Dante Tomaselli's fourth feature film, Torture Chamber, has just wrapped shooting. I was fortunate enough to catch-up with him as he gets ready to begin post-production.
You just wrapped filming on Torture Chamber. How many days was the shoot? And how did it go?
Dante: 19 days. 19 never-ending days...or nights...or mornings. After a while I had no idea what time it was. Filming was intense, sometimes painful, shooting for hours on end in mines and darkened underground tunnels, constantly fighting against the clock. I loved every minute of it. I am electrified now. As you know, as everyone knows, I've been foaming-at-the-mouth to create another movie. It's never easy to get to the point of actually doing it. I am very pleased with the footage. It's chock full of scare sequences. Torture Chamber has a new horrific energy, more serious and brutal, more shadowy, tactile and frightening. Even though the budget is low, Torture Chamber has a kind of epic exuberance. I purposely shot the film 2.35:1 so it is very wide and I'm able to feature a bigger canvas.
With a title like Torture Chamber, do you fear any comparison to the Saw and Hostel film series?
Dante: No. To me, the title just fit; I wasn't thinking of any other films. If anything, I was thinking of my own films. I like titles that are declarative, all-encompassing. Torture Chamber is a place, a location,
a state-of-mind. The title...It conjures death and horror. I think of dungeons and castles... gloom and doom. Torture Chamber. It feels like a pure horror film to me...and now that I shot the footage, I know it is. Gothic horror from beginning to end...I would say it's more colorful and stylized than any of my other films, more energetic. It's an interior journey. It's really about peeling back layers of pain and guilt buried deep in the unconscious mind. There are trap doors, mysterious holes, maze-like tunnels...Each set-piece leads you to the next. This is a film about eternal damnation. Torture Chamber is an all-out scarefest.
Vincent Pastore who plays Dr. Fiore is well known for his role in The Sopranos. How much of a departure is Dr. Fiore from the mafioso roles he's portrayed? Also, have you ever seen Black Roses? A 1988 horror movie that may be one of his earliest film roles?
Dante: I never saw Black Roses. Vincent brings real passion to his part of Dr. Fiore, which is really an Italian American homage to Dr. Loomis in Carpenter's Halloween. Vincent brings a sense of urgency to the role. I was happy to hear that he's a huge horror fan and we talked about lots of horror classics. He knew that I didn't want to bring the comedic element into the picture. He played it seriously and with a lot of warmth, a lot of fire. He's stalking the evil, trying to solve the supernatural puzzle, so he's the anchor for the audience.
Also, he's caring for Jimmy's mother, the mentally ill, Mrs. Morgan, played by Christie Sanford.
Christie Sanford has had a role in all of your films since your first, Desecration. How did you come to cast her back then?
Dante: I was only 23, living in NYC and I placed an Ad in Backstage Magazine looking for an actress to star in the trailer for Desecration. At the time the project was called, Mama's Boy. As soon as I met her for an audition I was hooked. This was the lady of horror I've been dreaming of. She's apparitional, ice blue eyes, a face like clay...We just clicked instantly. Christie is a real trouper. She's fearless...She'd hang from rooftops for me, completely soaked in blood, get strapped onto a wood burning stove in the coldest mine...there's just nothing she wouldn't do for my movies. We have a telepathic bond. And her eyes. When she's acting, they radiate holiness...and pitch black evil. Saintly mother? Or morbid angel? And her mouth...it transforms into the jaws of hell, spewing sadistic cackles. She doesn't realize it on a conscious level, but I think sometimes she's channeling Sheila Keith from Pete Walker's British horror films or the great Barbara Steele. I'm not even sure if she knows of those performers. Christie understands the multi-layered nightmare world I'm trying to create and she throws herself deep inside. She's been in all of my movies from the very beginning and I feel she gives her best performance in Torture Chamber. It's definitely her biggest role.
Speaking of using the same actors in your films, I've always enjoyed seeing say a Sam Raimi, Joe Dante or a Stuart Gordon film and looking for those certain actors they always employ. How much easier is it to use certain actors and crew over again in your films? Is it like a family reunion?
Dante: It does feel like a family reunion. I'm a very loyal person so hopefully I attract loyalty. The crew on this film was the best I've ever worked with. Every single person from the Cinematographer to the Assistant Director to the Production Designer to the Producers to the Special FX Supervisor and down the line...just all across the board, everyone in every position on the crew worked so hard under such harsh conditions and ungodly hours. It was so cold in the tunnels and mines and the walls were filled with all sorts of creepy unknown things. I didn't dare look up sometimes. Plus there were constant drips of water coming from the stony ceilings...echoing the sound of Chinese torture. At one point, when we were all underground for a while, everyone on the crew got sick with colds; we were all passing out Halls and Ricola cough drops non stop. It was so chilly underground...then we'd walk outside into sweltering heat.
In your last interview you mentioned that Scott Sliger is your Special Make-up FX Supervisor. What can we expect to see effects wise?
Dante: Scott did an incredible job with the effects on Torture Chamber. I'm sure you remember his throat slash in Satan's Playground. The highlight of the film. Scott and I worked together on Horror too. I really don't want to give away the mutilations, burns and deaths but I can tell you he really delivered the goods. Scott is part of my filmmaking family.
David Cronenberg once said in an interview that his films were like chapters in an ongoing biography of his life. For you is it the same? Do your films chronicle what you were going though at the time you made them?
Dante: Absolutely. Yes. There's the psychic debris of everything around, it attaches itself. Though my films are kind of trapped in a time warp. The child in my mind with endless nightmares takes over. Should all sinners be damned?
The horror genre is at its best when it deals with those dark things we all have inside and don't like to talk about. Should there be any limits on what horror filmmakers can portray on screen?
Dante: My films explore taboos. Even though there's no nudity. I like to take unhealthy emotions and situations
and present them. I think there's a subversive undercurrent, definitely not in your face...more subliminal. But I like it to be beautiful; I need a glowing, electrified surface. Torture Chamber is really about peeling back layers of pain and guilt buried in the unconscious mind. It's about a family in deep psychic pain. They're all connected, because they're family. It's hard to escape family. You can't escape. There should be no limits on screen except filmmakers should never harm animals. If I ever see that, I'm enraged.
Do you ever see yourself not making horror films?
Dante: I will always make horror films, one after another. I will only make horror films. I'm an unrepentant horror fan and there's so much to explore in the genre. The possibilities are endless. My passion is in conjuring horror movies. You'll never see me direct and write a romantic comedy about lawyers in love or something. I've wanted to create hallucinogenic horror movies for as long as I can remember. I was one of those kids with the bedroom decorated like a Funhouse. I was always fantasizing. And there was that period in junior high and early high school when I didn't know if I was dreaming or awake. My dreams were so real that they tricked me. I still have sleep problems. One time when I lived in NYC, I woke up walking around in my underwear in a Korean Deli.
What's your post-production schedule looking like?
Dante: I just wrapped shooting so now I'm getting to know every nook and cranny of the footage. Then I begin editing and soundmixing...my favorite part of all.
What's next after you finish Torture Chamber?
Dante: It could be The Ocean or Alice, Sweet Alice or a totally different horror film.