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  • Writer's pictureKelly M. Hudson

Prison Reform My Ass!

Prison reformer Katherine (Chelsea Field) is frustrated when her plans for a new, better prison are passed on for budgetary concerns, and instead of a new facility, she is to help reopen an old, closed prison out in the middle of nowhere, with the help of an old, embittered warden, Sharpe (Lane Smith). As it turns out, Sharpe was a guard at this prison for its last execution, by electric chair, many years before. Now he is tasked with getting the decrepit place up and running, and he uses his new group of inmates, including the rebellious Burke (a very young Viggo Mortensen). When Burke and a fellow prisoner ordered to knock down a wall that leads to a closed-off portion of the prison, they unleash an evil spirit, that of the man who was last executed. And guess what? This spirit is vengeful, and it wants payback.

Prison is director Renny Harlin’s second feature, after Born American and right before A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. He would go on to helm many action flicks in the Nineties and beyond, including Die Hard 2, The Long Kiss Goodnight, and Deep Blue Sea, but it was with Prison that he established his bonafides. He directs a sharp, quick little horror film. The gore scenes are excellent and the murder set-pieces are terrific, particularly the guard that gets strangled with barbed wire and then rocketed up through the floor into the warden’s office. The characters are all pretty fleshed out (story by Irwin Yablans of Halloween fame and screenplay by C. Courtney Joyner, writer of dozens of low-budget features) and the acting is great, Mortensen particularly good as the brooding bad boy with the good heart. My only complaint is that the film is probably about ten minutes too long, and could be trimmed here and there.

Prison is a fun and gory 80s horror flick. It has a lot going for it: a great setting, a story that was totally different than the myriad Slashers of the time (although, to be honest, this is still a stalk and kill kind of flick), some cool special effects, and the gore is outstanding when it happens. This all combines to make Prison an original movie, and a pretty damned good little movie, at that.


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