The Chair Movie Review
Written by Stuart D. Monroe
Released by Terror Films
Directed by Chad Ferrin
Written by Erin Kohut (screenplay) and Peter Simetti (source comic)
2017, 84 minutes, Not Rated
Released on October 5th, 2018
Starring:Bill Oberst Jr. as The Warden
Timothy Muskatell as Richard Sullivan
“Rowdy” Roddy Piper as Murphy
Noah Hathaway as Alvarez
Zach Galligan as Riley
Naomi Grossman as Mother
Ezra Buzzington as Tudley
The tagline reads, “On Death Row, man is the only monster!”, and that couldn’t be truer in director Chad Ferrin’s prison horror, adapted from a graphic novel by Peter Simetti. Prison horror is a bold subgenre to tackle, though; it’s a serious production challenge for a low budget film. It’s the definition of high risk, high reward. The Chair is unafraid of the challenge.
Richard Sullivan (Timothy Muskatell; Chop) is on Death Row for the murder of 12 children. He swears his innocence from his cell in a prison full of rapists and killers. He seems to be the only one who isn’t evil and depraved – The Warden (Bill Oberst Jr.; Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies) is torturing the inmates Doctor Satan-style, leering through steampunk glasses. The guards are sadistic bullies. Murphy (“Rowdy” Roddy Piper; WWE Hall of Famer, They Live), who likes to pee in the inmates’ food, leads the group of correction officers from Hell. His cadre includes Riley (Zach Galligan; Gremlins, Gremlins 2) and Alvarez (Noah Hathaway, The Neverending Story). Richard is losing his mind after sitting on Death Row for well over a decade, but as his mind unravels and more is revealed, you’ll ask yourself just who the real monsters are (don’t forget the aforementioned tagline).
The Chair makes the most of a modest $200,000 budget by bringing in talented names that will draw an audience. Those names also make the most out of their given roles in unrecognizable fashion. There’s a solid amount of geek draw between Pepper from American Horror Story, the iconic Nada from They Live, Billy from Gremlins, and Atreyu from The Neverending Story! Piper is sublime and utterly dedicated to be a real shitbag in what was his final role before his untimely death. He steals all of his scenes with that famous it factor that made him the world’s most recognizable and beloved heel for a generation. Rest in Peace, Roderick Toombs.
Even with those banner names, it’s the interplay between the Oberst and Muskatell that carries the story (and the twist). Both fit the shoes perfectly, but Oberst is the centerpiece. There’s something eerily legit about his delivery combined with his unique, disarming look that tells you that we haven’t seen the best that he has to offer yet.
The violence is brutal, the events are brutal…hell, the story is brutal. There’s no flinching away from the ugliness on display. Is it like this in every prison? I’m sure it isn’t (this is a horror film, after all), but the insane level of nastiness is used to highlight a very real problem. Seeing a rapist get raped may be justifiable, but it still isn’t fun to watch (especially when the stars of your childhood are the ones getting their rocks off).
It’s a good thing that there are great performances and dedication to the brutality, because the low budget and setting combo that I mentioned earlier really shows. It breaks your disbelief on more than one occasion. It’s a little painful to think what could have been done with this adaptation of great source material if it had the budget and production value of, let’s say, American Horror Story: Asylum. There’s some food for thought.
Still, The Chair is elevated by great performances, clever writing, and inspired material to draw from. It’s by no means a waste of your time, even if it looks a little cheap. Don’t let that deter you.