Monday, May 4
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.
VHS Picture: 6/10
VHS Sound: 6/10