MSRP: $19.95
RUNNING TIME: 85 minutes
• Trailer
• Director Commentary

The Pitch

In the basement of a creepy prison, there’s a haunted furnace.  If you see this furnace, you will be killed by an angry ghost.  You’d think that people would just go out of their way to avoid the furnace, but they don’t!

The Humans

Michael Paré, Tom Sizemore, Ja Rule, Danny Trejo, Jenny McShane

In lean times, the prison’s curtain budget was often hit the hardest.

The Nutshell

In a crowded maximum-security prison, detective Michael Turner (Paré) investigates a series of mysterious and unexplained deaths.  Guards and inmates appear to be killing themselves in lemming-like numbers, and besides the obvious “horrible living conditions” motivation for these suicides, no one can figure out why people are dying left and right.  Meanwhile, a group of prisoners, including Terrence (Ja Rule) and Fury (Danny Trejo), plot an escape as they renovate a deserted wing of the prison. 

Turner butts heads with Head Guard Frank Miller (Sizemore), but finds an ally in prison counselor Ashley Carter (McShane).  As Turner wrestles with his own shattered past, he uncovers a haunted furnace with a thirst for vengeance.  Long-haired girl ghosts lurk in dark corners, and lots of prison folk yell “WHAT WAS THAT?“. 

Predictably, Hasbro’s HuggyTime Tar-Bear had multiple problems, such as its habit of repeatedly bursting into flames.

The Lowdown

Imagine a world where a prison thriller starring Tom Sizemore and Danny Trejo is a complete waste of time.  Sounds awful, right?  After all, Sizemore always adds a filthy, nutty kind of sensibility to whatever film he’s in, and Trejo’s a cred booster to almost any cast. 

Welcome to hell.

 “I don’t see why my ceramic Phrenology head makes you suspicious
of my credentials.  I’m a highly trained psychologist, and the
Phrenology head is just a paperweight. 
Now show me your palms so we can balance your chakras.”

From its opening frames, Furnace is a textbook exercise in banal, lazy horror filmmaking.  The intro features a seemingly endless and horribly clichéd “scanning the newspaper” montage that informs the viewer of the prison’s nefarious history, complete with close-ups of old photos of the film’s main supernatural antagonists, which serves to prevent the viewer from ever being confused or surprised when we discover the supernatural reasons for the prison deaths (HINT:  you sure won’t be surprised about anything after watching this montage).  It’s set to awful industrial music, and is one of the most grating opening credits sequences I’ve ever seen.  Not a good first impression, director William Butler.

From there, we witness what’s supposed to be a disturbing domestic sequence:  a wounded prison guard returns home, quietly walks past his wife, and calmly blows his brains out in the downstairs bathroom.  We learn later that this guard had an unfortunate run-in with the murderous and eponymous furnace, but in the context of the film, this scene makes absolutely no sense.  Spoiler- the furnace is haunted by a pair of ghosts, and they’re murdering inmates and staging the deaths as suicides.  Since the guard actually kills himself, I’m left wondering why his was the only genuine suicide.  Maybe he was just sad.

Paré‘s hard boiled detective character steps in to investigate the guard’s death, and while he grumbles and grunts his lines like a pro, he’s just another stale caricature here.  We spend precious little time with the prisoner crew (headed up by Ja Rule and Trejo, who appear to be intentionally keeping a low profile in what they know will be a dud), and even less time with Sizemore’s Frank Miller.  It’s a pity, since Miller’s the only character who’s even remotely worth watching in this derivative, useless mess of a film.

And that’s the worst thing about Furnace.  It has a certain polish to it and looks reasonably well-budgeted, but it steals liberally and almost comically from a stock bag of horror film tropes that any fan of the genre knows inside and out.  The foremost and most glaringly obvious of these thefts is the ubiquitous girl ghost who lurks in the furnace and torments her victims.  She’s tiny, disfigured, and well-coiffed;  in other words, she’s yet another Ringu girl Hasn’t this crap already been parodied to the point of exhaustion?  In addition, there are no less than four “creeping protagonist investigates a spooky noise, and freaks out when their companion places a hand on their shoulder from behind” jump scares, as well as the time-worn “jerking awake from a nightmare” sequence that isn’t even valuable as a parody at this point. 

After we discover that the old furnace is haunted by a daughter/father team of ghosts, things don’t get much better.  Paré finds a boring love interest and faces off against a bitter rival (he and Sizemore have a past!), but it doesn’t amount to anything interesting.  Ja Rule and Danny Trejo team up to plot an escape, and spend the last act running through a series of boiler rooms and yelling “OH!  OOHH!!  WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?”.  These boiler room scenes are steamy.  Literally!  They should have given “Steam Pipe McDumbscare” top billing, as he’s probably the most dynamic and compelling character in the film.  There are just tons and tons of exploding steam pipes in this film, and it’s to the point that I’m actually kind of proud of them for sticking with their idiotic steam motif.  It symbolizes pressure!  And hissing.

There’s very little gore or violence in the film.  You’d think that a movie about prison ghosts would at least include some supernatural shankin’ here and there, but no.  In fact, I can’t think of anything from Furnace that couldn’t be shown on late night basic cable. 

There is, however, one solitary and redeeming moment in the film, but to divulge it, I’ll have to give up a major spoiler.  At this point, no reader should give a fuck.

Near the end of the film, as Ja Rule and Trejo dodge steam bursts, Ja Rule is tragically- and hilariously- sucked up into a ceiling pipe.  It’s a surreal, wonderful moment, especially if you have fond memories of Mario in the underworld.  See my modified screencap below.  If you happen to catch this pile on cable (or on the mostly dreadful FEARnet on demand service, which seems to have a fondness for flicks like this one), watch for this moment and savor it:

“FUCK, JENKINS!  The princess is in another castle!” 

I’d rather watch a dozen horror failures with a unique vision or purpose than a single derivative pile of garbage.  Sadly, Furnace falls into the latter category.  Adding insult to injury is the waste of decent talent.  Incinerate this film.

The Package

Furnace‘s audio mix is awful.  It’s the most surround-heavy mix I’ve ever heard, and it prompted me to adjust my receiver settings to compensate for the offset.  I’m a fairly meticulous audio guy, so this bothered me greatly.  The subwoofer output was also grating to the point that I turned it off.  I don’t want to hear my subwoofer roar every time Paré starts his Buick.

The video quality isn’t bad, but it might fool you into thinking that Furnace is a well-made film.  There is a trailer and director commentary.

1.0 out of 10