PrisonPrison
Director: Renny Harlin

Cast: Lane Smith, Viggo Mortensen and Chelsea Field
Review by Brian M. Sammons

The horror masters over at Scream Factory are back at it, delivering the Blu-ray goods on an impressively regular schedule. For this February 19th they give the world a belated Valentine’s Day gift with four titles new to Blu. First up for review it’s the haunted prison movie named, aptly enough, Prison from 1988.

In this movie the state of Wyoming is having problems finding homes for all its prisoners, so for a temporary measure, 300 inmates are transferred to a rundown and long abandoned prison to clean it up and get it back in working order. Naturally there’s a reason why the prison was abandoned, just like there’s a reason that the door to the execution chamber has been bricked up, and that reason is bad news for all involved.

For roughly the first half of this film it’s pretty much your standard prison movie with all the clichés intact. There’s the crazy, squirrely inmate, the unfortunately pretty boy inmate who is cellmates with the hillbilly prison rapist (Trivia time: the rapist was played by an actor who was actually a real prisoner at time who was convicted of murder. No wonder he was so good at the part.), the mystical voodoo man who senses that something is not right from the start, and the good looking, nice guy inmate who we are meant to relate to and will act as our protagonist for the film. In this case he’s played by a young Viggo Mortensen. Then there is the sadistic prison guards, the one guard who is tough but fair, and their leader; a hard case warden with a secret to hide, played by veteran “hey I know that guy” actor, Lane Smith. There is even a shoehorned love interest as a proponent of prison reform working for the state there to make sure no prisoner abuse is happening.

Now if you like both prison movies and horror movies then you’re more apt to like Prison then if you’re just a horrorhead looking for thrills and chills. I will say this is a good and enjoyable movie all the way through. It is well-acted for the most part and directed by Renny Harlin in one of his very early feature films. However it does sort of drag in the horror department for a good long time and even when the ghost is finally released, it takes its sweet time dolling out the murderous mayhem. But eventually the haunted happenings do start in earnest and when they do, they’re pretty darn good.

There are some genuinely creepy moments to be found in this often forgotten horror movie. I mean, there are very few places on earth more frightening than prison, after all. It helps that this flick was shot in a real life abandoned prison. The whole place just radiates a sullen menace. In addition to the chills, there is a pretty good mystery behind the haunting and some good bloody bits that will keep the gorehounds happy. Splatter highlights include an inmate being roasted alive, a guard being wrapped up like a mummy in barbwire, a guy getting a hole blasted right through him, and more. Oh and slasher fans, keep your eyes peel for Kane Hodder, the man who played Jason Voorhees more than any other man. I won’t tell you who he plays, but you may recognize him when you see him.

This new Blu-ray/DVD combo pack from Scream Factory first and foremost looks great. The images are sharp and the colors bright, but it doesn’t have that overly processed look where everything and everyone now looks plastic like a lot of old movies do when they’re brought out on Blu-ray. As for extras, it comes with a slip case, reversible cover art, a commentary track by director Renny Harlin, and a new retrospective featurette called “Hard Time: The Making of Prison” that runs 38 minutes. Rounding out the extras are trailers, poster and production stills, and a short still gallery of pictures from the old Wyoming State Prison where the movie was shot which has since become a museum.

Prison is a good and fun fright film. It works as a prison movie and it works as a horror movie. This title has flown under the radar of many a horror fan and that’s a shame. If you have yet to serve any time with Prison, you can now do so easily thanks to the new Blu-ray from Scream Factory. Consider it well recommended.

About Brian M. Sammons

Brian M. Sammons has penned stories that have appeared in the anthologies: Arkham Tales, Horrors Beyond, Monstrous, Dead but Dreaming 2, Horror for the Holidays, Deepest, Darkest Eden and others. He has edited the books; Cthulhu Unbound 3, Undead & Unbound, Eldritch Chrome, Edge of Sundown, Steampunk Cthulhu, Dark Rites of Cthulhu, Atomic Age Cthulhu, World War Cthulhu and Flesh Like Smoke. He is also the managing editor of Dark Regions Press’ Weird Fiction line. For more about this guy that neighbors describe as “such a nice, quiet man” you can check out his infrequently updated webpage here: http://brian_sammons.webs.com/ and follow him on Twitter @BrianMSammons.

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