Monday, May 4

Prison (1988)


Directed by Renny Harlin
102 Minutes / New World Pictures VHS / Cropped from 1.85:1 to full screen

A condemned prison in Wyoming is reopened and the former hard-nosed warden is back in charge, but is haunted by nightmares of sending a innocent man to the chair all those decades ago. A concrete wall leading to the execution chamber in the boiler room is breached, releasing a malevolent spirit of electric blue light throughout the facility. A series of horrific deaths occur and at first the warden blames an unknown murderer within the population. Though as conditions get more deplorable, the warden is confronted by a grisly killing that couldn't possibly come by the hands of a prisoner. The cons are getting rowdy over their false charge and suddenly they find their cell doors unlocked...

A brisk, surprisingly splattery, and action-oriented mainstream effort that isn't too concerned with specifics. All characters, even lead Viggo Mortensen, are just barely fleshed out. Mortensen's Burke is a sly young prisoner spending time on his first wrap. That's pretty much all the information we're given and Mortensen tries to channel the quiet cool of Eastwood or McQueen to shaky effect. The past and present relationships between inmates, as well as the warden and spirit, are sketchy at best. The spirit's target is flimsy, it's definitely after the warden, but after the inmates off-and-on for reasons unexplained.

The saving grace is as mentioned the brisk pace that holds your attention to the minute so that you don't think too hard. The deaths (or more so aftermaths) are ghoulish in their red sauce soaked glory. Not a bad way to spent a night with the VCR (or region free DVD player), but it's likely not to stay with you afterward.

A note about the Italian DVD (available here), it features one of the very worst transfers I've seen on the format. Non-anamorphic, dark, muddy, and basically unwatchable. Even the VHS reviewed here has clearly superior picture quality. Also there's a U.K. DVD (available here) with an anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer that's most likely the best choice of all.

Film: 6/10
VHS Picture: 6/10
VHS Sound: 6/10

5 comments:

J. Astro said...

hahaha - yes! I totally made my mom rent this for me when I was a kid. It grossed her out big time, although I cannot remember a single kill or bit of the plot. Just the cover and the title and that my ma couldn't finish it.

Sehnzeleid said...

Cool, I had heard about it for a long time, bought the Italian disc, couldn't stand ten minutes of it, and found this tape yesterday. Certainly better than expected!

Shaun S said...

I am really surprised that this has not made its way to Region 1 DVD, seeing as how it is directed by Harlin and stars Viggo. I remember seeing it as a youngster. Isn't there a scene where an inmate gets stuck in a crawlspace or ceiling and gets impaled by wires (or something to that effect) and then comes crashing through the ceiling into the lunchroom? I think that this has to be my "most-wanted" region 1 release now.

Sehnzeleid said...

Yep Shaun, that scene's in this one. That guy is Tom Everett, or batshit crazy Alfredo from Leatherface: TCM III.

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0263577/

Impressive career!

Carl (ILHM) said...

I thought it was a solid watch up until the end, then I got bored with the "ghost prison is shooting at everyone with little suspense or action", fun blood and gore though and plenty of implied prison rape lol..

...do you dare tread upon the staircase?
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