In 2008, Alterna Comics founder Peter Simeti published his OGN The Chair—a book which, despite its breakneck pace, hauntingly masterful black-and-white artwork (courtesy of artist Kevin Christensen) and its searing exploration of the uncomfortable truth that the worst humanity has to fear is each other, has flown mostly under-the-radar.Which is a shame, as it’s been touted here on Fanfest that Simeti’s The Chair can be held up alongside Moore’s seminal classic The Killing Joke in terms of themes and creep-out factor).
I was lucky enough to view The Chair’s movie adaptation, which recently came out on Blu-Ray, and let me tell you: The Chair went from page to screen and will, most certainly, worm its way into my nightmares (thanks, Alterna Comics, I’ll have to drag my nightlight out of storage for this one).
But seriously. As a graphic novel, The Chair works because it is a stark, gritty exploration of nature vs. nurture, morality, and unthinkable horrors. As a movie, it’s one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever seen. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch it— far from it. If you’re a horror buff or interested in psychology, this is something you won’t want to miss— it just means you’ll have to prepare yourself: steel your stomach, skip the popcorn, and if you’re watching it with the lights off (which I may or may not totally recommend. It depends on your threshold for all things gruesome and twisted), be ready to feel the hair on your arms shoot straight up.
So, in case you haven’t read the book yet, The Chair follows Richard “Sully” Sullivan, a prison inmate on death row who has spent the last decade proclaiming his innocence. On the other side of Sully’s cell is Enrik— The Warden— a vicious, sadistic man who condones vile acts against his charges— and why not? These are the people on death row, nobody will miss them, or care about what happens once they’re locked away— and his merry band of bloodthirsty prison guards, all sociopaths with a penchant for cruelty. As Sully’s death draws nearer, he clings to his innocence— but as The Warden’s violence escalates, Sully’s own past comes back to haunt him, and the jarring inevitability of his fate raises the question of whether or not he can be the monster people think he is.
It’s a universal law that the book is (typically) better than the movie, and I absolutely recommend picking up a copy of the graphic novel so you’re given a crash-course in all things The Chair. However, the movie is about 10000x more disturbing than the GN. The movie took the source material, expanded upon it, and made its unsettling aspects and ideas downright gut-churning. I’m not lying when I say there were some parts I had to lower the volume during, and others where I physically flinched away from my screen. I knew it was going to hit home (the book did the same), but I genuinely didn’t expect it to be so intense and raw, packed with live-wire intensity.
But a movie is nothing without the cast and crew that bring it to light. American Horror Story alum Naomi Grossman is stridently unapologetic and wrathfully disturbed as Sully’s mother, her performance a piercing, garish distortion of motherhood, for which she deserves all the awards.
Timothy Muskatell (Jurassic World) is the perfect Richard Sullivan. At once vulnerable and frenzied with the conviction of his own innocence, Muskatell portrays a difficult role with the presence of an award-winning veteran.
But it’s Roddy Piper, a Canadian pro wrestler-turned-actor who passed in 2015 at the age of 61, that absolutely stole the show as Murphy, one of The Warden’s prison guards. Murphy is obstinate about Sully’s guilt, and frequently taunts him with the sort of sneering aplomb that makes the audience wonder if he doesn’t belong behind bars himself. Murphy is also, perhaps, the easiest character to latch on/relate to in this weird dystopian version of prison. A strange, frightening combo that Piper delivers seamlessly. It’s a shame that more people don’t acknowledge how truly wonderful he was in this chilling role.
In short, The Chair is an exercise in depravity. It’s the perfect stocking stuffer for the horror movie aficionado in your life. If you appreciate great acting, twisted plots, and discovering diamonds in the rough, this is one you won’t want to pass up on. After watching it, I’ll be spending the rest of the weekend in the company of my Disney movies. If The Chair is something you’d like, you can check it out here.