Digi-Schlock: PRISON (Scream Factory Blu-Ray/DVD Combo Pack)

Despite its cult favorite status with horror fans, Prison is one of those titles that seemed to fall through the cracks on U.S. home video after the VHS era.  It never got a proper release on DVD during that format’s golden era and domestic fans were forced to turn to foreign releases to get it.  Those fans will be happy to know this title has finally found its way onto an American disc via Scream Factory – and better yet, said disc is a handsome-looking special edition with some really good extras.

The transfer does well by a film whose visual style is tricky to capture in a digital format.  Mac Ahlberg’s smoky, diffused visual style is captured nicely in this anamorphic transfer, capturing the blue and grey-dominated color scheme well and bringing a new level of detail to the film’s hazy style without getting overzealous about digital image clean-up.  The result has a proper celluloid look that will please the film’s fans.  Both 2.0 and 5.1 sound mixes are offered with this transfer.  The latter was listened to for this review: it’s not as expansive as a modern multi-channel mix would be but it adds an extra bit of dimension and fleshes out the film’s electronic-tinged score nicely.

This strong transfer is supported by a full collection of extras.  It all begins with a commentary track by director Renny Harlin.  The results are very impressive, with Harlin mixing scene-specific details and autobiographical touches to create a running commentary that is consistently interesting.  He speaks frankly about his anxiety as a young director and how he sought to make the film stand out from the rest of the low-budget horror pack.  He’s impressively honest about pointing out where he borrowed from other films and goes into great detail about how the film’s special effects were achieved through mostly practical means.  It’s a great little nuts-and-bolts track that fans will enjoy – and it’s educational for aspiring filmmakers.

The commentary is supplemented by an excellent 38-minute featurette from Red Shirt Pictures entitled “Hard Time.” It features many of the key cast members – director Renny Harlin, producers Irwin Yablans and Charles Band, screenwriter C. Courtney Joyner, FX man John Buechler, etc. – and uses their comments to create a fast-moving, spoken word history of the film that is supplements with plentiful clips and stills.  Highlights include the convoluted development process (it began as “Halloween behind bars”), how real prisoners were used for extras (and one earned a speaking role), some affectionate tributes to the skill of cinematographer Mac Ahlberg and the reasons the film was mostly buried during its original release.  The pace never lags and the result gives an in-depth portrait of the film.

The remainder of the blu-ray supplements are devoted to promotional materials.  There is a pretty effective theatrical trailer in both English and German versions and series of three image galleries.  The first gallery is devoted to series of color stills while the second covers poster designs and a set of black-and-white stills.  The third gallery is particularly interesting: it’s a series of photos taken recently  at the real Wyoming prison where the film was shot (it has become a museum and is perfectly preserved).  It’s also worth noting that the DVD in this set has a downloadable PDF copy of the film’s script, a really nice touch for fans.

In short, Prison is another winner from Scream Factory and a treat for fans of ’80s-era horror.  This label is truly becoming the new “Anchor Bay” of the genre film-on-disc world.

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