Death Row (DVD)

Death Row DVD (click for larger image)Starring Joe Estevez, Todd Bridges, Elias Castillo

Directed by Jose and Eduardo Quiroz

Distributed by Image Entertainment

“One by one the prisoners are slaughtered in the most brutal ways.” That is a direct quote from the back of the box for Death Row that almost makes this prison thriller sound promising to the unsuspecting gorehound. Unfortunately, despite its many efforts Death Row is simply a weak attempt at slash and gash horror. As good as this movie wanted to be, it just wasn’t.

The film follows eight convicts in a work release type program and the guards assigned to monitor them as they labor to clean up an abandoned prison. Unbeknownst to any of them, prisoner and guard alike, one member of the group is not who he claims to be. Although these eight “medium security” inmates are working towards time off for good behavior, they have just unwittingly walked into a death sentence, and the imposter has plans to carry out the executions himself.

The synopsis of the film also claims to be a “twist-filled shocker” that will “keep you guessing,” which is absolutely hysterical. Death Row‘s plot is as straightforward as a bimbo following her own tits. The audience knows who the killer is from the very first kill. The only “mystery” this film holds onto is the psycho’s motivation for his killing spree, but by the time they get to the point, I don’t think the audience even gives a shit.

Death Row review (click for larger image)And while I’m on the subject of the killing spree, let me just say that most of the kills in Death Row are pitiful. There is nothing brutal about the majority of the violence portrayed. Many of the deaths are caused by pathetic knife attacks that are poorly executed and have sub-par gore effects. If I can see the blood being pumped onto the knife during the dramatic slicing shot, you’re not getting it right. Don’t boast about brutality if you don’t know how to deliver the goods.

For the most part this film would probably be better suited as a “What Not To Do” filmstrip for prison guard training courses instead of a horror film. Do Not: Leave prisoners unattended. Do Not: Use prisoners as a lookout. Do Not: Be a drill sergeant one moment and the inmate’s best friend the next, only to go back to being a dick three seconds later. Do Not: Give your radio to an inmate. I think you get the point. The inconsistencies were driving me nuts!

It really is too bad that the film ended up being as much of a disappointment as it did because it had a fair amount of potential. Somehow it almost seems worse when a movie is bad despite a decent effort. Death Row was relatively well shot with very few of the typical cinematic mistakes I’ve seen made in many other direct-to-video projects. The sound quality was excellent aside from sound effects that sounded as if they were pulled directly from a video game soundtrack. Even the acting was surprisingly entertaining. One scene in particular got my attention in which the killer was faking great personal injury while on a two-way radio. His demeanor and nonchalant attitude towards the gravity of the situation and concern from his “fellow” victims were disturbing and amusing. It was close to being over-acted, but I thought they pulled it off pretty well.

It should be noted that I watched only a screener so my rating is based solely on the film, but from what I could learn online, the DVD contains no extras to speak of other than the trailer and some outtakes.

On a whole I was really expecting something far worse, especially from a horror thriller set in a prison with Todd Bridges in a role that didn’t require an orange jumpsuit. Of course expecting far worse and still getting a bad movie is still pretty sorry. I really wanted to like more of what I saw, but I just can’t get past its pitfalls.

2 out of 5

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