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The spirit of a long-dead prisoner returns for revenge, haunting the prison's new governor.
For more about Prison and the Prison Blu-ray release, see the Prison Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on February 2, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Chelsea Field, Lane Smith, Lincoln Kilpatrick
Director: Renny Harlin
» See full cast & crew
Prison Blu-ray Review
The big house becomes a haunted house.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, February 2, 2013
Some things just won't stay buried.
The "atmospheric" Horror movie isn't always better than the straightforward genre film in which some maniacal, unstoppable slasher murders a bunch of people, but when it's done well it certainly gives those sorts a run for their money. Prison is a fine little film, a small genre gem that takes a very simple premise and a really scary location and marries them in a movie that's just as creepy, intense, and chilling as any other of its kind. In essence, this is a "haunted house" movie set in a prison rather than some old hilltop mansion, and there are hundreds of potential victims with no means of escape rather than an intimate gathering of would-be victims with probably less in the way of street smarts and survival instincts than this, or any, prison's inmates. The usual elements are at play here -- the unexplainable killings, weird noises, general unpredictability, and a slow growth towards a violent and frenetic finish -- but they're given a heightened sense of peril considering all of the unique little elements at play in the "dilapidated prison" setting. This is a fine, classically styled Horror picture that should satisfy genre fans in search of a balanced and memorable little film.
Years ago, prisoner Charlie Forsythe was put to death by electrocution at the Creedmore Prison. It's since closed and sat abandoned for years, but it hasn't been forgotten. Eaton Sharpe (Lane Smith, Red Dawn), then a guard at the facility, suffers from recurring nightmares about the execution; he's been haunted by them for years, and now he'll have to face his old demons all over again. The prison is being re-opened, and Sharpe has been chosen to head up the facility as warden. He oversees the arrival of hundreds of prisoners, including a short-timer named Burke (Viggo Mortensen, The Road). When Burke is ordered to punch through a solid wall covering up the prison's old electrocution chamber, an electrical entity is released. Now, prisoners and staff both begin to die or experience frightening supernatural phenomena. As the guards attempt to keep control, an ever-more-frightened prisoner population is forced to do anything it can to survive.
Prison greatly benefits from a young Renny Harlin's skilled direction and his use of harsh, focused light and dark, dense shadow to heighten the film's spooky setting and blood-curdling premise. Add in some creaks and moans and the generally unwelcoming, dank, and hopeless feel of a prison -- an old-fashioned concrete and iron prison that's been abandoned for decades at that, and not one of the more modern plush deals -- and it's easy to see why Prison's atmosphere is its best asset and nearly epic in how well it's used in the film. Harlin gives a professional sheen to a movie that's often dark and unwelcoming; his subtle but skilled direction accentuates all the creepy goodness within and places the viewer amidst the growing chaos and fear while also making the setting the classic "inanimate character" which, in this case, may be something of a misnomer given that various objects cook, shoot, strangle, and otherwise harm inmates and staff in an unnatural, paranormal sort of fashion. Still, the prison itself is indeed the central contextual focus in the film, in many ways indeed the "primary character" of the entire roster. Fortunately, the cast rallies around it and plays well against the ever-growing terrors that climax in plenty of violence.
Basically, Prison is a tale of revenge with a supernatural twist and set in an environment ripe for just such escapades. And no matter how formidable the setting, an empty prison is, well, just an empty prison; it needs victims, er, characters to make it more than a subject of interest for some artsy still photographs. The main characters are well-developed and the cast is excellent. Thanks to the film's great production design and direction, they basically melt into the setting and become one with the prison walls that seem to be ever shrinking as the pressure mounts and the bodies pile up. The late Lane Smith is fantastic as the tough-as-nails warden, the man who's the object of the revenge-fueld violence that plays out all around the prison. He balances his exterior toughness with his inward fear -- fueled both by recurring nightmares as well as the ever-growing intensity of the situation inside the prison -- and creates a good, strong character for a film of this sort. Viggo Mortensen, in an early role before stardom, offers a strong-willed, no-frills performance that suits the character wonderfully. Prison is also packed with some memorable special effects that are grisly but not overly gory. The picture also enjoys a robust and memorable score courtesy of Richard Band (Puppet Master)
Prison Blu-ray, Video Quality
Prison arrives on Blu-ray with a rather good-looking high definition presentation. It's fairly soft and fuzzy to open -- the execution sequence feels almost dreamlike, which, in fact, it turns out to be -- but the film sharpens up nicely afterwards. This is never the pinnacle of Blu-ray clarity and perfect detailing, but Shout! Factory has produced a good, clean Blu-ray, one that's gently filmic with a light grain overlay. Details are always adequate, and very good in the brighter scenes out in the prison's courtyard. It captures the old, battered, roughly textured walls quite nicely; the same may be said of denim jeans, prison shirts, and general facial details. Things can get a little murky in darker shots, but the general stability more than satisfies in such scenes. Colors follow suit; they're at their brightest and most balanced in well-lit scenes, and basic shades hold their own in the prison's bowels. Black levels are fairly even and accurate throughout, ditto flesh tones. There's very little in the way of wear and tear; a few vertical lines are really the only eyesores here. Edge halos are few and other unwanted attributes are also minimal. This isn't the best Blu-ray catalogue transfer to date, but it's a solid one that fans of the film and genre aficionados both should enjoy.
Prison Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Prison's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless soundtrack is disappointingly inconsistent. It begins well enough with an obvious cinematic flair, a rather big presentation with good spacing and clarity of an enjoyable, classically styled genre score. The track also makes good use of the entire stage in placing positive, distinct sound effects here and there, like a ringing telephone off to one side or precisely placed ambient effects throughout the prison. Unfortunately, such are the highlights of the track; it begins to wobble, lightly at first and more prominently later in the film. The track plays with a general unevenness to it. Wide, reverberating footfalls in the empty prison sound a bit detached in one early scene, and a dialogue exchange at the same time sounds rather shallow. That shallow dialogue remains through much of the movie; it's almost lost in a few scenes and never quite as prominent and accurate as it might should be. A big wall of a wind-like sound in chapter three lacks precision clarity but does offer some heavy low end power. There's a good heft to thunder and machine gun fire late in the film, but again there's an evident absence of crispness and clarity. All around, the track feels rather uneven. It's good enough to get listeners through, but it's far from perfect.
Prison Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Prison's supplemental section is dominated by a solid commentary track and a wonderful "making-of" retrospective piece. A DVD copy of the film is also included in the case, and Scream Factory has also produced reversible cover art.
Prison Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Prison is an electric movie -- literally -- and one that tells a good, basic tale of supernatural revenge in the confines of a dreary, inhospitable prison. It's well acted and photographed both, but the production values and work on either side of the camera are largely dwarfed by the imposing figure of the prison itself. Certainly Renny Harlin does well to make it a character in its own right, and Prison is indeed shaped primarily through its namesake, a big, imposing figure that seems to grow ever smaller as the violence and terror mount. This isn't the pinnacle of the Horror genre, but it is a solid, dependable scary movie that shows the power of atmosphere in genre moviemaking. Shout! Factory's Blu-ray release of Prison offers good video, mediocre audio, and a fair assortment of extras. Recommended.
Prison Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Upcoming Horror Titles Detailed - November 20, 2012
Scream Factory, the horror-thriller offshoot of independent film distributor Shout Factory, has detailed its upcoming combo pack editions of Renny Harlin's Prison, Ted Nicolaou's TerrorVision, and Robert Scott's The Video Dead. Street date is February 19th.
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