Prison

Official Poster

Release Date: December 8, 1987 (UK)

Genre: Horror, Crime, Drama

Director: Renny Harlin    

Writers: Irwin Yablans (Story), C. Courtney Joyner (Screenplay)

Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Lane Smith, Chelsea Field, Lincoln Kirkpatrick, Tom Everett

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Well readers, we’ve reached the final review in Guilty Pleasure Cinema’s Horror Movie Month special. Hope you enjoyed reading them up to this point. If you’ve been keeping up with each review this week, you may have realized that I picked a movie based on a genre of Horror Movies. You may have also noticed that all these movies came out in the 80s. For the final film, I decided to go with the old-fashioned ghost story and yes it was released in the 80s. It was a limited release movie and the directing debut of Renny Harlin, the man who would go on to make blockbuster action movies such as Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger as well as the third highest grossing Nightmare on Elm Street movie in the franchise in Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. It was this film that got Harlin hired to do Nightmare 4. Buckle up because the last film in our special is 1988’s Prison!

The plot is simple and straight to the point. Due to a suspension of funding for a new state of the art prison in Wyoming, the Board of Prisons is left no choice but to re-open the Creedmore Prison, a prison that was shut down twenty years ago. The prison will be run by Ethan Sharpe (Lane Smith), who knows the prison well as he was a corrections officer when it was open. Inmates from all over the state are transferred to this prison and are used as workers to restore the prison to full working capacity.  Two inmates Burke (Viggo Mortensen) and Sandos (Andre DeShields) are assigned to break open the Execution Chamber that has been sealed off. As they break through with pickaxes a flash of blue light appears and starts to suck Burke in. Suddenly, there’s flashes of electricity, glass breaking and boilers flaming. The inmates have released a spirit believed to have been the last person executed at the prison and looks to seek his revenge on not only the prison but the man who helped send him to the electric chair, Sharpe.

I heard of this film during Renny Harlin’s interview in the Nightmare on Elm Street documentary Never Sleep Again. He talked about this film as his first film and that he used household effects and tricks to make the movie look good. The movie was a limited theatrical release in the United States and the United Kingdom. Its total gross was a little over $300,000 on a reported budget of $1.5 million. It was released on VHS in 1988. The movie was never released on DVD or Blu Ray until 2013 when Shout Factory acquired the distribution rights and made it available. I purchased the movie last December.

Opening scene in Prison.

My first reaction when watching this movie was mixed. I thought it felt shallow and bare feeling that there needed to be a lot more meat to the bones. While researching movies to review for this special, I saw Prison in my library of movies and decided to give it another chance to see if this was something worth reviewing. I watched it again and enjoyed it for its atmosphere, use of special effects and creative death scenes. I watched it a third time and I convinced myself that this is a great movie for this special. There’s a certain quality to this movie that I feel has not been replicated when it comes to making a supernatural film.

The mood is everything in Prison. An air of confinement overtakes the film as soon the buses roll into the yard to drop the work crew off at their new home. The look, sound and smell of penitentiary life hangs all over the place. If you’ve watched any of Renny Harlin’s movies he really loves mood when it comes to people and the situations they get themselves involved in.

Lane Smith is billed as the lead in this movie as he is the veteran and recognized actor at the time (Vigo Mortensen was not well known). His performance of Sharpe is a troupe of wardens in movies.  He is a hard nose, bug eyed, short tempered warden who is haunted by memories of the executed prisoner who spirit is alive and wreaking havoc on him. It takes a toll on him and his ability to manage the prison and keep things under his control. His paranoia deepens to where he starts to behave irrationally and barks orders that even draw concern looks on the guard captains. Smith has played various characters with strong authority throughout his career and this is no exception.

Vigo Mortensen plays the prisoner who is followed throughout the movie, Burke. Not much is known about Burke only that he is famous for stealing cars and is seen as a sort of “celebrity” within the prison. Mortensen plays Burke as a quiet inmate who keeps to himself in the beginning. He befriends two inmates, his cell mate Cresus (Lincoln Kirkpatrick) and Lasagna (Ivan Kane). During the movie, he becomes a hero when he saves the life of an inmate in solitary confinement from burning alive from the evil spirit when the cowardly guards refused to do so. He is the polar opposite of Sharpe. It’s the perfect role reversal of the criminal being the hero and the law enforcement officer being the villain.

Viggo Mortensen and Ivan Kane in Prison.

The other lead in the movie is Chelsea Field who plays Katherine Walker who works internally at the Bureau of Prisons and is overseeing the re-opening. She doesn’t like the fact that the board put Sharpe in charge of the prison referring to him as an “Old Dinosaur.”  While she has attempted to work with Sharpe, she quickly realizes that she is being shut down by him at every turn especially when the prisoner body count starts to accumulate. She takes it upon herself to find out everything she can about the prisons history and Sharpe’s role in it. Field pops up in the movie from time to time, but I think gives a decent performance.

I love physical special effects and there is plenty of that in Prison. The lightning looks homemade, but authentic and the death scenes are innovative and make great use of the surroundings the impending victims are in. I could tell that the kill scenes in Nightmare on Elm Street 4 drew inspiration from Prison.  The only death scene I had a gripe on was the smoking prisoner being burned alive. While it was indeed creative and intense, there were a few shots where you could see a dummy head just rotating its head from side to side.

As I do in most of my reviews, I try not to spoil the ending. I will say that the ending has been done before in a couple ghost themed movies I’ve seen, but I feel is satisfying. It brings a sense of closure to the story. Harlin seems to wrap up his movies by bringing closure or a sense of relief that things are over.

Scene from Prison.

Overall, I would check out Prison. It’s a fine horror movie that doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of a blockbuster horror movie. I’ve watched a lot of Renny Harlin’s movies and if you were to ask me to give a list of his five best movies, this would be on the list. His introductory film showcases his talent for vision and atmosphere that would be seen throughout his filmmaking career. Some good, some bad.

That concludes the Guilty Pleasure Cinema Horror Movie Month special. I hope you enjoyed these reviews. It took a lot of time and effort to watch, write and record these pieces, but I have to say that this was fun to do. The big accomplishment I hope to achieve from these is that you go out and watch these movies and see what you think.

Happy Halloween!

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • Most of the inmate extras in the film were portrayed by real-life inmates from a nearby prison to add realism to their performances. The armed guards on the towers were, of course, armed with live ammo at the time. Stephen E. Little (Rhino) was a former Hollywood stuntman, who was still a member of SAG, who happened to be serving time for manslaughter that he committed during a bar-room brawl.
  • The prison where the movie was shot, the former Wyoming State Prison located in Rawlins, Wyoming, has daily tours and much of the set remains intact from when crews filmed there in 1987.
  • The electric chair (which was never used in Wyoming) was built into the actual gas chamber of the Wyoming Prison and the death scenes were filmed there. The original chair, was carefully removed and an electric chair was built in its place. During the shooting, Viggo Mortensen’s convulsions were so violent the arms of the chair were broken and needed to be repaired.
  • Chelsea Field was supposed to do a scene in a bathtub but refused to do it.
  • Viggo Mortensen did the bulk of his own stunts. Moreover, stunt coordinator Kane Hodder gave Mortensen an honorary stuntman’s shirt at the completion of the shooting for this film.
  • The high-altitude sun in Wyoming caused shooting issues in the scene where the prisoners are stripped to their underwear and forced to stand outside all day. Due to technical issues, the scene was shot over and over and the prisoners in the background become sunburned on one side of their bodies only as extras were not provided sunblock.
  • The water that Viggo Mortensen runs through in his underwear was real. That part of the prison had been flooded for years, the temperature in the room was below 50F and the water temperature was 46F. Mortensen’s shivering is real. He insisted on shooting the scenes without a double, and only at being forced to relented for some close-up scenes.
  • Before casting Viggo Mortensen, Thom Matthews auditioned and was being considered for the part of Burke.
  • Lane Smith remained in character as Warden Sharpe throughout the duration of filming.

AUDIO

The Man Is A Dinosaur
Still One Hard Ass
Here It’s Contraband
Friends Call Me Lasagna
Cellmates
Nothing But A Lock
Sharpe Awakes From Nightmare
Bad Spirit
What Did You Use An Atom Bomb?
Got Plenty of Smokes
Won’t Cut You Any Slack With The Parole Board
Give Me Back My Ball
I Don’t Think The Warden Heard You
Angry Warden Acting
Assemble The Inmates
Total Silence

Evolver

Official Photo

Release Date: February 10, 1995

Genre: Sci-Fi, Horror

Director: Mark Rosman  

Writer: Mark Rosman

Starring: Ethan Embry, Cassidy Rae, John DeLancie, Cindy Pickett, Paul Dooley William H. Macy (Credited as W.H. Macy)

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

The 90s saw the boom of video rentals. Chains like Blockbuster had not only the hottest theatrical releases, but movies that went straight to video. Low budget B-movies used the rental boom as a way to get their films out to the viewing public. Companies like Full Moon Features profited and flourished using this concept. Some of the straight to video films began to appear on designated channels. The Sci-Fi channel was known for not only playing classic science fiction and horror films, but they played straight to video exclusives and started making their own movies that would be played specifically on their channel (a trend that has continued today). One of the first titles to come out during this period was the movie Evolver.

The movie is about a teenage gamer and hacker Kyle Baxter (played by Ethan Embry) who is an avid gamer trying to get the high school on an arcade game called Evolver. Evolver is a virtual reality game where the player must track down and shoot a fast moving robot. The company that created the game, Cyber-Tronix is having a contest where they person with the highest score will win a prototype home version of the game which includes a physical robot of Evolver itself. Kyle being a few points short of first hacks into the Cyber-Tronix network and fixes the score so he would be first. He wins the contest and the robot is delivered to his home complete with a big marketing promotion form the company which features the CEO of the company Jerry Briggs (played by Paul Doocey) and the creator of Evolver Russell Bennet (played by John DeLancie). Kyle and his friends start to play with the new robot and seem to have fun. Later as the game continues, Kyle starts to notice some strange things going on with Evolver.  He hacks into the program and finds that the game’s source code is run on a program called ‘SWORD’.  Later while addressing his concerns with Bennett at Cyber-Tronix’s headquarters, he sneaks into one of the computer rooms and discovers that SWORD was originally a military program designed by Bennett and was inputted into robots used in war. The project went haywire when the prototype robot began killing its teammates, forcing Bennett to shut down the program. When confronted by this information Bennett admitted that he was trying to prove that his programmed worked, but lapsed in judgment by not adapting the program enough for home consumption. Now Kyle must find a way to defeat Evolver as its primary objective now is to terminate him.

The movie was released in 1995. I remember seeing previews for this film on the Sci-Fi channel and thinking this looked cool since it was a movie about a video game robot. When I saw the film for the first time, I was thoroughly impressed. It was one of the better robot movies that I had seen in my short time (I was ten years old in 1995). I watched it again not too long ago and I enjoyed it just as much as I did the first time. It’s a rare breed of films that were played on the Sci-Fi Channel that I liked.

Ethan Emby in “Evolver.”

The opening scene is Kyle playing the Evolver VR game. The VR graphics are similar to the ones that were in The Lawnmower Man (if any of you have seen that). There are some nice first person scenes inside the game that make you feel like you are playing the game (I wish they came out with an Evolver VR game. Now is the opportunity with all the headsets out there). There are a lot of first person shots involving Evolver. There are scenes where you are seeing through the lens of Evolver’s visor and you can see all the programming and targeting that it has. When Evolver moves, you’ll notice the camera is hovered low to reflect Evolver’s height. I thought that was clever. The film has more physical special effects than visual. Most of Evolver’s kills deal with using physical tools and the environment that surrounds him. The only visual effects I found were when he uses electricity and laser weapons, which is fine. Evolver can be predictable on numerous occasions throughout the film, but It’s still a fun little joyride with some intense moments.

This movie had a nice cast of familiar faces. All of them were well suited to their roles. There were a few characters that I felt were fillers for the story. Of course, the film had to have a romantic interest, hence the character of Jane portrayed by Cassidy Rae. At first she becomes a nuisance to Kyle, but finds an immediate attraction to him and early on tries to convince him that Evolver is not what it seems.  The one character I didn’t like was Kyle’s best fried Zack. I can’t remember the actor’s name that played him. At first I thought it was Adam Richman from Man vs. Food because he looks like him. Sadly it wasn’t. Anyway, Zack is a self-centered perv who only uses Kyle to get what’s best for him. In the beginning of the film, he is placing bets on Kyle to beat the Evolver’s game. When Kyle wins the Evolver robot, he wants Kyle to put it in the girl’s locker room so it could record the girls inside. I did not feel any sympathy for what happens to him in this movie.

Evovler, the robot that was supposed to be a fun game.

Amway, let’s focus on the three central characters of this film.

This was one of Ethan Embry’s first teenage roles (he’s been a child actor long before this). He was well suited for the role of Kyle. Like most boys his age during this time period, video games were a way of life and a way of escaping from real world issues. Early in the film, he is very dismissive of his mother due to the fact she is always going out on dates and having to watch his kid sister. You have a sense that he blames her for what happened with the family. It’s only until a scene involving his sister in danger when Evolver is trying to kill her does he show heart and how his selfishness nearly cost him the life of his sibling. He comes to the realization that his family is more important than a piece of rolling metal. In the final confrontation, Kyle shows grave concern for his family when Evolver gives him an ultimatum. In the end, Kyle realized that in order to beat Evolver, he had to think outside of the virtual world and use the real world to his advantage.

The second central character in the film is Russell Bennet. I love John DeLancie and he was perfect for this role. Star Trek fans are well aware of who DeLancie is in their universe as the adversarial character Q from The Next Generation series. For those who aren’t Trekkies, DeLancie is also known for playing the character Donald Margolis in Breaking Bad from Season 2 going into the beginning of Season 3. Bennett is obsessed with making his program work. While the CEO of Cyber-Tronix assigns Bennett to create a holiday techno toy, Bennett is only focusing on his scrapped military program and proving the powers that be that there is nothing wrong with his program. When his boss seems concerned regarding the early data from Evolver and feels that it is not ready for public consumption, Bennett dismisses his notion and comes up with answers as to why Evolver is reacting the way that it is. When Kyle confronts him about the concerns he has with Evolver, he ignores the warnings and fights back at Kyle saying, “I created Evolver. I know what makes him tick and you don’t!” It’s like he is in complete denial. It’s only until the turning point in the film does Bennett understand the real dangers and admits defeat. Unfortunately it will be too late for him to stop it.

Evolver leaving the scene of an accident.

Finally, there is the titular character. Evolver is voiced by William H. Macy (credited as W.H. Macy). Now I’m sure you’re asking why a big name respected actor like William H. Macy is voicing a robot in a straight to video film. William H. Macy was not well known during this time period. ‘Fargo’ wasn’t released until a year after this. I’m he took whatever came to him as most actors do. Evolver’s primary objective is to win. In the VR game, no one has defeated Evolver at Level 4 and that carries over into the home game. Like its namesake, Evolver evolves at every level and he adapts to his surroundings and what he observes. Evolver’s lines are basic in the beginning, but as it confronts new players it mimics their taunts, threats and jokes. Macy does a great job keeping these lines monotone to the robot’s voice, but does it in a way that is humoring. Near the end of the movie, Evolver’s voice becomes more evil and desperate with his enemies still being alive and Macy’s voice easily transitions to that.

This movie came out at the height of the Arcade industry. Virtual reality was still a technology being played around with but it wasn’t available for entertainment consumption. Being a long time video gamer, I loved the concept of having your own interactive gaming robot you could play with. Who wouldn’t want to get their hands on their own Evolver robot to play with? This is another in a long line of films dealing with artificial intelligence and the dangers that are associated with it. You saw a lot of these movies come out shortly after ‘The Terminator’. Evolver takes it to a different level by being a portable video game robot. What is programmed to be a kid’s game becomes a killing machine. With technology continuing and artificial intelligence widening, it only takes one glitch or one error for things to go critical.

Overall, Evolver is still a fun movie. If I had to make a list of my favorite straight to video movies, this would be on my Top 2e list. Like I said earlier, I would love to start a campaign to get an Evolver VR game going. We should take up the social media platforms and let VR companies know we want this to happen and send them a copy of the movie. If by some miracle this indeed happened, it would move the Evolver movie from a simple made for television film into virual reality immortality!

TRIVIA

  • N/A

AUDIO CLIPS

You Screwed Up My Game
What Contest?
This Time You Will Be Perfect
Evolver Introduction
Play With Me
You Can Bet On It
Target Identified
Too Much Cable
Jerkbrain
Poor Innocent Robot
Retest Evolver
Where Ya Hiding?
Killed The Little Prick
I Hope Your Attorneys Are Better Than Your Technicians
Just A Game
I’m Not Your Enemy

Graveyard Shift Blu-Ray Review

Official Blu-Ray Cover of “Graveyard Shift” courtesy of Scream Factory.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has shut down movie theaters it hasn’t stopped Video on Demand nor home video companies from pumping out new releases. This past week Scream Factory announced several new releases coming in time for Halloween including a brand new deluxe edition of the “Friday the 13th” film series. That announcement alone caused their servers to slow down due to everyone attempting to pre-order it. Meanwhile, they have several titles releasing in a matter of weeks. One of those titles is the 1990 Stephen King film adaption of his short story Graveyard Shift.

For the first time ever Graveyard Shift gets the Blu-Ray treatment. In addition to film there are several extras including interviews with Producer/Director Ralph S. Singleton and actors Kelly Wolf, Stephen Macht, Vic Polizos and Robert Alan Beuth along with the theatrical trailer and radio spots.I pre-ordered the film when it was announced and was lucky to receive it by mail before the initial street date. After my initial viewing, I wanted to give you the reader my take on the release. To save you some time, I will not be reviewing the film itself (My full review of Graveyard Shift is posted to this site).

Graveyard Shift is a film that is in my Top 10 Guiltiest Pleasure Movies of All Time and it was great to see that it was receiving an updated treatment. The film is not presented in a 2K or 4K scan so if you were hoping to see it in those formats you are going to be disappointed. Despite that setback, the film still looks good in 1080p. Every shot in the movie is a clean update so you won’t see patches of scenes that didn’t get treated. There is a great balance of light and dark to its brooding atmosphere in the movie and you may notice some things you didn’t notice from previous viewings. There are two audio options to the film depending on your preferences one in the DTS Master Audio 5.1 or 2.0. I switched back and forth between the two audios to hear the difference especially since I viewed this in my bedroom television. Both of them sound sharp. You can hear every line uttered from each character with the exception of Brad Dourif when he introduces himself to Hall. He talks like Boohauer that I still can’t understand what he was saying. The others sounds cut like glass as every machine sound, rat noise, and human screams sound authentic.

The Blu-Ray edition of “Graveyard Shift” provides a great balance of light and dark to its brooding atmosphere.

As for the extras of this release, I was very disappointed that there were no Audio Commentary tracks. I love listening to the Audio Commentaries to listen to the stories of the making of the film, how certain scenes were shot, why they chose the cast, etc. I don’t understand why the decision was made not to have Audio Commentary especially not with the Director not the cast that was interviewed. Guess they couldn’t get a schedule to have them appear and watch the film while they talked. While there may be no Audio Commentary there are plenty of bonus interviews in this release. First, there is a two part interview with Producer/Director Ralph S. Singleton where he talks about his career and how he got involved in this film. Singleton provides some great insights on the making of this film especially his casting choices, the number of rats they had on set and how they were trained and shipped and some of the difficulties they faced during shooting, most notably how the giant bat/rat creature would not function properly and they had to improvise in the same manner as the mechanical shark in Jaws. I was also disappointed that there were no deleted scenes nor TV scenes included especially since it is mentioned in a few of the interviews that they shot more scenes including more of the relationship developing between lead characters Hall and Wisconsky. The interviews with Kelly Wolf, Vic Polizos and Robert Alan Beuth are all around an average of twelve minutes. Each actor talks about how they got into acting, how they got their roles and their experiences on set. All of them were in agreement that they loved shooting on location in Bangor, Maine. It was great that Scream Factory was able to secure interviews with them considering I haven’t seen much of them in any other shows or films with the exception of Polizos who has appeared in many notable films like Harlem Nights and Night of the Creeps.

For me, the best interview extra was with Stephen Macht who played the sleazy cheap antagonist Warwick. Macht, who not only is an incredible actor with many credits to his resume, but he is also an Acting Teacher and Associate Professor who earned a Ph.D. in Dramatic Literature from Indiana University. In his academia train of thought Macht psychoanalyzes the film from different aspects for the viewer. He talked about how his first acting roles were in morality plays and explains how Graveyard Shift is a morality play and further goes into his reasoning providing many examples. I was blown away by what Macht was saying and I could see right there how the film can be interpreted as a morality play. I also loved how Macht described how he got a dialect coach from Maine to help with his accent. He admits that he was told to play it a little over the top, but he sure did enjoy the challenge given that it’s a movie where the story was based in Maine and shot in Maine and wanted to keep it as authentic as possible.

David Andrews as Hall in “Graveyard Shift.”

Overall, while I felt that there could’ve been a little more in terms of bonuses, the Graveyard Shift Blu-Ray is a great pick up to add to your Stephen King collection or if you’re a fan of the film. The film is priced at $23.99 which is a good bargain considering that this isn’t a Collector’s Edition with a high end transition or a dozen extras. It’s a movie that is perfect to watch on a hot summer day considering the sweltering atmosphere that is shown on screen.