For a while now, we’ve been chronicling the production of a film here on The Film Connoisseur, I’m talking about Dante Tomaselli’s fourth feature film Torture Chamber which is just about ready to be released onto the world. Mr. Tomaselli is the director behind Desecration (1999), Horror (2002) and Satans Playground (2006). He has just finished post-production on Torture Chamber and I was curious as to how he felt about the finished film, he was kind enough to grant an interview for The Film Connoisseur.
This is our third Dante Tomaselli interview, on the first one, he was just getting ready to start shooting Torture Chamber, on the second interview he’d just finished principal photography and was getting ready to start editing, and now, finally I offer you the third interview in which Dante Tomaselli reminisces about the shoot and tells us a little bit about how he feels with the final cut of the film, from sound and music, to editing, to the over all final product. He even tells us how he feels about Torture Chamber when compared to his previous films!
So, as a X-Mas present from The Film Connoisseur, I leave you guys with horror director on the rise, Mr. Dante Tomaselli ladies and gentlemen!
The Film Connoisseur - What motivated you to write a film like Torture Chamber? What was the seed of the idea?
Dante Tomaselli- I was supposed to direct a horror picture called The Ocean, it was all ready to happen, but didn't. So I was feeling angry; I was hurt and well, tortured. I wanted to conjure a Euro-horror-like experience on a low budget. Something very different. Something weird and frightening. Of course scary is subjective, but a movie that was at the very least very creepy and dark and out-there. A serious horror movie...with surrealistic tendencies. My mind kept going to visual metaphor. What do I want to symbolize? There's always been a torture chamber in every one of my films. In Desecration, it was in that nightmare childhood room with the cage, the heart and soul of the movie. In Horror, there was a religious family's home...and deep inside a torture chamber hidden behind a mysterious door. Even in Satan's Playground, the Leeds family had a backroom where there was a ramshackle torture chamber.
DT- Thanks. I think this film was about me being myself. It really is an explosion of my earlier films. I like to replicate my childhood nightmares. Torture Chamber definitely has a 70's vibe, it could even be 60's. I made sure there were no cell phones...There are even records, LP's in the background... little things to help put you in that mind set. I really don't like modern, corporate horror films with teenagers looking all trendy and hip. I strive for a kind of 60's, 70's design. Torture Chamber is nothing if not different. If I had to cite some influences that were floating around in the back of my mind, I'd say Halloween, Black Sabbath, Suspiria, The Beyond, The Pit and the Pendulum, Alice Sweet Alice, Don't Look Now, The Brood, The House With Laughing Windows, Carrie, Tourist Trap, Bloody Pit of Horror, This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse, The Fog...and The Exorcist.
DT- It was a lesson in tenacity...getting Torture Chamber made. I had almost given up after not shooting The Ocean, so it felt very much like my first film all over again. I felt raw, awake.
TFC- Now that it's finished, how do feel about Torture Chamber when compared to your previous films?
DT- I value this film most. I can watch it and...for the most part...not feel uncomfortable. I know that it was the next step. Torture Chamber needed to be created, maybe more urgently than anything I've ever pulled out of the pit of my psyche. These bubbling images needed to be unlocked. The glowing soundscapes too. It's a journey through the halls of hell. An interior journey...It's the furthest down into hell that I've reached. The budget was $200, 000. That's actually less than Satan's Playground and Horror. Somehow, though, this film appears more polished and expensive than anything I've done. If I had a higher budget, I'd be able to deliver much more, expand upon everything, but, you know, you have to work with what you have.
TFC- How was that experience of turning the images you’d written into moving images? Seeing your words come to life?
DT- That's the best part about it all but it's also tricky because things pop up on the day of shooting that you never planned...and I've learned to be flexible. It can be frustrating. I get disappointed in myself when I can't pull it off. It feels magical when it's working. We're all creators. It's a human instinct. When I was a little boy, I used to dream about having my own funhouse in my backyard. Dante's Inferno. Now in a sense, that's what I'm striving for. Maybe these films are psychedelic funhouses.
TFC- Last time we spoke you had just finished filming and had not edited yet. Now that the editing is done, what challenges did you face during the editing process? What was the approach with it?
DT- After I shot Torture Chamber, I spent three months getting to know the footage. The first cut that I made was too long. Close to 2 hours. It was a challenge trimming it down, very painful. All the while, I was constantly changing the music or tweaking it. In the beginning, the sound design is a sketch...and then it becomes more and more fleshed out. John Carpenter once said it's like laying down carpet and it's so true. The movie is like a sculpture. I needed to trim the beginning and ending of many shots. After I did that, all of a sudden, it moved faster, like an acid trip. It's shadowy and tactile...hallucinogenic. You won't need drugs. Or maybe that's exactly what's needed (laughs). At times it should feel like an out-of-body-experience.
TFC- You mentioned in your last interview that though Torture Chamber does have its gory moments; it’s not really a gore fest; that you were aiming for suggestive scares and unconscious dread. Taking a look at your finished film, do you think you achieved it?
DT- I think so. It's a mixture, definitely both. Mostly it's a kind of under-the-skin feeling...the accumulation of the pictures and sounds...telling the tale of a religious family that wants to kill itself. The film is really about peeling back layers of pain and guilt buried in the unconscious mind. From beginning to end, it's a trance movie. I try to pack each shot with as much detail as possible. I want the viewer lost, not knowing what to expect next. Torture Chamber is a psychological horror film that is a bit of a mind-fuck.
TFC- How would you describe Torture Chamber?
DT- Hopefully a step above...It definitely appears to be the most watchable out of my works but I'm sure some people will still like my earlier stuff. I understand that. I always tend to like the oldest works of filmmakers or musicians. Definitely the strange world of Torture Chamber intrigues me the most right now. It feels like Desecration and Horror in a blender.
TFC- Can you speak to us about the benefits of making a film like Torture Chamber independently?
DT- I only make films independently. To me, it's the only way to go. Why spend years of your life working on a film and then someone else has the power to change it? You want creative control.
Dante in the set of Torture Chamber
TFC- Have you seen the film with an audience yet? What’s the experience of watching your finished films with an audience like?
DT- I've been having private screenings since Halloween. Michael Gingold from Fangoria was over a few weeks ago. I've watched it with complete strangers...friends of friends that are not even into horror. The feedback has been generally good. It's a low budget $200, 000 film. The visuals and soundtrack are its strengths. Torture Chamber is really about family sickness, being trapped in childhood and the confusion of being alive.
TFC- What was it like to work with Lynn Lowry?
DT- I really loved working with Lynn. She didn't realize it but her scenes had some unconscious nods to Mario Bava's Black Sabbath...the mood and feel. She's trapped in a lush, colorful world that is turning itself on her. I really enjoyed her behind-the-scenes stories about working with Cronenberg and Romero. Lynn's so pleasant and good natured. A really nice lady. She's a doll. In Torture Chamber, she's an art therapist at a Juvenile Detention Center for the clinically insane. She's like a wounded angel. Her story is told through a series of dreams, flashbacks and hallucinations.
TFC- Any lessons learned while making Torture Chamber? Do you feel you’ve grown as a filmmaker after this fourth entry?
DT- I've learned...Never ever ever give up. Hold on. It's so important. It's everything. You have to go through the darkness to get to the light. I think I've grown...but weirdly I feel like I'm at the beginning all over again.
TFC- What can we expect in near future from Dante Tomaselli? Is the remake to Alice, Sweet Alice (1976) still in the cards?The Ocean? Salem? I was really curious about Salem. I’d love to see what you’d do with a film about witchcraft.
DT- Thanks. I completed four features so far. I'm grateful that I got the opportunity to make them, especially Torture Chamber. What's next? Alice, Sweet Alice, a re-imagining of my cousin, Alfred Sole's film. The Ocean is somewhere in the future. It's just a matter of financing. I never really moved forward with Salem and now with hearing about Rob Zombie's film, Lords of Salem...I definitely wouldn't call it Salem. I do want to set a future picture there and explore witchcraft. I've purposely set all my movies in a kind of New England gothic atmosphere. I'm interested in locations that reverberate pain and suffering...a state of torment...you can feel the psychic footprints.
Well that's it ladies and gents, 13 Questions with Dante Tomaselli. I want to thank Dante Tomaselli for giving us this interview, it's been fun and educational following the production of Torture Chamber, all that was missing was a set visit! Who knows, maybe we'll have one of those for Dante's next film! In the meanwhile remember kids, Torture Chamber will be released sometime soon, so expect an announcement for it as soon as it happens!