Before Lord Of The Rings shot him into the stardom we know today, Viggo Mortensen had one oddball of a career leading up to it. Between playing the Devil, appearing in one of the more bizarre Texas Chainsaw sequels and training Demi Moore to be the first female Navy Seal he did Renny Harlin’s Prison, a little known, low budget horror flick that’s actually quite a lot of fun. A slick, schlocky hybrid between classic grassroots prison films and effects heavy gore of the 80’s, it sees an ancient precinct becoming haunted by the ghost of a long dead inmate who got the chair, perhaps wrongfully. The Warden (Lane Smith) is an angry old prick whose demons are coming back full force and he’s taking it out on the convicts big time. Mortensen is Burke, a mysterious con with integrity and grit who helps out when he can doesn’t stand for the warden’s bullshit. Chelsea Field is a prison board member who gets swept up in the whole thing and watch for Tom Everett, Kane Hodder, Lincoln Kilpatrick and Tiny Lister too. Smith plays the Warden not as so many have done like an outright sadistic villain, more a severely stressed out career man who has turned ugly overtime and started to project his frustrations in the most damaging ways, given his position of power. This is very low budget stuff and it shows, but there are still some striking set pieces including a solitary cell that heats up like a red hot furnace and fries those inside gruesomely and a string of barbed wire that comes to live and wreaks all kinds of havoc. Harlin made his debut here and it’s a strong one, he makes exciting decisions with the actors and handles the horror excellently. I could have used a tad more backstory on Mortensen’s character as some more exposition regarding the ghost convict, but other than that this is a blast.
Friday The 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan is kinda guilty of shitty false advertising, as well as just being an overall laughable effort in the franchise, which by that time had already run thin on new ideas. It was after Jason had run amok in the Camp Crystal Lake Woods, but before he got to go to hell, space or slap fisticuffs with Freddy Krueger, and kind of suffers in limbo at a juncture of the franchise that’s stuck in a quagmire of dumb ideas. Of all the evocative, atmospheric locales they could have switched his bloody tirades to, the big Apple just doesn’t seem like the ticket. That isn’t even the real problem anyways, as a good two and a half thirds of the film isn’t even set in NYC, but rather on a luxury cruise liner out on the coastline straights, bound for Manhattan and stuffed with more idiotic graduating high schoolers than you can shake a machete at. Lazy writing, nonexistent plotting and goofball acting are hallmarks in this terrain, but even more so with this flick, literally every non Jason character just being an insufferable ignoramus. The kills are passable but don’t even come halfway to topping the franchise charts, Kane Hodder shows up for his shift as the big lug in full gear, hockey mask and slimy mongoloid prosthetics included at no extra charge. When the boat does finally land on New York shores, it’s jarring to see Jason waltzing down fifth avenue looking like a homeless nut whose stairs don’t quite reach the attic, machete in hand in broad daylight as he pursues the few remaining partygoers through the crowded streets. Really, guys? Keep the big guy in his shrouded summer camp forests where he’s at home, and the feng-shui of his murders rings true. Or at least let him go to space where there’s still dark hallways and hidden alcoves. Probably the biggest misfire in the series.