Directed by : Chad Ferrin
Written by: Erin Kohut and Peter Simeti
Director of Photography: Christian Janss
Warden: Bill Oberst Jr.
Murphy: Roddy Piper
Richard: Timothy Muskatell
THE CHAIR, based on a series of comics published through Alterna, is a violent and unpleasant horror film that may test your patience…and endurance. As described by Alterna, THE CHAIR is about “betrayal, revenge and humanity’s horrifying capacity for evil.” No arguments here. If only the film had lived up to this maxim.
Richard Sullivan (Timothy Muskatell) has spent the past ten years as an innocent man on death row. Witnessing savage killings at the hands of the prison's sadistic and psychotic Warden (Bill Oberst Jr.), Sullivan decides that in order to survive he must match the brutality occurring in the prison. But as he fights to escape his fate, Sullivan is forced to question his sanity and confront his own horrific past. Is he, in fact, innocent of the crimes of which he is accused? It’s a tried-and-true set-up worth pursuing, but ultimately THE CHAIR collapses under the weight of senseless violence and deep-rooted mother issues.
Director Chad Ferrin kicks off the movie with a long (but interesting) five minute opening credit sequence; some may find it too slow, but I found it increasingly fascinating as we’re given glimpses of the warden performing what we assume are some fairly heinous acts behind a pair of crude binocular-like goggles. Unfortunately, once we see the torture up-close it fails to have much of an impact. It pales in comparison to other ‘torture porn’ horror films like HOSTEL (which I loathed), so I wasn’t bothered in the least. There’s nothing new to see.
THE CHAIR also appears to have a checklist for most prison stereotypes. Sadistic guards? Check. Male rape? Check. Abusive childhood? Double check. In that aspect it’s a fairly pedestrian paint-by-numbers film. But there are good elements to be found. Roddy Piper (in his last movie role) is convincing as the most vicious of guards, while Muskatell certainly fits the part as inmate Richie (big and hulking with a long shaggy beard, he certainly looks the part. There’s a direct refusal of last rites from an inmate to a priest sums up, in ten words or less, how many on Death Row must feel (it also gives the film it’s only smile-worthy joke). And director Ferrin does a good job at conveying the gloomy, claustrophobic setting, as most of the action takes place in one or two prison cells. You can practically smell the dank surroundings.
There’s one standout moment in THE CHAIR worth mentioning. A young boy is getting an ice cream from the Good Humor man, who we understand immediately has evil intentions. There’s a wonderfully creepy uncomfortableness in this scene as we watch the man attempt to lure the boy into his truck (and let’s face it, there’s always been something slightly sinister about these adults that drive up and down streets trying to entice children to their walk-up window while eerie carnival music plays from a loudspeaker). As we see the boy succumb so easily to the temptation we realize we’re watching every parent’s worst nightmare.
THE CHAIR is strictly for those who enjoy brutal violence over story and characterization. Though it has moments of genuine dread and isolation, it relies on too many clichés and stereotypes. The theme of Brotherhood is driven home repeatedly, as Richie and Tommy become men who are forever linked in secrets and mayhem. Had these characters been given more depth and shading THE CHAIR may have succeeded. But if this is Brotherhood, I can do without brothers.
From the back row,