A Movie A Day #270: Prison (1987, directed by Renny Harlin)


In 1964, the state of Wyoming executed Charles Forsythe (Viggo Mortensen) for killing another inmate at Creedmore State Prison.  Forsythe was innocent of the crime but the only other two people who knew, a prisoner named Cresus (Lincoln Kilpatrick) and a guard named Eaton Sharpe (Lane Smith), kept silent.  Twenty-three years later, Cresus is still an inmate and Sharpe has been named the new warden of Creedmore.  When a group of prisoner open up the old execution chamber, Forsythe’s electrified spirit escapes into the prison and starts to kill the prisoners and the guards, one-by-one.  A convict named Burke (also played by Mortensen) understands what is going on but can he get anyone to believe him?

If the idea of an executed murderer turning into an electrified spirit sounds familiar, that’s because the exact same idea was used in Destroyer, The Horror Show, and Wes Craven’s Shocker, all of which went into production and were released at roughly the same time.  Why did the late 80s see so many director making movies about convicts coming back to life after being sent to the electric chair?  We may never know.

Of the four electric ghosts movies, Prison is the best.  Lane Smith is a great villain and Prison makes good use of its claustrophobic setting.  Since Charlie is stalking inmates instead of horny teenagers, there literally is no way for anyone to escape him.  (It never makes sense, though, why Charlie is killing “innocent” prisoners when Sharpe, who hates all of this prisoners, is the one that Charlie is targeting for revenge.)  The best scenes are the ones where the warden desperately tries to force the inmates to confess to the murders so he won’t have to confront the truth about Charlie’s revenge.  Lane Smith, who would later be best known for playing Richard Nixon in The Final Days, acts the hell out of those scenes.

Prison was the first American film to be directed by Finnish director Renny Harlin and it is a hundred times better than many of the overproduced action films that Harlin would later be best known for.  Of course, it’s no Die Hard 2 but I would gladly watch Prison over Cutthroat Island.

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