Torture Chamber (2012)
by Troy Howarth
Directed by Dante Tomaselli
Starring Vincent Pastore, Christie Sanford, Richard D. Busser, Carmen LoPorto, Lynn Lowry, Ron Millkie
A deeply religious woman inflicts psychological scars on her two children. The older of the two, Mark, goes on to become a priest, while Jimmy is horribly burned in an accident and inflicts terror on everybody who encounters him. The child is locked away but displays an ability to start fires and inflict harm without lifting a finger. When he escapes, Dr. Fiore and Mark must attempt to find him before he succeeds in his mission of destroying his mother and anybody who gets in his way…
Beginning with Desecration (1999), independent filmmaker Dante Tomaselli has established himself as a distinctive voice in the modern horror film. Working on small budgets and outside of the studio system, Tomaselli explores deeply personal neuroses and obsessions in the context of commercial horror subjects. Over the course of several films – Horror (2003), Satan’s Playground (2006) and now Torture Chamber – the filmmaker has grown in style and ability while refusing to compromise his very personal and very idiosyncratic vision.
On the surface, it would seem fair to suggest that Tomaselli has learned much from the dreamy Italian horror films of the 1960s and 70s, but it would be unfair to suggest that he is a mere imitator. Tomaselli’s approach is deliberately stylized but while he doesn’t shy away from visceral shocks, he doesn’t go in for the type of over the top grand guignol effects that one would expect to see in a film by, say, Lucio Fulci or even the latter-day Dario Argento. The violence is rough when it occurs, but the film is more of a mood piece on the whole, juxtaposing the dreamworld with reality in such a way as to erase the boundary between the two altogether. Tomaselli’s characters don’t act like real human beings simply because they’re not functioning in a realistic milieu dictated by concerns of logic. If anything, they are pawns in a nightmarish dreamscape where anything can happen – and very often does.
Torture Chamber builds upon the director’s earlier work and emerges as his most consistently accomplished film to date. Production values are very good. Makeup and effects are kept practical and old school, which is a major plus, and the various shock sequences are handled with a flair for the tactile which proves all the more effective in context. The performances are quite good here, in contrast to the sometimes stilted performances found in, say, Desecration and Horror. Child actor Carmen LoPorto does an impressive job as the monstrous Jimmy, while Christie Sanford is convincing as the religious zealot mother unknowingly causes the tragedy. Name value is provided by Vincent Pastore (The Sopranos) and Lynn Lowery (I Drink Your Blood), both of whom give depth and gravitas to their characters. Tomaselli’s excellent use of sound adds to the claustrophic, nightmarish vibe. Viewers looking for a more straight-forward, linear approach to storytelling may find Tomaselli’s elliptical approach a little hard to warm to, but in a genre currently overloaded with bland remakes and endless sequels, Torture Chamber offers a refreshing alternative.
Torture Chamber makes its home video from Cinedigm. The region 1 disc is presented in the appropriate 1.85 aspect ratio and has been enhanced for widescreen TVs. The transfer is clean and colorful, with strong detail and no distracting authoring defects to report. It’s a shame that they didn’t elect to give the film a Blu-ray release, as well, as the striking colors would have looked particularly impressive in that format, but even so – this is a handsome presentation.
Audio options include a 2.0 stereo track and a 5.1 surround track. Both tracks are in excellent shape, with the latter in particular having an added kick that really shows off Tomaselli’s intricate sound design. Captioning options are included.
This is where the release really falls down: Tomaselli has recorded some very good commentary tracks in the past, but for whatever reason he does not get a chance to do a commentary for this one… there isn’t even so much as an interview featurette. All you get is a still gallery.
Film: ***1/2 out of *****
Video: ****1/2 out of *****
Audio: ****1/2 out of *****
Extras: * out of *****