Random Film of the Week: PRISON

Prison_MPLet me tell you, kids… Scared Straight has NOTHING on Renny Harlin’s PRISON. Hell, If they showed this released in 1988 flick on TV and in schools, instead of some hard-timing losers screaming at kids about staying out of trouble, I’d bet you a hot nickel that the rate of incarceration in America would be at an all-time low. Seriously, this film is SO messed up and mean and shot in an actual closed prison with actual inmates from another joint so there’s a solid sense of verisimilitude here that’s amplified into the haunted realm by the ghost of an executed killer out for some bloody reeeee-venge.

This film is also important for a few reasons horror and fantasy fans should appreciate. For one, it got Harlin the job directing Nightmare on Elm Street 4 which was his “big” American genre film break and led to others over the years both good and bad. It’s also Viggo Mortensen’s first movie appearance in a leading role and we all know where his career went as the years went by. As for this nugget of methodical madness, it’s a pretty effective blend of genre jail flick and atmospheric horror featuring some nicely gory moments plus one of the funniest random deaths I’ve ever seen in any film…

The plot is kind of basic, as you’ve no doubt guessed. Think Brute Force meets a crankier version of The Green Mile and a few other prison flicks, but with intentionally too-dark cinematography in some scenes and you get the idea. If you remove out the creepy vibe and murderous spirit doing its thing, you’d have a decent and gloomy old-school prison flick. Harlin infuses the proper tone in these standard scenes by using that aforementioned mix of real prisoners real prison to give the film its appropriate bleakness. The horror stuff builds up as the ghost get to his business of killing until even the jail can’t contain his rage. As this is a mid-80’s film (it was shot in 1986), there’s a lot of blue lighting, great practical effects and some funky haircuts happening that will get some of you grinning.

On the other hand, the assorted kills are well done and memorable, with a soundtrack that lets you know what’s coming in case you’re one of those people who needs to know when to yank a pillow in front of your face. Barbed wire, pipes, fire and a few other methods of dispatch are used on a few unlucky felons and others, but the best death in the film comes later on when one convict who’s had enough simply dies of fright. This scene is hi-larious because it’s right after what seems to be a big escape sequence where some of the remaining prisoners finally break out of their now hell-filled hellhole. Everyone’s fine but the poor guy in the back seat of the getaway car with his eyes WIDE open and that huge smile on his face? Yep, he keels over to one side (at which point, you may keel over on yours cracking up).

I recall this playing here in NYC for a really short time back in 1988 (I missed it, but a few friends saw it) before popping up as a rental tape not too long afterwards. Which is how I saw it recently as a friend of mine happened to still have a copy. Amusingly enough, I actually didn’t know this was out on a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack from Shout Factory since last February, so It looks as if that’s the way to go if you’re interested in this moldy oldie. And guess what? My own creaky (but well-kept) VCR finally gave up the ghost after playing this film (noooo!), so I believe it got scared to death at some point as well. Ah, technology. Well, it was a good what, twenty years of service plus I got out of that thing, so at least it went out with a decent flick…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.