The prison system in itself is a horror. Much has been made about how it's either a form of modern day slavery, or as "Oz" and many films and documentaries show, a place where as they say, "you gonna get raped!" Or, a place of gratuitous female nudity, shower scenes, brutality and requisite lesbian sex scenes happen at the drop of a dime. It all depends on what you watch. You aren't going to find that in 1988's "Prison", which is both the directorial debut of future Hollywood Blockbuster kind Renny Harlin and one of the last films to come from Charles Band's company Empire Picture before they folded and he began anew with Full Moon.
Charles Forsythe was sent to the electric chair for a crime he didn't commit. Years later, said prison has been reopened by warden Eaton Sharpe (Lane Smith), a former security guard. Of course, the ghost of Charles Forsythe isn't going to take this, as it soon begins to haunt the prison. As things continue to escalate, Eaton begins to slowly unravel, and in particular starts to target new inmate Burke (Viggo Mortensen), who may not be all that he seems.
I'd be lying if I said "Prison" is a flawless movie. There are moments in which the plot holes start to really show (how is it that so many people refuse to believe this place is haunted whilst it's obvious that it is?) and there's a twist nearing the end that to be honest, is kind of lame. Still, this is a solid little movie that haunted house thrills with slasher movie undertones (Indeed, the supernatural horror film meets slasher feeling of the movie is somewhat reminiscent of the future "Final Destination" films) to a great effect. The kills are often pretty creative and bloody, and the make up effects accompanying them are solid throughout. It also helps that it's well directed (in fact, this might be the best directed movie Harlin has made), with effective cinematography to boot.
Acting wise, this is solid stuff. Mortensen does his best James Dean impression but still manages to stand out on his own, and the cast of great character actors (Smith, Tom Everett and Tom Lister for example) add to the level of fun within the proceedings. The score by Richard Band also stands out. It's an orchestral score done with synthesizers, but it perfectly captures the mood of the film. Finally, there's the prison in itself. Like the original "The Haunting" and "The House on Haunted Hill", it's essentially a character in itself, and the Gothic interiors creating a moody atmosphere to go with the occasional bloody kill it dishes out.
I can't really say that "Prison" is the lost classic that some say it is. It almost is, but doesn't reach that status. I can say that it is a nice little gem that manages to stick out in the world of 80's horror, and deserves the cult following it's received over. time Recommended.