Prison (1988)

Some movies are so simple, you can watch them on mute and still know what’s going on. In the case of Prison, I actually watched it on Telemundo, and since there’s no such thing as “Reverse SAP” (I guess it would be EAP), I plodded through the film as well as my four years of high school Spanish would allow. I made the effort because: 1) Prison wasn’t available on video or DVD in the US (strange, given it stars Viggo Mortensen and is directed by Renny Harlin), and 2) I knew that there was a significant black presence in the cast (It’s prison, after all.). From what I could grasp, the plot is basically this: when an abandoned prison is reopened, a wall in the basement is knocked down, releasing the spirit of a pissed-off inmate who was fried in the electric chair there years prior. The ghost wants revenge — particularly on the warden, who seems to have framed him for the murder of a fellow inmate, although he’ll rub out anyone else who gets in the way.

Mortensen stars as Burke, one of those convicts with a heart of gold I hear so much about, while the female lead is Katherine (Chelsea Field of Dust Devil), a social worker or reporter or some profession requiring sticking your nose where it don’t belong, who’s investigating the secret behind what happend all those years ago.

The black folk, meanwhile, fall into four distinct “types“:

  • Sandor (Andre De Shields) is the (gay?) spiritual darkie who’s into some voodoo-type stuff and senses that there’s a supernatural force goin’ ’round. He serves double duty as the spook who cries and moans ceaselessly about how the spirit’s gonna get ’em — with good reason, it turns out, because the ghost blows a hole in his chest.
  • Cresus (Lincoln Kilpatrick) is the wise elder who knows all of the secrets behind what went down back in the day. Unfortunately for him, he knows everything because he was involved in the set-up, so he too dies.
  • Tiny (Tom “Tiny” Lister) is the big, hulking buck who just stands around being intimidating. To his credit, though, he’s not a bully and is actually a peacemaker during a prison riot…which doesn’t prevent him from being shot dead.
  • Hershey (Larry “Flash” Jenkins) is a troublemaker whose only purpose, it seem, is to die…first!

So, there you have it: four for four. And you thought George Bush hated black people! He ain’t got nothing on Renny Harlin.

Marion Barry just never learns.
“No mousse? What kind of prison is this?”
Margaret desperately held out hope for finding a man with a Pollyanna fetish.
“Hey! I’m tryin’ to pray here, muthafucker.”
Alzheimer’s patients might forget their pants, but rarely their guns.
“So, you DON’T have the time?”


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