Exclusive: Renny Harlin Looks Back at Prison and Nightmare 4, Ahead to Dyatlov Pass Incident, and More!
While many horror fans know Finnish filmmaker Renny Harlin best for his efforts on A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, that wasn't the director's first foray into the genre world.
Shortly before signing on with New Line for NOES 4, Harlin first helmed the supernatural thriller Prison for producers Charles Band and Irwin Yablans.
A cult classic that never even made it to DVD, Prison will be celebrating its Blu-ray release on February 19th courtesy of Shout! Factory, and to mark the occasion, Dread Central recently had the opportunity to chat exclusively with Harlin about the release and his experiences making both Prison and Dream Master and caught up on what's ahead for the man behind such classic actioners as Cliffhanger, Die Hard 2, The Long Kiss Goodnight and one of this writer's personal favorites- Deep Blue Sea (my hat is like a shark's fin, yo!).
Check out our extensive interview with Harlin below, and look for Prison on Blu-ray this February 19th!
Dread Central: How does it feel to see your first movie, Prison, finally get its due and to get such a fantastic treatment as well? The Blu-ray looks incredible.
Renny Harlin: Thanks, I think so, too. And it really was a surprise to me to have Prison released on Blu-ray because it wasn't a movie that ever had a proper release, and I think its cult status has only slowly grown over the years, it being a movie that not a lot of people knew about at first but heard about from their friends or something like that. There've been a few screenings over the last several years, and the fans are always enthusiastic at those, which is pretty amazing to experience all this time since we first worked on it. And the Shout! Blu is just the icing on the cake to all of it for me. To see it like this... wow! It's such a fun movie- it's so flawed (laughs), but it's so much fun, too.
Dread Central: Can you talk about how you got involved with Prison and about your approach to the story? I was rather impressed with the amount of stunts and extras as well as all the special effects gags- that had to be a lot to manage for your first feature.
Renny Harlin: Oh yeah, I had done one film in Finland before Prison, and so I was definitely a struggling director back then. I had been out of work for a while; I was out of money and didn't have a roof over my head. That's when I met producer Irwin Yablans, who said he wanted to mold me into a new John Carpenter with this script he had called Prison.
It wasn't an easy shoot at all; we made the movie for something like $1.1 million in 36 days in Rawlins, Wyoming, at this great location which made the movie feel all the more real. Look, when I made the film, I did my very best, but I was still really green. We had like a 50-person crew, which was really challenging and kind of scary for me because I had never had to manage so many people at once. Then when one of the companies involved with Prison went bankrupt, it meant the movie was never going to see a theatrical release so that was scary, too- to put so much of yourself into something that no one was going to ever see.
So I did what I could do; I took my VHS copy of Prison everywhere I could - and yes, that's all I had - and showed it to anyone who would watch. Then I had a meeting with the producers of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies who were about to start production on Dream Master so we had a meeting after they saw what I did on Prison where they asked me a lot of questions. They wanted to know how I managed to do everything in camera because that's something they really wanted to do for part four, and they wanted to know that I could manage a budget, and once I could convince them, they brought me on board. And Nightmare 4 completely changed my life forever; it was very successful, and I've always appreciated the fans' enthusiasm towards my work on it.
Dread Central: I really loved the Prison cast as well- everyone from Lane Smith to Viggo (Mortensen) to the guy who played Ted's dad in Bill & Ted to one of my all-time favorites, Tiny Lister. Just a fantastic cast of character actors that you really allowed to shine in this- what was your casting process then?
Renny Harlin: We did have a very interesting cast in this, thank you. Managing this cast was very challenging in many different ways because of the sheer numbers and the varying degree of talent. We did have a really incredible group of lead actors, but because of how many inmates we needed in order to make Prison feel authentic, we had to use some real inmates from the area because we were out of extras. That was pretty crazy. Plus it was my first time working with English-speaking actors, too, so that was something else I had to get used to.
We also had a really hard time finding our Burke (Prison's hero); we must have auditioned like 80 different actors but just couldn't find someone who had that look- that cool, timeless look that still felt a bit dangerous. But then Viggo came in to audition for us, and I think at the time he had only had a small role in Witness and had done some television, but I knew he was perfect for Burke. Viggo just had that quietness to him and that introspective nature that made him feel very natural for who I thought Burke was in this story. And we really clicked on Prison, too; we were both still pretty new in the business and around the same age so it was really easy to work with him.
The older character actors I used like Lane (Smith) or Hal (Landon Jr.) were far more intimidating because here I was, as green as I was, and these established, professional actors were waiting on me to tell them what to do. I probably wasn't the best communicator back then, but I absolutely learned a lot while making Prison so it was basically like my official Hollywood movie training in some ways.