The Chair (1988)

chair2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: The prison is haunted.

Dr. Langer (James Coco) is a psychiatrist who decides to reopen an abandoned prison with the help of his assistant, the beautiful young Lisa (Trini Alvarado). The problem is that the warden, Ed (Paul Benedict) is plagued by nightmares of a prisoner uprising that he had to deal with many years earlier, that cost the life of his friend Joe who he abandoned when he tried to go for help. While he lay hidden Joe was dragged by the prisoners to an electric chair and killed. Now, years later, the prison has become haunted by Joe’s spirit, but Dr. Langer refuses to believe this until he comes face-to-face with the ghostly presence forcing him to apologize to the prisoners who he had initially disbelieved, but the prisoners are seething from a lack of a working fan, caused by the ghost, and the heat in their cells has become stifling and motivates them to take out their frustrations on the defenseless Langer.

This film, which was directed by a man better known for his work in industrial films, is an odd mix of quirky comedy and surreal horror. The first act works as a soft satire to the new wave of ‘I’m okay, you’re okay’ psychiatry that has its share of mildly amusing moments. James Coco is perfect as a Dr. who seems confident and in-control to his prisoners, but deeply out-of-control when dealing with his personal life. Had the movie centered solely on Coco, a highly talented character actor whose obesity was the only thing that held him back from receiving better roles, it might’ve worked.This though will be turn-off to the regular horror fan who will likely find the broadly comical overtones as the beginning off-putting and even confusing as at times, at least initially, it doesn’t seem like a horror flick at all.

The second-half gets darker and even features a few deaths though it cuts away too quickly, particularly with the scene featuring the guard named Wilson (Mike Starr) who gets electrocuted in gruesome fashion, but no follow-up scenes showing how they removed his mutilated body, or who discovered him. The flashbacks dealing with the uprising don’t happen until 55-minutes in, which is too long of a wait to be introducing something that’s an integral element to the plot. There’s also numerous shots of an image of an eyeball appearing inside a light bulb, which becomes redundant and isn’t scary.

The man who gets electrocuted on the chair, and whose name doesn’t appear in the credits, is seen too little and needed to have a bigger part onscreen. The shift in tone from playful camp to gory effects is jarring and makes the whole thing seem like it was done by amateurs who had no idea what they were doing. It also features a completely impotent ‘hero’, played by Gary McCleery, who gets for some reason trapped in his cell when everyone else is able to escape and thus cannot not stop, or prevent any of the violence that happens, which makes him a completely useless character that had no need being in the story at all. If anything Coco, who’s fun despite the anemic material, should’ve been the protagonist and having him disappear before it’s over was a mistake.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending features Lisa marrying Rick, but this gets explained through a newspaper headline even though movies are a visual medium and thus should’ve been shown. The twist of some real estate developers deciding to turn the place into a senior citizen center, is novel, but having this occur at the beginning would’ve been better, as watching a bunch of old-timers fighting off the ghosts would’ve been far more entertaining than anything else that goes on.

Alternate Title: Hot Seat

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 13, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Waldemar Korzeniowsky

Studio: Angelika Films

Available: VHS, DVD (Import Reg. 0)

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