Welcome to my column dedicated to the appreciation of physical media supplements called: Feature Presentations. The goal of this column is not to say whether a film is good or bad and worth picking up or not—I would like to highlight the discs that go the extra mile and provide film fans with enough tasty tidbits to satisfy even the hungriest of cinephiles. With all that out of the way, today’s article will focus on Scream Factory‘s release of Prison.
I feel like I know my way around cinema and have plenty of watches under my belt. Director Renny Harlin’s 1987 horror film, Prison, is a movie that had been on my radar for years but always escaped me. From my early years at my local VHS store through its release on Blu-ray, I never got around to it. Then, one day, I happened to be perusing my local brick-and-mortar store. Sorting through the many DVDs and Blu-rays, I came across Prison. Not just the film but the Scream Factory Collector’s Edition with the slipcover. I picked it up, checked the price, and thought, “today’s the day.”
I brought it home and popped the film in. Was it worth the wait? Not entirely. But that’s not a bad thing.
I feel that Renny Harlin gets more hate than he deserves. While his films are nothing to write home about, he crafts entertaining films with good ideas and solid visual touches. All of these are on display with Prison, his first American film. This 1987 horror film is a relatively simple tale of prisoners and guards trapped in a haunted prison. There’s not much more than that. It’s known as one of Viggo Mortensen‘s first roles and the film that catapulted Harlin into the crosshairs of New Line Cinema, leading to him directing A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master.
Known for being one of Scream Factory’s first Collector’s Editions, it’s interesting to see the love and care taken given for their editions; almost ten years later (as of this writing). As mentioned, this disc came with a slipcover that features newly-commissioned artwork. The case comes with a reversible sleeve featuring the slipcover art on one side and the original theatrical artwork on the other. If I get a slipcover, I use the original art on the case to get the best of both worlds.
The features on the disc are lighter than some of Scream Factory’s later releases, but it’s not disappointing. What we get is a feature-length audio commentary with director Renny Harlin. Harlin’s delivery could make some people check out with a monotone, almost grumbling approach. I found Harlin’s comments interesting as he discusses behind-the-scenes production information, with the caveat that there are many spots throughout the track where Harlin goes silent and the film’s audio kicks in. Unfortunately, as the commentary wanes, so do the comments, resulting in what feels like half an audio commentary track. There are some nuggets of information here and there, but I would have liked more.
The other main extra on the disc, “Hard Time: The Making of Prison,” is a 30-plus-minute retrospective discussing the making of the 1987 horror film. Harlin, producer Irwin Yablans and screenwriter C. Courtney Joyner discuss the genesis of getting Prison off the ground. Yablans especially gets into the nitty-gritty production details including: an argument about Mortensen’s nude scene, finding the proper prison setting, and co-star Lane Smith’s hairpiece.
Other contributors to the documentary include Kane Hodder, executive producer Charles Band, make-up effects artist John Carl Buechler, and actor Tom Everett. Everett especially shares a humorous story about the production of the bonfire sequence. And there is a nice touch with the contributors showing love for cinematographer Mac Ahlberg. Each offers additional insight, including discussions about “chili hands,” and rounds the retrospective into a full-fledged documentary. For me, “Hard Time” is the show-stopper of the disc and comes highly recommended. What would have been ideal is to have C. Courtney Joyner hop onto the commentary with Harlin. Joyner’s other commentaries are knowledgeable and insightful and could have worked well with Harlin’s boots-on-the-ground details on the track. Alas, it wasn’t to be. Both still offer plenty of welcome details elsewhere on the disc.
Rounding out the package, Scream Factory includes the U.S. and German theatrical trailers. Lastly, a poster and stills gallery features images from the film, posters and marketing shots, and photographs of the Wyoming State Prison, home of the film’s production.
As this is an early Collector’s Edition, this version is a two-disc set with a DVD accompanying the Blu-ray. Both discs contain the same features, except that the DVD includes the original first-draft screenplay accessible on PC or MAC. I’ll tip my hat at that little touch. That’s why I dedicate my time to the supplemental material on physical media.
And there you have it! While Prison fell by the wayside upon its initial theatrical release, Scream Factory has lovingly brought it back to life. While I don’t love the film as much as others, it is an enjoyable slice of low-budget horror that is better than one might expect. Scream Factory has taken great pains to give Prison a chance at redemption with this Collector’s Edition. Giving the film a much-needed transfer, getting Renny Harlin to commentate his thoughts and a well-produced documentary, I don’t think I have to tell you that Scream Factory did the lord’s work for such a forgotten film. If you’re a fan of this Renny Harlin chiller or are looking to branch out your horror roots, this is the edition you want on your shelf.
2 CommentsLeave a Reply
I love this column, you always give interesting and cool recommendations.
Thank you for taking the time to check it out! Any time we can discover an interesting film is a good time.