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Posts Tagged ‘Dante Tomaselli’

Torture Chamber: DVD Review

Sunday, February 9th, 2014

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…

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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.

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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.

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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 *****

Dante Tomaselli On The Torture Chamber – An Interview By Troy Howarth

Saturday, July 24th, 2010

Dante Tomaselli On The Torture Chamber – An Interview By Troy Howarth 

The name Dante Tomaselli should be familiar to fans of off-beat horror cinema. In a genre dominated by cookie cutter sequels, remakes, reboots, re-imaginings and regurgitations, he is something of an anomaly. For one thing, he is devoted to the genre – horror, for Tomaselli, is not a stepping stone to “bigger and better things” – it’s a means of exploring his own fears and fantasies. For another, he couldn’t care less about the current trends.

He made his initial ripple in the horror “community” with Desecration, a slice of delirium bathed in Catholic guilt; he expanded the picture from a short subject, and it turned a few heads even if it didn’t qualify as a runaway hit. Tomaselli followed it with Horror (2002) and Satan’s Playground (2006), but he’s had some difficulty in securing financing for subsequent projects. Fortunately for his fans, however, he’s back with a vengeance with Torture Chamber. The storyline is simple enough – a possessed 13-year-old boy escapes from an asylum and discovers an old abandoned castle with a secret passageway to a cobwebbed torture chamber – but story, for Tomaselli, has always been a starting point. His films are more about mood and atmosphere, and a look at his previous films reveals a growing maturity which should be even more evident in this latest effort.


Torture Chamber follows on the heels of The Ocean, an apocalyptic horror story that very nearly came to fruition in 2007. The multi-talented Tomaselli – who typically writes and scores his own films, a la John Carpenter (an admitted influence) – is showing no signs of slowing down, either; in addition to The Ocean, he’s also interested in making a film about the Salem Witch Trials.

Whatever one thinks of Tomaselli’s films – to say that they tend to divide viewers is an understatement – there’s no denying that his vision is personal and unique. Tomaselli sat down with us to talk about his latest project, which promises to be his rawest, most visceral picture to date.

Troy Howarth: How long has it been since your last picture?

Dante Tomaselli: I finished Satan’s Playground in 2005 and it was released by Anchor Bay August 2006…So about 5 years.

TH: Could you explain what happened with The Ocean?

DT: Well, right after coming off Satan’s Playground, I wrote an apocalyptic horror script called The Ocean, a twisted family psychodrama, with supernatural riptides terrorizing a small coastal community in Puerto Rico. I went through some drafts and decided I needed a co-writer. I thought of Michael Gingold, so I contacted him and we met for lunch in NYC and discussed the film concept. A few months later Mike delivered The Ocean script to me with the same ideas and the same characters as the original draft…except much improved…fleshed-out characters with more dialogue. I sent the script, along with copies of my other films, to Adrienne Barbeau and she was interested! This was a Fog-like film, a lady in a lighthouse on the ocean…a psychic haunted by visions of a watery apocalypse. I saw The Fog in theatres in 1980 when I was 10 years-old.

Adrienne and I met at my apartment in New Jersey and she was all ready to go. She even helped cast Tom Atkins as her husband in the film. I also had a daredevil cinematographer, Mike Prickett, totally committed to the apocalyptic waves sequences. He was one of the cinematographers on Riding with Giants, Billabong Odyssey, and a bunch of other deadly ocean footage films. He was jazzed to finally work on a movie that features the ocean as something supremely scary…which it is. Plus, my loyal cinematographer, Tim Naylor, was on board, for the narrative sequences. A couple of weeks later, I went to Puerto Rico to location scout with The Puerto Film Commission. I found the caves, the main locations, the lighthouse, everything in the script…but the last day of my scout I learned that we didn’t have all the financing. Adrienne was let down because she was really looking forward to the adventure. I was nearly suicidal. Then, about four months later, I thought I had the money again, through a private investor, but now Adrienne was starring in a NYC play about Judy Garland. She wanted to do The Ocean but wasn’t available at that certain time. I reached out to Margot Kidder. She enjoyed the script, was interested. Then all of a sudden it fell apart when the producers couldn’t or wouldn’t insure her. Then I asked Dee Wallace. I was thrilled to know that she loved the part and project. We began a hearty dialogue and got ready to shoot the film. More anticipation and intense excitement. Even a mention in Variety Magazine. We thought we had the financing through an indie film company…which is now defunct. I needed at least 2 million. Yeah, I know, the catering bill on Avatar. No one is to blame. The recession? No, I can really only blame myself. I make my own reality. So 2007 was a horrible year…a succession of let downs.


TH: How did Torture Chamber come about?

DT: In early 2008 I started writing a script called Torture Chamber. It just felt right. I liked the idea of a demon of blasphemy and murder. I was feeling blasphemous and murderous! It was a screenplay of rage. I tapped into all of that emotional violence and wrote the first draft in six months. Unlike The Ocean, I purposely crafted it with a low budget in mind. I needed to make a little tough horror film to pave the way for bigger ones, like The Ocean. I met a particularly nightmarish fellow who wanted to put lots of money into my film. Then I found out he was a bona fide drug dealer and his money was dirty money. No way. Goodbye. Around that time, I contacted Gary Vitello, Executive Director of International distribution at Lionsgate. He liked my Torture Chamber script and other films and got me a Letter of Intent from Lionsgate. With that letter, which was basically a letter of interest, I was able to eventually secure the financing. Gary Vitello is one of the Executive Producers of Torture Chamber, along with Maria Tassiello, my long-time film business partner.

TH: The title seems to indicate an affinity to the current trend of “torture porn” horror, typified by the Saw and Hostel films… is this what you’re aiming for in the film?

DT: No. No. There’s nothing about this film that is torture porn. First of all, there is no porn, no nudity. This film is not about kids having sex. I’m interested in the hazy intersection between life and death. It’s about peeling back layers of pain and guilt buried in the unconscious mind. It’s about a family in deep psychic pain. For me, Torture Chamber is a mood, a state-of-mind. It conjures dungeons…and death. You definitely know what you’re getting yourself into with a film that has a title like Torture Chamber. To me, it feels like a Drive-In shocker from the 70s. I wanted to create a pure horror film…A serious scare-fest with a warped family psychodrama at the core. There are scenes of characters burning on a torture device known as The Stove that are hard to watch. But really Torture Chamber is an interior journey, a colorful, psychedelic horror show. It’s a macabre ‘Chutes & Ladders’ game. The film…It’s a place, a location, a maze with many traps doors. Each portal leads you to the next. I’m trying to construct a nightmare in which we experience the protagonist’s damnation. I never even watched Saw or Hostel. Though I did see James Wan’s Dead Silence. That was well done. I rarely go to modern horror films. It all stopped around the 80′s, Clive Barker’s Hellraiser. My favorite performers are from older films too.

TH: You mention being more interested in old school actors. Who are some actors you’d like to work with? There are still a number of actors associated with old school horror working: Christopher Lee, Udo Kier, Lance Henriksen, John Saxon, Robert Englund, etc.

DB: I’d love to work with a lot of Italian ladies of horror like Catriona MacColl…and Daria Nicolodi. I plan to reach out at some point. Also American performers like Veronica Cartright, Piper Laurie, Sissy Spacek, Jessica Walter and Brooke Adams. John Saxon, yes, he’s an actor I’d love to work with, such a rich history in cinema…from Mario Bava to Wes Craven and so on. Lance Henriksen, yes, Damien Omen 2, Pumpkinhead, Aliens and so many others. He’d be terrific as a sadistic priest…or a witch hunter. Christopher Lee…whenever I can afford him…it would be an honor. I’ve had my eye on him from the beginning, in fact, I’m just waiting for the right moment. It’s a shame that Oliver Reed is not with us. I would have loved the opportunity. Karen Black…though I’ve heard from her DVD audio commentaries that she really doesn’t like doing horror anymore. If her heart’s not in it….

TH: Tell us about the cast you assembled.

DT: Torture Chamber stars Vincent Pastore from The Sopranos in a role that could be described as an Italian-American homage to Dr. Loomis in Carpenter’s Halloween. Dr. Fiore works at an institution for disturbed youths. He’s stalking the evil, pyromaniac 13-year-old Jimmy, swirling deeper into a supernatural puzzle. Lynn Lowry, with her old-school horror resume from David Cronenberg’s Shivers to George Romero’s The Crazies, has a big role in the film…Lisa, a nightmare-plagued art therapist at the institution. She’s being psychically terrorized by Jimmy. Needless to say, this boy has an ugly relationship with his own mother…Mrs. Morgan…portrayed by actress Christie Sanford, who’s been in all my films. Christie is blind in this film. Enigmatic and unnerving, she’s the emotional core of the movie. Ron Millkie, from the original Friday the 13th, is Dr. Thompson, a doomed science teacher at the institution. The demonically possessed child, Jimmy, is played by 13-year-old Carmen LoPorto, a New Jersey actor.

TH: Given the use of a psychiatrist figure in the film, do you have a particular stance on psychotherapy, psychiatry, etc? Do you subscribe to a particular school on this topic, be it Freudian or Jungian, and would you say this informs your work?

DT: Between Freud and Jung? Definitely Jung. I do believe in the importance of religion for better or worse and the idea of purposely going through the darkness to get to the light. The emphasis on the unconscious mind and the recognition of the animal side, the shadow side… That’s part of my films, definitely. I don’t look down on religion. I see its power. Both of my grandmothers were very religious and it brought happiness into their lives. They taught me the peaceful side of religion…A deep feeling of connection to a light source. Of course I see the danger in organized region too. Lots of danger. But getting back to psychology, I’ve visited psychologists and parapsychologists on and off since my teens. Also astrologers… acupuncturists…Chinese herbalists…psychics….

TH: How does Torture Chamber compare in terms of budget and schedule to your other films?

DT: It has the same kind of low budget as my early films, except this time I juggled about 8 different locations within a 19 day shoot. Usually I stay in one area, as most independent films are made, but on Torture Chamber, I was all over the place. We filmed a portion of the film in a small mining town in New Jersey called Ogdensburg. We also shot for about a week in Fort Totten Queens, an old underground military base. Plus there were locations in Brooklyn and other parts of Queens and a few more in New Jersey. Each day was heavy and intense and sometimes we were all a bit shell-shocked. I really had the hardest working crew, the most professional group I’ve ever worked with. Everyone there – wanted to be there. There was a whole new spirit on set on this film. We had to come up with so many different set-ups per day it was insane. The shot list, I mean, the schedule, was frightening. I’d sit in my motel room as serious as a monk. From the get-go, the locations that I needed were spread-out in different states in completely opposite directions and we just had to accommodate that fact. The look and design of the film was very specific. It was nothing if not an ambitious shoot.

TH: Your films are known for having a dreamlike, illogical approach. You’ve spoken before of your admiration for the horror films of Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci… are there any other directors within the genre working today that you admire?

DT: John Carpenter will rise again. I remember when I was 17-years-old, I used to drive full speed down a pitch-black dirt road in New Jersey. I’d purposely turn out the head lights. There were no street lights. Total darkness. The dirt road was called Heartbeat Road. I think it’s listed in the magazine, Weird New Jersey Magazine. I sped like a madman, somehow never hitting the trees or surrounding huge rocks. I could have easily killed myself and friends in the car many times. I was operating on something else. Tapping into something else. Something…celestial…I felt possessed like Arnie in Christine, driving…floating….The same feeling I would have when I would wake up in bed with my arms and hands flapping like a bird. Trapped in the trance. Somewhere else. I should mention that I didn’t do drugs growing up. Didn’t drink alcohol. If anything, I was repressed. I have a history of sleep problems. Recently, I found out I have something called synesthesia. I’ve had it for as long as I can remember, I just didn’t know there was a name for it. My eyes have always been very light sensitive. It’s the joining, the blurring of the senses. I see colors and patterns when I hear certain sounds. It depends on the sound or feeling. Sometimes rain drops are like floating fiber optic dots. Or if a needle goes into me I see bright yellow or crystal. Kind of like when you’re on the beach lying on your back…you look up and close your eyes and see shapes and colors…involuntarily. Sometimes it can look ghostly, like something you’d see in a microscope. Cells. I think it’s a part of the fabric of my filmmaking. Colors and sounds are pristine. Taste color. Touch sound. And my nightmares are very tactile, very specific. More than anything, my films are about replicating my nightmares. I go back to the same places, time and time again. The films have the look and feel…the vibration of those places. I’ve been talking about seeing multi-colored streaks in the atmosphere and having out-of-body-experiences for as long as I can remember. Even though Torture Chamber is low budget, I want to give it a kind of epic exuberance. I purposely shot the film at 2.35:1 so it would be very expansive. 


TH: This is your first 2.35 film. Did you use anamorphic lenses? How did you find composing for the wider frame?

DT: We used non-anamorphic lenses. I love 2.35:1. I just thought it was time. I think of movies like John Carpenter’s Halloween and The Fog. This ratio gives you a lot of space to play with, there’s just so much more for the eye to explore.

TH: What are your thoughts on the proliferation of remakes and sequels we’ve been seeing in the genre of late?

DT: I think most of them are unnecessary. I won’t even name the worst offenders. The Fog remake and The Amityville Horror. Yikes. Those are the ones I watched on cable so far. I usually just avoid them completely. They’re like car commercials. Soulless. Built to sell only. At the same time I’d be hypocritical to denounce them all. I really loved John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing and Cronenberg’s remake of The Fly. There are some others too. Overall, though, there’s no doubt that the current explosion of remakes of horror classics gives the horror film business an aura of sickness and desperation. Some of the titles being remade…Blasphemy.

TH: Now that Torture Chamber is wrapped, what’s up next?

DB: More horror movies. I’ve learned not to announce anything until it’s firm. I still intend on filming The Ocean, when the time is right. I also have a horror feature, Salem, focusing on the Salem Witch Trial period, on the backburner. I feel a connection to Salem, the location. A New England gothic atmosphere….I like to spotlight places that reverberate with evil. There’s also a remake of my cousin’s film, Alice, Sweet Alice on the horizon. Alfred and I are relatives…blood…He just sent me the gold chalice prop used in Alice, Sweet Alice’s communion sequences. I have it on display. He gave me the original bound screenplay too. I own rare stills…Alfred sort of passed the torch. I know he believes if anyone should remake it, the person should be me. And I agree…I cringe at thought of anyone else doing it…Because you know it’s inevitable…if we don’t beat everyone else to the punch and I hope it doesn’t sound hypocritical because I just told you that I don’t like the majority of remakes. But this would not be soulless. This would not be for money. This would be a dream project that my cousin and I have talked about for years. He wants it to be remade…by me. Plus we were both born in Italian Catholic Paterson. This would be more of a re-imagining of the original…you can’t touch the original. He knows that…we both know that. I’m very protective of Communion… Holy Terror… Alice, Sweet Alice. I grew up with it, never get tired of watching it. Love it with all my heart and soul. Alfred was a family relative I could really look up to as a kid. Now as an adult, I have to focus on the post production for Torture Chamber, my own horror movie. Making every one of these films has been a battle. To extract the images…it’s never easy. When I view the footage, and I’m in the trance, it feels like I’m in a psychedelic funhouse. A spacious dungeon in my mind. My nightmares are poking through full-force.

TH: When can we expect to see Torture Chamber?

DT: It should be ready for screening around Halloween.

Special thanks to Dante Tomaselli for taking time out of post-production to discuss Torture Chamber with AVManiacs. If you’re interested in reading more about the film, be sure to check out these websites: