FEARNET Movie Review: 'Torture Chamber'


Torture ChamberAbout ten years ago I came across a dark, strange indie film with the rather simple title of Horror. Although not much to speak of in a narrative sense, Horror was indicative of a filmmaker who was interested in more than traditional shocks and obvious scares. On a purely visual scale, Horror was pretty interesting stuff, and it seems like writer / director Dante Tomaselli is following a similar format with his rough, odd, and sometimes impressively disconcerting Torture Chamber.


Slightly reminiscent of Don Coscarelli's classic Phantasm in the way it favors off-kilter visuals and "nightmare logic" instead of a more traditional narrative, Torture Chamber is about a blind mother and her two sons: one is a good-hearted priest; the other is the second coming of Satan. (Makes you wonder if these brothers had the same dad.) Eventually the brothers meet head-to-head with the fate of all humanity (not to mention satanity) in the balance, but much of Torture Chamber is a barely-connected collection of dark and gloomy moments in which people scream in empty hallways, explore creepy corners, and get tossed into torture devices by a pack of wildly maniacal children. Yeah, Torture Chamber is also sort of a "killer kids" movie.

Those who are looking for a tight-fisted and fast-paced piece of "action" horror may find themselves bored before Torture Chamber hits the midway point. (Vincent Pastore's goofy performance as an exposition-spouting psychiatrist certainly doesn't help the film's frequently bleak tone, to name just one of the nagging issues.) But those who relish bizarre indie horror films that want to evoke uneasy and evocative scares instead of simply rehashing the same old stuff (in other words: open-minded horror geeks) may see what I saw in Horror back in 2003: Dante Tomaselli knows how to frame a creepy shot, and how to make an audience wait for the other shoe to drop. While it's tough to recommend Torture Chamber to the average viewer, it's still a messy, scrappy, sometimes silly horror film that occasionally taps into something old-school scary. 
Mr. Tomaselli seems to be considerably more skilled as a director than as a writer, but either way I'd be curious to see what horrors he could cook up with a few veteran collaborators and a half-decent budget.