{2jtab: Movie Review}

Prison - Blu-ray Review


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3 Stars

Poor Renny Harlin.  What went down as arguably his best (and certainly most atmospheric) film and intended American debut, Prison, never saw the light of day in what was supposed to be its big theatrical release.  Yes, Dead Heat got its slot.  Tiny theatres received Prison in its very limited run and then New World never gave his film a DVD release.  Yes, this was the film that properly won him the Nightmare on Elm Street 4 job and, with a chill factor of 10 inside a creepy but still functioning prison, it’s easy to see why.  Thankfully, the folks over at Shout! Factory have seen to it – with a fine digital upgrade – that we can now dump our ragged VHS copies of this underrated horror film and embrace it on Blu-ray.

Prison opens in 1956.  Its point-of-view perspective – as one man is led to the electric chair – creates a tension that is not soon dissipated.  From one hall to the next the faceless man is led.  Closer and closer to his judgment day.  The guards show no concern.  No face is familiar.  Soon, he will be swallowing over 60,000 volts of electricity.  The only thing is that this man, this prisoner, is innocent.

Starring Viggo Mortensen (in his first role), Lane Smith, Tommy “Tiny” Lister, Tom Everett, and Chelsea Field, Prison has things properly in check with a fine cast.  But it’s the gnarly story – about a death row-fried innocent prisoner who mysteriously comes back from the dead to wreak havoc upon those who knew of his innocence – that sells the picture.  With only physical items – barbed wire, hot as hell jail cell, metal pipes – doing the work of the vengeful spirit, Prison retains its haunting ride through a scenic Hell atmosphere.  Where’s the next attack going to happen?  Who is going to bite the dust?  There’s no way of telling until the set-up is established and then it’s to Gruesome City Harlin’s wild visuals march us to.

Prison is also well-known for the fact that it was shot at a still-functioning Wyoming prison and most of its extras are, in fact, real prisoners.  The realism Harlin pulls off throughout the movie is aided by this production call.  The penitentiary blues can actually be felt regardless of some of the late 80s dialogue.  Harlin and cinematographer Mac Ahlberg bring a nice sense of claustrophobia and doom to life with crisp jailhouse drama.  Unfortunately, Harlin is guilty of falling into the genre trappings and has moments where he goes all in and destroys the mood with your typical late 80s action and horror hiccups.

Part of why I still give Harlin kudos for this film is the fact that – as far as its entertainment value goes – Prison plays as a drama with a horror flick twist and that does much to add to its ever intensifying atmosphere.  Forget emotion, you won’t get caught up in the touching story.  That’s not at all what I mean.  What works is the daily in-and-out brutality of the prisoner world as depicted here.  Hopeless.  When the horror kicks in, the hopeless vibe is ratcheted up with live worms in the mouths of its victims and other practical effects.  Oh, how I miss the era of real effects!

Renny Harlin’s Prison is one haunted place you won’t soon forget.

{2jtab: Film Details}

Prison - Blu-ray ReviewMPAA Rating: R.
Runtime: 103 mins.
: Renny Harlin
Writer: C. Courtney Joyner
Cast: Viggo Mortensen; Chelsea Field; Lincoln Kilpatrick; Tom Everett
: Horror | Thriller
In 1956, Charles Forsyth was sent to the electric chair. Now he's back...
Memorable Movie Quote: "In 1956, Charles Forsyth was sent to the electric chair. Now he's back...Let me tell you something. I was making it a real point to mind my own business. Maybe you oughta try that for a while. Start right now. You give me back my ball, I'll give you yours."
Shout Factory
Release Date:
No theatrical release
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
February 19, 2013

Synopsis: The spirit of a long-dead prisoner returns for revenge, haunting the prison's new governor.

{2jtab: Blu-ray Review}

Prison - Blu-ray Review

Component Grades

Blu-ray Disc
3 Stars

3 Stars

Blu-ray Experience
3 Stars


Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - February 19, 2013
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
: English
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Two-disc set (1 BD, 1 DVD); DVD copy

The 1080p high definition presentation is pretty strong considering history of the film.  It opens with a soft lens but that’s a style choice and, once through the credit sequence, the film’s images sharpen.  Due to the 1988-sized low budget, the transfer is never going to match anything from today.  Don’t go in expecting that.  The image is filmic and, with a nice layer of grain, feels very natural.  Details are adequate and textures – both inside and outside of the prison – are very stong.  Black levels get a little splotchy when the image grows dark.  Shadows don’t always retain their shape.  It’s never unwatchable, though.  The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless soundtrack is the biggest disappointment.  You’ll be constantly adjusting the volume as its uneven and likes to play games with the dialogue…as in where’d it go?!  Volume levels dip and drop like a rollercoaster.



  • Renny Harlin provides the film’s commentary track.  He’s very engaged and self-effacing in the beginning but gets caught up in watching the film and becomes silent for a lot of it.  When he does talk, however, it’s full of anecdotes and information about the making of the movie.  It’s a good track even if Harlin does remain quite for parts of it.

Special Features:

Okay, so it isn’t loaded with a lot of supplemental material but the Harlin commentary goes a long distance in soothing any ruffled feathers.  In the only supplemental item, The Making of Prison, Irwin Yablans recalls the origin of the film and explains why he offered the gig to Harlin when the director was living in his car.  Harlin also offers his theory as to why you don’t see a lot of prison horror movies.  Kane Hodder also makes an appearance, as he was the film’s stunt coordinator.  And, outside of the DVD copy and a Still Gallery, that’s all you get.

  • Hard Time: The Making of ‘Prison’ (38 min)
  • Poster & Still Gallery
  • German Trailer

{2jtab: Trailer}