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Detective Michael Turner investigates mysterious deaths that occur in and around a maximum-security prison. What begins as just another suicide and murder case unfolds into a furious struggle to uncover the unexplainable while escaping death at the hands of a vengeful spirit unleashed within the prison walls. Written by
A maximum security prison can be looked at as the ultimate house of evil, as it occupies some of the most sadistic criminals. Its walls are terrifying, its gates ensure that no evil can get out. In the case of FURNACE however, a force within the confines of the eerie Black Gate Prison reveal a darker evil than the most extremely violent offenders incarcerated.
FURNACE, the latest film by William Butler (MADHOUSE), opens with a prison guard who commits suicide after coming home from a shift at the Black Gate Prison. Homicide detective Michael Turner (Michael Pare) is assigned the case and quickly discovers something odd. The guard had two fingers severed and bandaged. When an inmate is found dead (the last one who saw the guard alive), he decides to go to the prison to investigate where he runs into his old partner Frank Miller (Tom Sizemore), now a drug addicted, corrupt prison guard. Miller is leading an excursion into the darkest reaches of the prison, where a few inmates (Danny Trejo and rapper Ja Rule) are taking part in. As Miller learns more about the prison, he teams up with the prison psychiatrist (Jenny McShane) to find that spirit from within the prison has returned to extract vengeance on the guards and inmates inside the prison.
FURNACE is the second film directed by William Butler and he does a very good job at setting the film's atmosphere, slowly building tension to the story. The film makes excellent use of its primary location, a Tennessee State Prison (and it does look great on screen). At a scant 85 minutes, the film runs at a brisk pace. Butler, a veteran of horror, definitely knows the genre well and he provides some solid chills here. The film's final act reveals the mystery of the furnace and while it provides the film's more extreme moments, it does fall into territory we've seen before. I also didn't feel the need for things to be explained because the visuals alone were enough to tell the story (Butler is very good with visuals). The dialogue is a little cringe worthy at times in moments of drama and in back story, but what separates this from others is that Butler did assemble a really fine cast for this film.
The ageless Michael Pare, who I've always liked, is fine as Turner, the dedicated detective with a tragic past. It's fit for him and it's good to see him still able to carry a film. He's always been reliable to give a decent performance. I've said before that I've admired Tom Sizemore as an actor and he delivers another good performance as Miller, the film's antagonist. Mirroring his harrowing off screen life, to see Miller as a man fallen on hard times dealing drugs did make it feel uncomfortable to watch at times, but Sizemore delivers it all with a fiery demeanor. Danny Trejo, an ex-convict, mainly has an extended cameo as Fury, and does his scenes well. Ja Rule is surprisingly good as a convict who warns Turner of the evil within the furnace of the prison. Kelly Stables of THE RING is fun as a coroner who has a friendship with Turner (though the mention of a cup of coffee after every exchange did get a little tedious). Jenny McShane is OK in her role as the prison psychiatrist, but the character does seem a little out of place with the rest of the film.
The special effects are interesting in this film, with lots of digital effects (a surprise considering Butler's career as a special effects artist) which are good and effective in showing the ghosts inside the prison but the practical effects are very good here. I wouldn't say the film is extremely bloody or gory, but there are some nasty effects which combined with some good use of lighting make for some very scary moments.
The DVD contains some alternate scenes which doesn't offer anything new to the story and were wisely cut out, but there are some entertaining interviews with Ja Rule, Danny Trejo, and Tom Sizemore. Sizemore in particular shows his unpredictable behavior with some very funny moments.
In all, FURNACE is an enjoyable movie, a throwback in a sense with some fine performances. With this film and MADHOUSE, William Butler is proving to be a modern day Roger Corman in delivering on a small budget with some familiar yet enjoyable fare. If there's one thing, Butler does respect and love horror, and it shows in his work.
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