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Friday, September 9, 2011

DARK CHAMBER -- DVD review by porfle

(NOTE: Before breaking into comedy with the CAESAR & OTTO films, writer-director-actor Dave Campfield debuted with this foray into Hitchcockian horror.  The following review was written at the time of its DVD release in 2008.)

Shock-O-Rama's DARK CHAMBER, aka "Under Surveillance" (2008), begins with video footage of a grisly murder caught by home security cameras, followed by a montage of newspaper stories about various killings and other disturbing events attributed to a cult known as "The Black Circle."  All of this gave me the feeling that I was about to watch a really dark, bloody horror movie, but what it turns out to be is a creepy murder mystery with a forboding atmosphere and lots of suspense.

Justin (Eric Conley) is a Bible-toting law student who's had enough of living with his nutty mom, played by Desiree Gould (hey--it's Aunt Martha from SLEEPAWAY CAMP!!!), so he decides to try moving in with Pop for awhile.  Pop has a big house that's been modified so that there are two apartments upstairs and one in the basement.  In one apartment lives an abusive garbage man (Mark Love) and his cringing Russian wife (Sara Baker Bahr), and in another resides a surly, terminally-ill geezer (Chris Cooke) who's living it up with hookers, booze, and drugs while there's still time. 

Best of all, the third apartment contains none of than Felissa Rose--hey, it's Angela from SLEEPAWAY CAMP!!!  (You guessed it...I like SLEEPAWAY CAMP.)  She plays a sex-crazed "massage therapist" named Heidi who lives with her little sister Sonja (Brenda Abbandandolo), a mousy, troubled young lass with a penchant for starting fires.

Justin's burly-but-genial dad Kurt (David H. Rigg, a solid actor) is a veteran homicide cop who'd like nothing more than to solve the "Black Circle" murders even if he has to break a few rules, not to mention heads, to do it.  After Justin meets a strange and scary girl named Kayla (Alexandra Eitel) who may be connected with the cult, he finds her corpse in the front yard that night.  Justin suspects one of the apartment-dwellers of the murder and turns amateur detective, enlisting his reluctant friend Scott (Fred DeReau) and Scott's shady, opportunistic dorm-mate Rick (writer-director Dave Campfield) in a scheme that will eventually include rigging all three apartments with pinhole surveillance cameras.

This is where DARK CHAMBER starts to resemble Hitchcock's REAR WINDOW but with advanced technology.  The guys sit in a van across the street, voyeuristically observing the activities of their suspects like flies on the wall, prying into a number of private conversations and events which yield much to be suspicious about.  Things gradually get darker and more twisted as the guys go from being passive observers to active participants in an increasingly dangerous and ultimately deadly game of catch-the-killer. 

DARK CHAMBER looks good for such a low-budget ($30,000) feature shot on digital video, thanks to the effort put into it both during and after principal photography.  Campfield gives his cast some interesting characters to play and they make the most of it.  It's especially nice to see Desiree Gould back on the screen since she dropped out of acting after SLEEPAWAY CAMP, but each one of the actors does a fine job.

Not only does Dave Campfield turn in an interesting performance himself as the sleazy Rick, he's also written a tense, involving screenplay filled with red herrings and ulterior motives, and directed it with skill.  The story is partially inspired by true events (which occurred in 1984 within a few blocks of the film's main location in Northport, Long Island) as recounted in the book "Say You Love Satan", about an actual cult called Knights of the Black Circle.  This, however, is merely a basis for Campfield's imagination to take off.

The DVD features an informative commentary by Campfield, a second one with cast and crew comments along with isolated musical tracks, seven behind-the-scenes featurettes, alternate scenes, some funny bloopers, a bunch of Shock-O-Rama trailers, and a really cool music video by Blue Moon Harem for the song "Addiction."  Oh yeah, and there's an Easter egg too, which is hilarious.

It bears repeating that, despite a couple of gory insert shots requested by the distributors so that they could sell this as more of a slasher flick, DARK CHAMBER isn't that kind of movie.  It's a moody, deliberately-paced psychological thriller, not a gross-out.  In the commentary, first-time director Campfield says he wanted to make a movie that concentrated on "plot, characters, and atmosphere", and in this, he has succeeded very well.

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