At last year's Fantastic Fest I caught a flick called Broken, which I thought was an interesting if somewhat flawed piece of ultra-grungy survival horror -- but still a solid enough movie to make me wonder what newcomer Adam Mason would come up with next. So I'm pleased to note that Mr. Mason's latest effort, a tale of demonic insanity entitled The Devil's Chair, is a marked improvement over Broken -- which is still worth seeing, by the way, once it hits DVD next month ... but only if you're a serious horror freak.

Anyway, Mason's second effort is a gore-drenched tale that focuses on a strange chair that's located in a horrible old lunatic asylum. We open with a horny young couple of lovers who (very unwisely) decide to do some drugs and have some sex in the abandoned loony bin -- but when the pretty young gal sits down in the DEVIL'S CHAIR, all sorts of splattery hell breaks loose. Poor Nick is then shipped off to a (functioning) asylum for about four years. And then a powerfully short-sighted psychology professor signs some papers, springs Nick from the nut-house, and demands a guided tour of the home of the demonic chair.

And then all splattery hell REALLY breaks loose. Suffice to say that not only do our main characters come across the mysterious chair -- but at one point or another they all decide to sit in the thing! (Gah! Morons!) Seems that this chair acts as a rusty and clamp-laden portal to another dimension in which a ravenous demon resides. To say much more would spoil some of the fun -- but it's not like The Devil's Chair is a densely-plotted affair. Matter of fact, it's quite refreshingly simple and straightforward. You'll get a few slick surprises along the way, but The Devil's Chair is not out to re-invent the wheel ... just to give it another bloody little spin. Mason and co-writer Simon Boyes are clearly more than well-versed in the realm of modern horror flicks. Our sorta-hero makes a few clever references to Hellraiser and Pumpkinhead at the outset, and then delivers a nastily amusing diatribe to the "gore-whores" near the finale. So if you're someone who's sitting down for a full-bore extra-gooey horror flick like The Devil's Chair, you can take comfort in the fact that you're being manipulated by some storytellers who love the same flicks you do.

The character list is a broadly colorful batch of cliches: Aside from the Stataham-esque intensity of Nick (Andrew Howard), we also get the sweet-faced good girl (Elize du Toit), the highly-suspect mega-hottie (Louise Griffiths), the painfully obnoxious joker guy (Matt Berry), and the overwhelmingly pretentious professor (David Gant, who over-emotes so wildly that the resulting humor simply must have been intentional). The quintet bumbles through the wonderfully creepy asylum before focusing its attention on the chair...

But again, I almost spoiled the fun. The Devil's Chair might not be a mini-masterpiece or a cult classic waiting to happen, but it's definitely a solid step up for the admirably astute Adam Mason. (You really can tell when a new horror-maker is faking it, and when he knows his stuff -- and I'd bet my entire John Carpenter DVD collection that Mason and Boyes really know their stuff, inside-out and with much geeky enthusiasm.) With only two horror flicks under his belt, Mason's already a guy to keep an eye on. Between the surprisingly excellent look of The Devil's Chair (from the cinematography to the creature work and the gore-geysers), the unexpectedly powerful lead performance from Howard, the screenplay that wavers between grimly disturbing and darkly amusing, and the appreciably brisk clip -- heck, I'm already looking forward to the sequel.