Prison [Blu-Ray] Renny Harlin

Prison [Blu-Ray] Renny Harlin
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Almost as interesting as the film is the extensive new "Hard Time: The Making of Prison" supplement included with the Shout! Factory Blu-Ray release. Featuring interviews with screenwriter Courtney C. Joyner, director Renny Harlin, stunt coordinator Kane Hodder and an abundance of Empire Pictures executives and producers, they discuss how the film basically started, like all Empire films, with a poster that could be marketed. Irwin Yablans simply threw out the idea of "Halloween in prison" to a writer and a crew was hired to make it happen. Eventually, through practical logic ("Why would a bunch of prisoners be afraid of a masked man with a knife?"), the supernatural element of the film came into play, as did a culturally contrary, liberal narrative and thematic backdrop. In juxtaposing moral ambiguities, framing Prison with the psychological guilt of Warden Eaton Sharpe (Lane Smith), the convicts are made more identifiable, which helps build some element of pathos and tension as they're all eventually killed off with burning metal rooms and underground piping. The hero of the story is Burke (Viggo Mortensen), a stoic, presumed car thief with unflappable charisma and a propensity for calmly helping anyone in peril while others panic. The vague, but not glib implications of these contrary character portraits are that of specific social morals as a mode of biased imposition. Sharpe is just as guilty of past indiscretions and fault, which ultimately cause the haunting that wreaks havoc in the prison, as Burke and many of the other prisoners. The distinction is that of a social nature, timing and bigger conservative values, being an '80s film and all. What Renny Harlin captures with his English language directorial debut is the ominous, almost otherworldly feeling of a prison — they filmed everything in a recently shut down penitentiary — that removes men from the world and creates a vacuum of Panopticon oppression. Even though the film is quite low budget, his eye for foreboding imagery and shot composition gives everything a higher production value and consistent, ominous tone. It's all still quite laughable and some of the sequences don't make sense — why would they give a bunch of prisoners pickaxes to do manual labour without supervision? — but there's a comprehensive, almost subversive theme and tone throughout that elevates the material to pseudo-legitimacy. Also included with the Blu-Ray is a commentary track with Harlin, who discusses how nerve-wracking it was to make his first American movie with little to no guidance. (Shout! Factory)