Thursday, April 8, 2010

Nightmares in the Torture Chamber: An Interview with Dante Tomaselli

Dante Tomaselli's fourth feature film, Torture Chamber, starts production this week. I was fortunate enough to interview him as he begins production.

Since the last interview you've gone into pre-production on Torture Chamber. How's the film coming along?

It's moving full-steam ahead. Torture Chamber is about a demonically possessed boy who escapes from a psychiatric ward and discovers an old abandoned castle with a secret passageway to a cobwebbed torture chamber. I haven't been sleeping lately but that always happens around filming. My eyes are open and I see the scenes like slides projected in my mind. I'm in the zone night and day. Now in my sleep I yell, 'Action!' We have the financing we need. I haven't felt so alive in years...I'm back in the realm where I need to be.

How close are you to completing casting on the film? Will we see any familiar faces from your previous films in the cast?

We have locked down on actors. Vincent Pastore from The Sopranos stars in a detective-like role as a doctor at a children's mental hospital. He's stalking the evil, trying to solve the occult mystery. The character, Dr. Fiore was inspired by Donald Pleasence's character, Dr. Loomis, in John Carpenter's Halloween. We also have Ed Neal from Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Lynn Lowry from The Crazies...Marilyn Burns from Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Familiar faces from previous films would be Christie Sanford...Raine Brown...Danny Lopes...Sal Piro...Ron Millkie....As far as our main crew...Gary Vitello and Maria Tassiello are the Executive Producers of Torture Chamber. Milka Stanisic is Producer...and Anthony Vorhies is our Line Producer. Torture Chamber's cinematographer is Tim Naylor and the Production Designer is JT Camp. Jared Trimble is the Assistant Director and our Special Make-up FX Supervisor is Scott Sliger....

In the last interview you mentioned that Torture Chamber would be a more personal and intimate story. Have you drawn on anything in your own life when you were writing the script?

It's about a boy with problems, growing up that was me. Although I didn't go around killing people, in my mind, I can understand the rage, the isolation. I understand the sharp feeling of being different. 13-year-old Jimmy Morgan, the lead character in Torture Chamber, is horribly disfigured from experimentation with drugs. Jimmy displays pyrokinesis...the ability to light fires with his mind. The fact that Jimmy kills his own father, burns him to death, reverberates with me because of my damaged relationship with my own father. This film is about peeling back layers of pain and guilt buried deep in the unconscious mind. Desecration, my first film, was about a boy haunted by his mother's death. Torture Chamber is about a boy haunted by his father's death. My father passed away when I was young. I have guilt feelings...yeah...because it was bad between us. Maybe unconsciously I felt like I was responsible when he had a sudden heart attack. On some level, I felt like I had supernatural powers and maybe, just maybe...with my mind....Now as an adult, I know I didn't, of course....Am I haunted? Yes. There's a heavy sense of unease...psychic footprints...and no closure....I heard Dean Koontz, the writer, had a similar experience growing up...but...I'm not sure if I'll ever resolve these this lifetime. I've been to psychologists and life coaches...and I'm still where I was always at when it comes to my to my damaged relationship with my one parent. Torture Chamber illustrates family dysfunction taken to its extreme.

Your previous films have been noted for their imagery. How will Torture Chamber compare visually with your previous films?

I'm going for a painterly look...a tactile, frightening experience. There are so many locations in Torture Chamber. Satan's Playground was shot all in one area, as most independent films are. My locations on this film are spread out...New Jersey...New York...which makes it incredibly challenging to create the schedule. But we are there, we've got it down. I've had to consolidate some locales but it's working out. Visually, each frame will be packed with a lot of detail, like Desecration, Horror and Satan's Playground, but the goal is to bring it to the next level. This is a very imagistic film. Shadowy...demonic. Lots of swirling fog. Torture like a gothic nightmare. At the core there's a family in deep psychic pain. The recurring image of flickering flames is subliminal. This is a film about eternal damnation.

You stated that music plays a big part in your creative process. I've found that when I'm writing sometimes music can actually shape what I'm writing and help me come up with something totally unexpected. How does music shape your creative process? And what sort of music do you listen to when you're writing?

Yes...I enjoy listening to natural sounds...Howling wind...earthquakes...avalanches...thunderstorms...outdoor rural sounds with birds...crickets...owls....I love icy, glacial sounds mixed with low rumbling tones....Textural, three-dimensional sounds...tones that produce colors in my mind...or project right in front of me. I listened to a lot of early John Carpenter during the writing and pre-production of Torture Chamber...Halloween...Halloween 2...Halloween 3. I listen to a lot of Italian horror composers from films like Suspiria...Goblin...Ennio Morricone...The Thing...Pino Dinaggio...Carrie...Tourist Trap....I also love synth noise bands like Coil and Kim Cascone. Very meditative, great to ponder and visualize. Just recently, I've reconnected with an old haunted house sound fx album from the mid 70s...I listened to it religiously from 5 to 13-years-old...Sounds to Make You Shiver...It's very dungeon-like...and it brings me back to an innocent time...pure fascination and love for horror movies and music. I feel aligned with who I really am when I'm creating these intimate horror films. The soundmix is my favorite part of the filmmaking process. The footage demands certain tones no matter how you plan it. Many times, certain compositions, sounds and tones that I fall in love with just don't match the image. It's very specific. I need a gigantic palette. In every area of production, I like to be experimental and very prepared at the same time. When I'm in the studio, I'm painting with sounds.

Part of the film takes place in an old abandoned castle and its cobwebbed torture chamber. What sort of location are you using for the castle? Is the filming going to be primarily on locations or sets?

Both. Mostly actual locations like underground tunnels and mines and Victorian houses in the New England town...but there will be some sets too. I always admired how John Carpenter directed The Fog. Locations and sets seamlessly interwoven, which gave the film a very focused, concentrated look.

You're about to start filming. When can we expect to see Torture Chamber come out?

We start shooting at the end of this month. The film will be finished and ready for screening in October. When exactly it will be released I can never predict...

In the previous interview you mentioned how big a part nightmares play in your creative process. How cathartic is making horror films for you?

It's like breathing. Everyone around me knows it's the center of my world. All my movies will always be nightmares of some kind...always....My dream world has always been too extreme. Now these very specific visions need to be replicated. They're poking out of my brain. I'm in pain until they're released. It could be due to my synesthesia. Sound - color. My dreams feel heightened. Especially the colors. Taste color. Touch sound. I still wake up on the floor, with the covers everywhere. Growing up, I had so many reoccurring nightmares that still flicker in my mind. My films try to capture the densely hallucinated image...the look, feel, sound...and themes of those...netherworlds. Those are places...that I visit time and time dreams, flashbacks and hallucinations....

In the '80s many film critics and community leaders cried out against horror films such as Friday the 13th, Maniac and Silent Night, Deadly Night as being too violent and corrupting for people to see. I grew up watching Halloween, Friday the 13th and My Bloody Valentine on cable. I look back on those fondly. I don't feel like watching horror films has desensitized me in any way. Do you feel that there's less outcry against horror films now then back then? And do you feel they can desensitize a person to real life horrors?

No. If anything, I think horror films caused me to be more sensitive to violence. Also, for me, I know they made me feel better about my own life because it couldn't possibly be as bad as what's happening on the screen. You sit back and say, 'wow, I've got it good,' actually. Horror films also made me want to read and write more...Short bizarre horror stories at first...and then screenplays...It promoted my education and strengthened my imagination....I love all those movies you just mentioned and support them. Especially Halloween.

Compared to your last three films, what's the budget of your new film?

Torture Chamber is low budget, around the range of my other films. So I can't go over a certain limit, I mean, in terms of trying to do everything I really want. At the same time, I love the creative freedom...It means the world to me.

Since we'd last spoken Paranormal Activity went on to be a big box office hit. And House Of The Devil got some very good word of mouth. Do you feel these lower budget horror film's success has help open any doors for other lower budget horror films?

I didn't see House of the Devil yet, but I love the poster art. Definitely the best poster art I've seen in a while. I did watch Paranormal Activity...and I have to say I was very disappointed. Sure, I appreciated the fact that it was no budget...and I wanted to love the film...I went in watching it with the mind set that I wanted to love it...but it just didn't deliver for me. I like minimalism but this was just too one-note and flat. Visually, well, let's just say I don't like reality TV shows. It felt like something I'd see on the Ghosthunters cable channel or something, to be honest. The marketing was outstanding. Like Blair Witch Project, it created hype and expectations of fear and seemed to seduce some people...but the film didn't draw me in.

Dario Argento's films especially Suspiria and its sequel Inferno pull the viewer into a dreamlike world where reality is turned on its head. Personally I feel your one of the few American filmmakers that captures the irrational dream state Argento and Lucio Fulci were masters at creating. Did Italian horror films influence you creatively?

Thanks. I love those directors. I didn't grow up on their films, so I'm not really sure if I'm actually influenced. Inspired? Yes, definitely. Oh yeah. I love Dario Argento, Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci...I discovered Italian horror in my late twenties and thirties. Those films are like beautiful apocalyptic visions. Chas Balun, the late great genre critic, got me into Italian horror. His magazine, Deep Red, opened the gates for me. Chas was one of the first horror writers to champion Desecration, in 1999. Italian horror...I just think it's something in the blood because I am Italian American. My cousin, Alfred Sole, director of Alice, Sweet Alice, has a painter's sensibility. We were just talking on the phone. He's so supportive. Horror and art. There's something in my DNA, something in my blood....

Any last words?

Welcome to my nightmare.


The Film Connoisseur said...

Nice interview! Hey Dante, best of luck with Torture Chamber! Looking forward to its completion! Now its a countdown to the end! I really liked how you said that now you feel more alive then ever, thats because you are in your element, you are making a film!

Cant wait to see how you bring this one to life!

Professor Brian O'Blivion said...

Thank you. I agree, can't wait to see it!

zurraspo said...

Welcome back, Dante!!!
I missed you so much since your last horror film called SATAN´S PLAYGROUND so I personally hope this next one to be as good as your second movie HORROR or even better!
I still long for a true hardcore horror film of yours and judging by its title TORTURE CHAMBER it could easily be your definitive breakthrough once and for all!!
I liked this special line: "family dysfunction taken to its extreme".

Bring it on, Dante!

Agustin Ignacio Agudo

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