Boasting an admittedly unusual cast and not much else, THE CHAIR is a comic horror film that sat on the shelf for several years and didn't see release until after several superior movies with a similar basis had already come out.
Young social worker Lisa Titus (Trini Alvarado) arrives at an abandoned prison to assist Dr. Harold Langer (James Coco) in his new, experimental rehabilitation program. As the inmate subjects are brought in, they are lectured by warden Eddie Dwyer (Paul Benedict) before being met by Langer, who
gives them such unusual therapy aids as individual portable radios. The prison is afflicted with power problems, and when an electrician arrives to check things out, he is killed by a mysterious force in the prison's old death row. Eddie is startled when he witnesses the event, and in fact has
been having strange hallucinations ever since starting at the prison, mostly of a disfigured eye in the structure's lightbulbs.
A new prisoner, Rick Donner (Gary McCleery), is brought in, and, though he disdains the psychotherapy, he becomes attracted to Lisa, who begins to share the feeling. Meanwhile, the malevolent presence continues to act up, shutting off the prison's fans, killing a guard who tries to fix them and
ultimately sending electrical bolts rocketing through the cells. Dr. Langer, however, insists on approaching the strange events from a psychoanalytical perspective, and the inmates become increasingly angry with his apparent disregard for their safety. One of them, Roach (Stephen Geoffreys),
believes that Langer is some kind of mad scientist performing an experiment on them.
Eddie continues to hallucinate, seeing a ghostly vision in the death row electric chair chamber; later, Langer sees it too, but when he brings Lisa back to the room, the spectre has vanished. All is ultimately explained when Eddie recalls to Langer his previous tenure at the prison: he and warden
Joe Callahan (John Bentley) were set upon by rioting inmates years before, and Callahan was strapped into the electric chair and fired by the prisoners. Eddie ran off to save himself instead of helping Callahan, and now he believes that the warden's spirit is back for revenge against him.
Upon hearing this story, Langer goes to the cells to apologize to the inmates for disbelieving them, but is stabbed by Roach, who then leads the rest of the prisoners in a riot. Lisa is confronted and terrorized before the criminals seize an opportunity to escape, while Rick finds the bloodied
Langer, who dies before Rick can help him. Eddie, meanwhile, has completely flipped out and is roaming the corridors with a shotgun; impelled toward the electrocution chamber, he is confronted and killed by Callahan's spirit. The escaping Lisa and Rick find romance together, while a new group of
developers plan to turn the old prison into a senior citizen's home.
By the time THE CHAIR was released direct-to-video in 1991, the revenge-of-the-electrocuted theme had been co-opted by SHOCKER, THE HORROR SHOW and PRISON, the latter of which also had the same setting, and all of them had more to offer than this muddled schlock. Suggesting a short film padded
out to feature length, THE CHAIR consists mostly of endless scenes of the characters checking electrical levels in the basement and of Dr. Langer's strange ramblings, which are never as funny as the film thinks they are.
The cast of prisoners includes some welcome familiar genre faces--FRIGHT NIGHT's Stephen Geoffreys and PET SEMATARY's Brad Greenquist among them, with Richard Edson as the flashback riot leader--but they're not given enough to do. And Alvarado's utterly implausible character--an attractive young
woman working in a broken-down penitentiary with a bunch of hardened criminals--appears to be present solely to provide a heroine to be terrorized by both evil forces and lecherous inmates, and to have an obligatory behind-bars affair with nice-guy convict McCleery.
The only moments in THE CHAIR that generate any real chills are the flashbacks to Callahan's murder. The present-day scare scenes are perfunctory, and every time the film tries to set up Benedict as the tortured victim, one can't help but see him as the nerdy Mr. Bentley from TV's long-running
"The Jeffersons" sitcom. Matters aren't helped by Eddie Reyes' score, which seems to be trying for ironic incongruity but instead comes off as inappropriate and foolish, and some distracting story holes. For example, the film doesn't tell us why the phantom kills indiscriminately when the story
has given it such a specific purpose--but then otherwise there wouldn't be a movie. Which, in THE CHAIR's case, wouldn't be all that lamentable. (Violence, profanity, adult situations.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1989
- Rating: R
- Review: Boasting an admittedly unusual cast and not much else, THE CHAIR is a comic horror film that sat on the shelf for several years and didn't see release until after several superior movies with a similar basis had already come out. Young social worker Lisa… (more)