Amazingly, this is one 80s horror film I didn’t see in the 80s. It was filmed in 1986 but not released until 1988…and also never showed up on VHS in the video store at which I worked at the time, which is shocking because we carried like EVERY horror movie.
Prison is an odd film that I could not help but really like. It’s almost more of a prison movie than a horror movie, the bright side being, lots of rough man action!
There’s even plenty of tighty-whities! Only one bear and his cell bitch are specifically identified as such, but I’ll take it! Also, there is only one female character in the entire film and her presence is virtually pointless—she doesn’t even get naked!
The premise is pretty typical for a prison horror film. Dude is executed and years later his spirit comes back for revenge. The prison in which he was executed has been reopened and a load of new inmates is brought in. Naturally, the angry spirit is unleashed, which leads to some of the most visually stunning and unique deaths I’ve ever seen in an 80s horror film. It is really worth watching Prison just for the awesomely orchestrated body count.
The film is essentially gritty and raw, but every once in a while, there is what I think are unintended funny moments due to the way the lines are delivered by the actors (which isn’t a bad thing. It just makes it all the more better of an 80s horror film). And the spirit is just that—a spirit. There is really no “monster” to be seen until the very end of the movie. Like no joke. The VERY end. Then you finally see the spirit’s corpse in a rather bizarre conclusion.
The ultimate motive for the spirit’s revenge is not revealed until right near the end of the movie. It doesn’t come as much of a surprise and it’s kind of irrelevant because the spirit is pretty indiscriminate about who it kills anyway. There’s also one odd “plot hole,” if you could call it that, which could have made the backstory a bit more intriguing if it had been expanded upon; in one seemingly purposeful scene, we get to see that the man who was executed looks identical to the lead actor in the film. But that aspect is completely dead in the water as soon as it’s presented.
Don’t watch Prison for the story, its 80s cred, or the tighty-whities. Watch it for the artfully crafted kills! Oh. And Viggo Mortensen looks good in jail!