The Devil’s Chair and Broken

Over recent years, director Adam Mason has carved out something of a cottage industry making low budget horror movies, often filmed near his Cambridge home.  After starting out with a couple of haphazard productions, The 13th Sign (2000) and Dust (2001), he stepped up a strata with Broken and The Devil’s Chair, both of which were released in 2006.

Broken is ostensibly the smaller of the two productions, being basically a case of the director, a couple of actors and a tiny crew decamping to some woods and shooting a movie.  A shameless entry in the torture porn cycle, this one starts off in a particularly nasty fashion: Hope (Nadja Brand) is kidnapped and wakes up in a coffin.  She discovers that she’s being held captive by ‘the man’ (Eric Colvin), a survivalist nutjob who is looking for a woman (or a couple of woman) to do all the housework at his rickety camp in the middle of a nowhere.  For some reason, before deciding that she’s good enough to be his ‘wife’, he sows a razorblade into her stomach, leaving her with just a twig to gouge it out with.  She survives that, somehow, and bides her time quietly until there’s the chance to escape.  Then another girl (Abbey Stirling) appears…

Once the opening, gore filled opening is out of the way, this actually becomes a lot more interesting, even if nothing much actually happens.  Halfway between Deliverance and Hostel, it’s a grungy, mean-spirited affair which doesn’t quite make the most of its story.  But, in its favour, it is decently filmed, especially considering the meagre resources at the filmmakers disposal, and it is obvious that Mason has some talent; it’s streets ahead of the kind of crap produced by Johannes Roberts, for instance.  The acting is variable, but Eric Colvin is effective, and at least the characters are given a little depth.

The Devil’s Chair, theoretically at least, was the ‘bigger’ production, and it looks a little more polished, for sure.  But it doesn’t actually work nearly as well as Broken.  This is primarily down to the script, apparently knocked up by Mason and regular collaborator Simon Boyes when the chance of US investment came up, which is rather muddled and sufferes from an exasperatingly cheesy narration.  Unfortunately, Mason also seems to have become rather carried away with the cinematic tricks at his disposal, and it’s chockful of an assortment of irritating stylistic touches (freeze frames, slow mo, you know the kind of stuff).

The plot follows the deeply traumatized Nick West (Andrew Howard), who is believed to have murdered his girlfriend, despite his claims that she disappeared after they fooled around in an abandoned asylum, the Hildon Institute.  He’s less than happy to be released into the care of one Dr. Willard (David Gant), a nutty psychiatrist, who believes that an unsteady looking chair in the asylum is actually some kind of portal to another dimension.  Along with a group of Willard’s students, they head back to the Hildon to try and discover its secrets.

OK, once you get over the basic storyline there is some stuff to like in here.  The sets are suitably decrepid and the extra-dimensional sequences are actually rather effective.  But… it lacks the compactness of the previous film, and doesn’t quite seem to know where it’s going.  There’s a twist towards the end that completely undermines everything that has previously happened, which manages to be both interesting and irritating.  It doesn’t work, then, but at least there is a certain kind of imagination at play (and the influences – Hellraiser, The Beyond, From Beyond, Angel Heart – are different from the usual cup of tea).  Unfortunately, considering that it was a more professional production, the performances are actually worse than those in Broken, with the possible exception of Andrew Howard, who is suitably intense.

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