s acted to perfection, filled with unforgettable imagery, and packed with surprising emotion.” Horror Fuel

Release:

Cleopatra Entertainment will debut the film worldwide on all VOD platforms on May 21, 2019.

Cast and characters:

  • Leo Ramsey … Johnny Thunders
  • Devin McGregor Ketko … Iris
  • Timothy Lee DePriest … Skaggs
  • Jason Lasater … Eagle
  • Jonny Sculls … Tony the Cat
  • Jimbo Barnett … Jimbo
  • Robert Fleet … Doctor
  • Claude Duhamel … Bartender
  • Kelly Erin Decker … Hospital Receptionist
  • Tyler Tackett … Billy Murcia / Death
  • Sylvain Sylvain … Sylvain Sylvain (voice)
  • Socorro Jones … Namira
  • Kevin Preston … Rock Band Singer
  • Michael Jude Murphy … Cliff
  • Sherry Weston … Upset Lady

Technical details:

100 minutes

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