Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Thanks to ‘Ringu’ little freaky dead girls are the horror flavor of the moment. In the flick ‘One Missed Call’ a little freaky dead girl was causing all kinds of trouble. In the movie ‘The Marsh’ a little freaky dead girl was freaking people out looking for revenge. There are freaky dead girls around, but today we are focusing on ‘Furnace’ where a burnt up little freaky dead girl is doing what little freaky dead girls do. Running across the camera when some characters back is turned, whispering freaky unintelligible stuff, showing up in your face one moment but then when someone taps on your shoulder unannounced, disappears completely when you turn back. Which is another thing I wish horror flicks would stop doing. Only in horror movies do people sneak up on you, wherever you may be, and suddenly tap on your shoulder. Usually after you’ve just seen something really freaky. In real life if you walk into a room and someone’s back is turned you just say ‘Hey dude, what’s up’ or something to that effect. People normally don’t creep on their tippy toes and then suddenly grab somebody by the shoulder just to ask them where they keep the sugar. ‘Furnace’ does this and whole lot more as it dusts off just about every horror movie cliché it can find.

Our film opens informing us that it was ‘inspired by true events’, which could literally mean just about anything. It would appear that Blackgate Prison was built on some kind of burial ground and as such the level of bad things that have happened at this place over the last century and half is astronomical. Part of the prison was damaged by a fire some fifty years ago, but now with new prisoners being transported, we need to open it, repair it, and open it back up. Security guard Robbins (Hip Hoppin’ Paul Wall) is deep in the belly of this prison when something bad happens to him, causing him to go home and blow his head off. Investigative homicide detective Michael Turner (Michael Pare) is on the scene. It looks like a suicide to you and me but Turner has his doubts. Partially because Robbins is missing a couple of fingers, and no one knows where the hell those fingers are.

Turner heads to Blackgate to investigate further and finds out some weird things have been happening, as the suicides have been piling up at a sky high rate. He meets the staff psychologist, Dr. Ashley Carter (Jenny McShane), who thinks the talk of evil is crazy and that the prisoners are simply hallucinating because of the illegal drugs they are taking. Seems the drugs are being provided by an old adversary of Turner’s, head security guard Frank Miller (The legendary Tom Sizemore) – which has virtually nothing do with anything in this movie. Two other prisoners are pretty convinced of the freakiness though in inmate Fury (Danny Trejo) and inmate Terrence (Ja Rule) and they’re planning a break out. The freakiness gets all crazy when right after sex between Dr. Carter and Detective Turner, the freaky dead girl shows up in his bedroom. This was one of the weakest ‘We gotta have sex now’ segues I’ve ever seen, since one moment they were talking about dead kids at the prison, with virtually no chemistry between the two, and the next moment there are candlelights and shots of Michael Pare’s bare shoulder while they roll around in the sack. Anyway, they know now that evil is afoot and they rush back to the prison to get to the bottom of the evil before it’s too late.

Aside from the weak dialog, a lack of originality and the fractured narrative, writer director William Butler’s movie suffered the most from an extreme lack of focus. This film was literally all over the place. There seemed to have been a side story concerning Turner’s dead wife and child, but it was never developed and as such didn’t need mentioning. Actor D.J. Naylor, who I thought was great in the film ‘Dead Heist’ makes an appearance but gets killed almost immediately with NO ONE curious as to where he went. I don’t even know if he was a guard or a prisoner. I would NEVER suggest that some filmmaker should EVER remove Tom Sizemore from ANY movie since he brings a quality to a role that few actors can, but his drug dealing security guard didn’t serve much of a purpose either, other than to spark a prison riot near the end I suppose which was also pointless. Speaking of the prisoners, they just walked around willy nilly in this joint and I don’t think guards are allowed to carry live firearms while in general population, for reasons that we saw in this film. Prisoners might just grab them and then start shooting people. Without getting into spoiler territory just let me say that very little in this movie made sense and didn’t have the support of much logic. We are usually willing to accept a certain level or ridiculousness for a horror film, but even we have our limits.

On the plus side my man Michael Pare is a B-Movie actor extraordinaire and handles his role as the clueless detective quite well, and Tom Sizemore is a better actor stoned out of his mind than most actors are stone cold sober. William Butler also found a role for Kelly Stables, who played Samara in ‘The Ring 2’, as the ‘Hot CSI chick’. Ms. Stables is just an adorable girl – or woman I should say because she looks to be about fourteen even though she’s thirty. Butler also makes good use of the prison setting for some decent eerie atmosphere, but the film still wasn’t all that scary.

What ultimately sinks ‘Furnace’, despite the solid acting performances and some nicely staged scenes are the lapses in logic and story and the completely unfocused narrative. William Butler may have some ability as a director, but his next time out might we suggest that he turn over screenwriting duties one of the hopeful 8.6 billion screenwriters that are available out there in the world.

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