Released by: Gaiam
Released on: January 28th, 2014.
Director: Dante Tomaselli
Cast: Vincent Pastore, Ron Millkie, Carmen LoPorto, Ellie Pettit, Lynn Lowry
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Anyone familiar with Dante Tomaselli’s previous three features (Desecration, Horror and Satan’s Playground) knows that he’s a filmmaker who often lets visuals speak where dialogue cannot. That’s not to say he goes for style over substance, in fact he’s quite an adapt storyteller, but it is fair to say that his aesthetic places more importance on mood and frequently surreal atmosphere than on snappy banter or one-liners. As such, his films might not be as accessible as your typical slasher picture or zombie movie but for those with a taste for something different, his movies are always something to look forward to. Which brings us to his latest effort, Torture Chamber, a movie that might sound like it should be lumped in with the Hostel or Saw pictures (the cover art does it no favors in this regard) but which is actually a film ripe with religious iconography that deals with possession and the power of what one’s personal upbringing and theology can suggest to influence a fragile mind.
The story revolves around a teenage boy named Jimmy Morgan (Carmen LoPorto), a burn victim whose face is horribly disfigured, Jimmy’s mother (Christie Sanford) is a devoutly religious woman who truly believes that her youngest son is an instrument of Satan and so she keeps him locked in a cage. Given that Jimmy seems to have some unusual mind control abilities, maybe she’s not so far off in her reasoning. Jimmy’s older brother, Mark (Richard D. Busser), is an ordained Catholic priest who decides that the right thing to do would be to rid Jimmy of whatever it is that tortures him, but Jimmy winds up being institutionalized under the care of Doctor Fiore (Vincent Pastore).
Things go from bad to worse when Jimmy and a few other kids make it out of the mental hospital and make their way across town with murder and mayhem on their minds. Their base of operations is the basement of the old tower, which still houses many of the antiquated instruments of torture that once made it a real life house of horror. Mark and Doctor Fiore race to get Jimmy back under control before he can kill, but there’s much more to all of this than either of them truly realize.
Nicely shot in a way that enhances the film’s interesting locations and eerie atmosphere, Torture Chamber also excels in its excellent use of sound. It’s all too frequent that horror pictures concentrate on imagery over aural tension and to be fair, Tomaselli really does do great work with the visuals in this picture, but the sound design is never short-shifted. As such, the score suits the movie perfectly while clever directional effects ensure that the effects add to the strange aura that the movie creates in just the right way. The fact that the director avoids the use of digital effects and goes the practical route here is also appreciated, as it just helps to further build on the strange tone that the movie conjures up.
Performances are pretty solid here. Though Vincent Pastore does occasionally go a little overboard but otherwise does a fine job as the ‘Loomis’ to LoPorto’s Michael. As the main antagonist in the picture, LoPorto is quite effective. He’s under a lot of makeup for much of the movie and frequently hiding behind an eerie tribal mask but he uses body language well and is convincing in his take on the Jimmy character. Busser and Sanford are also solid here, and look for a good supporting role by Lynn Lowry as a painter and another from B-movie siren Raine Brown.
Though the picture is a violent one it never feels gratuitous. The deaths and gore scenes that occur in the movie suit the story well and not only help to propel the narrative but to up the tension factor as well. Though the structure of the picture is non-linear and more dreamlike than realistic, it suits the story Tomaselli tells and also gels rather well with the movie’s style. In short, the technique on display here is very strong and while the movie might take fifteen minutes or so to start coming together and the pacing may be very deliberate, if you’re willing to stick with this one it proves to be quite effective and equally intriguing.
Torture Chamber was shot on digital video so the 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen framing makes sense. The film is a dark one but shadow detail is pretty decent and there are only minor compression artifacts evident in some of the really dark scenes. Most of the movie transfers to DVD quite well, the picture is crisp and clean and it boasts good color reproduction and lifelike skintones.
The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix is solid and it does an admirable job of spreading out the score and relaying some strong directional effects. There are no alternate language options or subtitles available but an English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track is also included.
Extras are slim, limited to a still gallery, static menus and chapter selection.
The Final Word:
Torture Chamber is another interesting and unique entry in Tomaselli’s slow expanding filmography and it’s very much in keeping with his earlier works while at the same time allowing him to break new thematic ground. This is a well-made picture, deliberately paced and frequently surreal, challenging even, and it’s definitely worth tracking down if you have a taste for the stranger side of horror.