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February 17, 2013

Movie Review: Prison (1988, Blu-ray/DVD Combo)

Not long before the Finnish-born filmmaker Renny Harlin (Cliffhanger, Diehard II: Dieharder) made his name as one of the go-to high-concept action film guys of the 1990's he had some success with a couple of fine genre films. Both in 1988, Harlin helmed arguably one of the best Nightmare on Elm Street sequels in the Dream Master and the haunted prison film, Prison. Prison has just made its debut on Blu-ray and DVD here in the states via Scream Factory and folks; it's just filled to the brim with goodness.

The spirit of Charles Forsyth (Kane Hodder, Hatchet) haunts every inch of the dilapidated interior of a Wyoming prison. Former guard and now Warden, Eaton Sharpe (Lane Smith, Dark Night of the Scarecrow) has a lot to do with why the prison is haunted - he helped fry Forsyth, who was actually innocent of his crimes.

After being closed for years the prison re-opens to be the home for some very unlucky felons that include a quiet and harmless car thief named Burke (Viggo Mortensen, Lord of the Rings Trilogy). Burke as well as the rest of the convicts begin to know the bastard that Warden Sharpe really is with the wide-spread abuse on his prisoners. The inmates also have to deal with Forsyth. The ghost of Forsyth may be there for Sharpe, but if a few dozen prisoners perish horrifically it's not going to matter to this VERY pissed off spirit.

The performances are solid here, with the veteran Lane Smith and Tom Everett as the escape-happy" Rabbitt", being the most fun to watch. Smith never smiles and portrays the unpleasant, dickish Warden Sharpe beautifully. I liked Everett's energy. He's just another guy that brings everything to whatever role he plays.

Minor Spoilers

Prison contains some of the most excruciating deaths ever put to screen. One prisoner is cooked alive in a prison cell that looks like the inside of a microwave. There's also a scene with a guard getting wrapped up in barb wire. These scenes hit on some essential formula for horror movie deaths - unsettling, gory and most importantly, creative. I wouldn't be surprised if the writers of the Final Destination series all had worn out VHS tapes of the New World release.

The supplements here comparable to previous Scream Factory titles, so in other words, Prison is packed with some very cool extra features. Hard Time - The Making of "Prison" is an excellent documentary again from the folks at Red Shirt Pictures that features the likes of Kane Holder, Charles Band, Tom "Rabbitt" Everett, producer Irwin Yablans and more. The screenwriting process with writer C. Courtney Joyner and Irwin Yablans is covered here. Joyner should get a lot of credit for taking away the tired slasher  motif Yablans wanted and injected the haunted prison aspect that makes Prison unique among so many of its derivative brethren. I liked watching Kane Hodder’s interviews. He has a funny story about how Lane Smith was a method actor on set and how he even took a page out of Lane’s book for one of his later roles utilizing the “method” technique.

Harlin's audio commentary is pretty interesting. The director goes solo here and actually does quite a good job of it telling stories about how he met Irwin Yablans and when he was hired on for Prison. Yablans was a big admirer of Harlin’s first film, Born American, so he was an easy choice as captain. We also get to hear a lot of praise about Mortensen and how directable he was. There’s a cool story about Rabbitt’s death scene and how it really cost next to nothing to create that scene. Also included among the supplements are a poster and still gallery and a copy of the Prison screenplay.

The Blu-ray presentation is nice here. Scream Factory again goes the extra mile making the film look and sound fantastic. Prison is a no-brainer purchase and a big treat for fans who want to see film that has the ability to not only pile the blood and guts but scare the hell out of you with some wonderfully old-fashioned haunted house shocks. Highly Recommended.

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