Released by: Dragon Film Entertainment Released on: 6/22/2002 Director: Renny Harlin Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Chelsea Field, Lane Smith, Tom Everett, Lincoln Kilpatrick Year: 1988 The Movie:
In 1988, before he would go on to become synonymous with Hollywood action films like Deep Blue Sea and Die Hard 2: Die Harder, Finnish director Renny Harlin would make a small dent in the horror genre with the Viggo Mortensen vehicle, Prison, made in 1988 (the same year the director lensed A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master).
Mortensen (best known nowadays as Aragorn from Peter Jackson’s epic Lord Of The Rings Trilogy) plays Burke, a recently incarcerated prisoner sent along with two hundred and ninety nine other inmates to rejuvenate Wyoming State Penitentiary. The prison was shut down long ago but due to recent budget cuts, it’s being reopened to make room for the inmates that there is no room for in the other prisons, much to the dismay of Katharine (played by Chelsea Field of The Dark Half and Dust Devil), who is with the Department Of Corrections and wants to ensure that the prisoners are given a fair shot at reform.
When the sadistic warden of the prison, Sharpe (Lane Smith, who played Nathan on V), sends Burke and another inmate to the basement to open up the old execution chamber, by doing so he unleashes a the ghost of an old inmate who was put to death in the prison years ago before it was closed. Obviously, no good can come of this and things go horribly wrong for all involved from here on out and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it before.
Harlin crafts a nice little horror movie with this one. Some of the effects are a little bit dated, particularly the energy/laser effects but other than that, this movie is quite well done. It tends to drag ever so slightly in a couple of scenes but for the most part it’s well paced with decent performances, even if Lane Smith as Sharpe reminded me of Tommy Lee Jones in Natural Born Killers (which Prison predates by quite a few years).
A couple of interesting gore set pieces and a truly amazing location make for an atmospheric and moody chiller that’s not a bad way to kill an evening. The movie was actually shot on location at Wyoming State Penitentiary and the director uses the authenticity of the set to maximum effect, as the prison becomes as much a character in the film as any of the inmates portrayed by the human actors that were cast.
Prison is presented in 1.66.1 widescreen and it doesn’t look too bad. The blacks could be stronger and there are a few spots where there is some odd print damage that almost looks like tape rolls (was this taken from a VHS source? I don’t really know) but for the most part this is an acceptable, if unexceptional, transfer of a very dark, murky looking film.
The English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is about average for a late eighties film that hasn’t been give any serious re-mastering. There is some mild channel separation but the bass could have been a bit livelier. Dialogue is reasonably clear with only a little background noise in a couple of spots.
We get a trailer and a couple of text bios in German, that's it for extras.
The Final Word:
Dragon gives Prison an acceptable DVD release. It’s far from perfect, but so far it’s the only DVD release available, and the film is worth a look.