Although Dante Tomaselli has only directed four features over the span of 13 years, I firmly believe the guy is one of the most refreshing and daring voices in the world of horror cinema. His surreal and challenging genre efforts are frequently hard to digest but always rewarding, which is why I was pleasantly surprised when his latest flick “Torture Chamber” finally bubbled to the surface. Like his previous endeavors, this one is well worth the wait.
A word of warning: Tomaselli’s “Torture Chamber” is definitely a slow burn. If you’re looking for something fast-paced and straightforward, then you’re definitely casting your lures into the wrong cinematic waters. The director seems more interested in presenting an intense visual story than a traditional narrative, a fact that may turn off some casual horror fans within the first 15 minutes. You really have to commit yourself to a Tomaselli flick.
Here’s the story in a nutshell: Jimmy Morgan is a burn victim who can control other people with the power of his mind. His brother Mark is a man of the cloth who wants to rid his troubled sibling of the satanic forces that seem to lurk beneath his skin. Much to everyone’s dismay, Jimmy escapes from a facility for the criminally insane with the help of some other deeply disturbed children. During their time on the town, they massacre several people in the bowels of an old castle that is littered with empty hallways and wicked torture devices.
That description really sells the film short. It’s hard to slap a traditional synopsis onto “Torture Chamber” since a lot of what you experience comes from Tomaselli’s slick visuals and punishing sound design. If you don’t have a decent sound system with substantial low-end capabilities, then some of the movie’s finer points will pass you by. Headphones are also recommended, though I’ve a feeling all the screaming will ultimately take its toll on your ears. Every filmmaker should pay this much attention to sound, as it really makes a difference when you’re trying to seriously freak people out.
Of course, “Torture Chamber” doesn’t come without a few problems. While most of the folks on-screen do a fine job with their respective roles, Vincent Pastore seems a little too cheesy for the rest of the film. His over-the-top performance sticks out like a sore thumb given the film’s dark and dreary demeanor, though he’s mercifully limited to only a handful of scenes. The story itself won’t win any awards for originality, but I truly believe the narrative is secondary to the overall experience. Tomaselli’s knack for weird and creepy visuals will ultimately make you forget all about the script’s shortcomings.
Last, but certainly not least, is the DVD cover. The distributor has saddled this flick with terrible artwork, something that’s become commonplace in the world of direct-to-video horror. “Absentia,” another fantastic slow burn experience, was also given a DVD cover that didn’t accurately capture the overall experience. Please don’t judge this one based on its atrocious cover. It deserves much better than that.
Although it’s essentially a torture flick featuring pint-sized antagonists, “Torture Chamber” is still a quality slice of low-budget terror. Dante Tomaselli is a master of his craft, a director who isn’t afraid to punish your senses with uncompromising visuals and a well-crafted, multi-layered sound design. If you don’t like slow horror flicks, then steer clear — “Torture Chamber” definitely moves at its own deliberate pace. However, those who require a little more from their genre flicks will find something deeply unnerving and downright scary. It’s hard to put your finger on what’s giving you a serious case of the creeps, but that’s part of the movie’s charm. I just hope we don’t have to wait so long between features next time.
Dante Tomaselli (director) / Dante Tomaselli (screenplay)
CAST: Vincent Pastore … Dr. Fiore
Christie Sanford … Mrs. Morgan
Lynn Lowry … Lisa Marino
Ron Millkie … Dr. Thompson
Carmen LoPorto … Jimmy Morgan
Richard D. Busser … Father Mark Morgan