Directed by Kevin VanHook
Films made for the Sci Fi channel have been very hit or miss, which is why this reviewer stays as far away from them as possible unless duty calls, which it did in this case. Starz Media was kind enough to send a screener for the DVD version of Death Row AKA Haunted Prison, and the distinctions between the film reviewed below and the one that will be shown this Friday, October 13th, on the Sci-Fi Channel are unknown to me. Hopefully the film stays intact for its television debut because it’s going to want all the help it can get to pull away from the mediocre train station known as Sci Fi.
Haunted Prison is precisely what its title promises. There’s no false advertising here; viewers will be seeing a prison inhabited by ghosts — and as a special bonus some stupid living beings. It all starts out with three college kids, a camera, and an old guard from the island penitentiary named Isla De La Roca. Former prison guard John Elias (Stacy Keach) spills the beans about the now abandoned hellhole.
Bad things have happened in Isla De La Roca. There’s an evil force that crawls into the mind of each individual, and it’s not too long before the guards started shooting prisoners and even letting them run free through the jail. This is perfect fodder for the young filmmakers! After concluding their interview, the Scooby gang row a boat out to the island to film the rest of their documentary. There’s just a teeny tiny problem; Marco (Jake Busey) and his band of merry jewel thieves have arrived at the maximum security facility just before the film crew. One of Marco’s men is wounded from an earlier robbery, and a drop of his blood triggers new life into the once forgotten pit of hell.
Dissecting this feature would be all too easy. There are quandaries galore — be it stupid decisions like splitting up after you find out a place is haunted with deadly ghosts or the paint by numbers victims-to-survivor ratio. So, let’s forget all the typical problems associated with films like these and focus on what does work.
The blood, yes, the blood works well. During John Elias’ retelling of the events that made the haunted prison what it is, the audience is treated to buckets upon buckets of violence and blood. While the electrocution scenes are weak, the ones incorporating blunt instruments and guns are great fun. One of the best examples of the bloody goods happens when Elias is forced to chop BOTH of his own legs off with a fire axe just to escape after he releases all of the detainees. Now that is determination. Though he could have just hacked away at the person that seized him … Crap, forgot to turn the brain off.
There is some gore that doesn’t quite make sense, but it’s still satisfying to observe nonetheless. How exactly does one get themselves cut in half by a ceiling fan that isn’t moving? Seeing that also brings up the question of why a barbed wire death scene wasn’t more graphic … Maybe it was the budget?
We see the blood, brutality, and death succeed well, so how about the cast? Like what was stated before, a good majority of the cast fall into the standard live and die categories that plague some horror flicks. The black guy? Didn’t stand a chance. The oversexed couple? Gone. The forgettable bad guys? What did the audience expect? The good looking couple who have morals and receive screen time? Oh yeah, they’re golden. How about the outcast nerd? Oh, you’ll have to watch to rule that one out. The good thing is that the college kids actually look like damn college kids. Finally, people who appear the age they are supposed to play! Fucking 90210 …
Wait, is someone missing? Ah, the main baddy played by Jake Busey. This actor always brings that little extra spark just like his daddy, Gary. Jake makes the movie fun in a way that was utterly unanticipated. When all the other characters are running around making sure to be alone at opportune times for the violent specters, Marco is busy talking to his dead black buddy or losing his mind. Are those the same thing? The script may not be particularly strong, but Busey makes do, and even the shittiest of lines got this jaded reviewer to laugh. Screw the movie students with their ever perfect hair and detective skills, give us more smartass Marco. After a repeated viewing, it is pretty clear that he could have carried the film without the film students. Hell, give the loony tit a proton pack and make this film something great.
The visual effects were an off and on fiasco. CGI shots of the prison’s exterior looked out of place, almost like test footage. I wanted to go out and buy another SEGA CD system just to observe how far we’ve come. Why even bother retaining that in the film when you have decent effects for the ghostly killers? The viewer doesn’t get to see much of the deadly spirits until the end when they all come out for a swinging wake, and even then most of them are disregarded when the credits roll. Ok, maybe they weren’t forgettable. Maybe it was the whole flying skeletons, pentagram prison, super imploding finale that wiped everything else about the special effects out of one’s mind.
For what it is, Haunted Prison is a passable horror movie IF and only IF the death scenes stay the same when it is presented on Sci Fi. There is a story surrounding the prison’s evil and origins, but most of it never gets brought to light until the film is almost over. What does that leave the audience with? Killing, a shower scene, killing, Busey, and killing. Notice the emphasis on “killing?” Watch it for yourselves, and let me know the difference. It can’t be any worse than Savage Planet 2: The Search for New Stock Footage!
2 1/2 out of 5