Now on Sky Movies, it’s Renny Harlin’s Prison, a film where Lane Smith gets top billing over Viggo Mortenson. It’s a schlocker from the Charles Band stable, and despite it being a genre of film I hate, my memory of it is that it was fun.
The film starts with a first-person walk through a prison by a prisoner, ending up at the electric chair. Lane Smith is a guard, who takes a crucifix from the prisoner before he’s executed, and the sequence ends with an older Smith waking up from a nightmare.
Chelsea Field is on the Prison board, and has to oversee the reopneing of an old prison, whose warden is none other than Lane Smith, an old school sadistic warden who has no truck with Field’s more ‘touchy feely’ view of the role of prison.
We get to meet some of the new prisoners as they arrive. All the usual tropes appear. The big rapey one. The wisecracking New Yorker. The Morgan Freeman Shawshank Redemption character. And Viggo Mortenson as a strong, silent type.
Part of the prison’s work detail leads Mortenson and another prisoner down to the prison’s walled-up execution room, which the warden wants opened up. But when they break through, a bright light bursts out, and there’s a cut-price ark of the Covenant going on down there.
Pretty soon, weird things are happening. One inmate in solitary confinement is burned to a crisp when his cell walls start glowing red hot, and the other only survives because Mortenson opens the cell door and pulls him out. Warden Smith is not impressed.
Pretty soon, strange things are happening. A prisoner tries to escape through the execution room, and it impaled on a lot of pipes, as the other inmates discover when he falls through the ceiling of the dining room during lunch. Despite him being stuck through with various pipes and cables, the warden asks for a search of the inmates for ‘the murder weapon’ keeping all the inmates outside until the killer confesses.
He’s then a little surprised when a sadistic guard, having a quiet cup of coffee, is wrapped in barbed wire then pushed up through the floor of his office.
There’s a bit of a riot, and the warden orders lockdown. Meanwhile, Chelsea Field (remember her? The story barely does) is receiving strange messages from all her electrical appliances, including a computer and dot matrix printer that’s not even plugged in.
She looks for what happened in 1964 and finds out a prisoner was executed for killing another prisoner, adn that not only was Lane Smith a guard there, but the executed prisoner looks exactly like Viggo Mortenson, which explains why he unnerves Smith so much.
Another prisoner does some kind of ritual to summon the spirit, and gets a bright light punched through his chest for good measure. All the locks and handcuffs are opened, leading to a lot of general milling around. They try to escape but the spirit is firing machine guns and throwing pickaxes around, making the prison yard a distinctly unsafe place to be.
But Field turns up at the prison, manages to drive in, and get out with Mortenson, Smith and Lincoln Kilpatrick as the old-timer who testified against Forsythe all those years ago to help Smith. But the vengeful spirit isn’t finished with them.
Well, maybe that wasn’t the lost classic I thought it could be. For me, it suffers from two major failings. It’s a prison movie, which I dislike by reflex from the start, and it’s also a ghost story, which is often problematic, as it is here, because it’s hard to know quite what the motive is of the ghost, and even if you do know, there’s not a lot for the protagonists to do except wait for the ghost to do something. So it ends up being a fairly passive story.
Afterwards, recording continues with something I didn’t even know was on this tape – a recording of Sam Raimi’s genuine classic, The Evil Dead. I suspect this is the heavily cut home video version that was finally allowed, after the original uncut version was famously one of the often-banned video nasties of the early 80s.
I first saw the movie on its original cinema run, and it was always a bit frustrating that for such a long time, the quite heavily cut version was the only one available, as the cuts really do play havoc with the rhythm of the film, especially towards the climax.
I won’t look in detail at the film now, as I’ve got at least two other tapes with it on, so I’ll probably have more of a look at it when those tapes come up.
After the film, recording continues again, with another prison movie, but one I’m not familiar with, Payback, written by and starring Corey Michael Eubanks, and co-starring Michael Ironside, so it can’t be entirely bad. There’s about 15 minutes of it before the tape ends.
- Dreams and Memories
- trail: Navy Seals
- trail: Deadly Game
- trail: The Trials of Rosie O’Neill
- trail: The Freeway Maniac
- trail: My Son Johnny