Prison of the Dead (2000)
By: Craig Villinger  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Universe Laser and Video Co LTD (Hong Kong) All Regions, NTSC. 1.77:1 (Non-anamorphic). English 2.0. Chinese, Simplified Chinese Subtitles. 73 minutes
The Movie
Director: Victoria Sloan (David DeCoteau)
Starring: Patrick Flood, Jeff Peterson, Samuel Page, Kim Ryan, Michael Guerin, Alicia Arden, Debra Mayer
Screenplay: Matthew Jason Walsh
Executive Producer: Charles Band
Tagline: There's no parole... in hell!
Country: USA
A group of twenty something friends who would not look out of place in a revamped version of Beverly Hills 90210 are lured to an isolated funeral home in the belief that one of their long time friends has just passed away. Upon arrival however they discover that it is all a cunning ruse perpetrated by serial prankster and all-round rich brat Kristoff in order to reunite his old clique for a night they will never forget. Thanks to a series of expository set pieces we learn that Kristoff's father has recently inherited the old funeral home, which in actual fact resides upon an old institution formerly referred to as "Blood Prison", a place that was home to all manner of atrocities and indecencies back in the middle ages. These acts basically consisted of the torture and murder of witches and other dubious sorts, all conducted by three individuals know as "The Executioners" who were feared by all throughout the land.

Through further lip flapping and exposition we get down to the crux of the story and the real reason as to why Kristoff has dragged his old friends out into the middle of nowhere. As a publicity stunt for his trashy tabloid newspaper, Kristoff's father is planning to offer one million dollars in cold hard cash to the person who discovers "The Talon Key", which will supposedly unlock a door leading to a very evil and nasty place deep within the bowels of the prison. Naturally the group decide that they want the cash for themselves, despite the fact that all of them seem to be living the high life already. A ouija board is produced, a few letters are pointed to, and suddenly the spirits of those who met their demise within the walls of Blood Prison are released to take possession of the members of the group one by one. This in itself is not entirely bad news, as the spirits are simply looking for a human vessel that will allow them to escape the confines of the prison once and for all. Unfortunately for our spoilt young friends however, the release of the spirits has also awoken The Executioners, who rise form their graves in the great zombie film tradition with a firm intention of keeping the spirits of their victims locked up where they belong, and the only way they can do this is to execute the humans who will act as "escape pods" for their paranormal prisoners. With a few interlopers added to the mix in the form of three old rivals who are looking to torment Kristoss and co. for various affronts to their dignity in the past (apparently one of them is upset at the fact that Kristoss engaged in anal sex with his girlfriend!), the stage is set for drinking, drug taking, an obligatory sex scene or two, and of course, slaughter and mayhem.

Prison of the Dead is directed by Victoria Sloan, which is one of the many pseudonyms used by director David DeCoteau. DeCoteau has spawned some dire efforts in his time, including Sorority Babes in the Slime Ball Bowl-O-Rama and Test Tube Teens from the Year 2000, however these films are made to look like master works of modern cinema when compared with this load of garbage. Acting performances all round are below average, and the screenplay by Matthew Jason Walsh (who scripted the far superior Bloodletting) is something that Bruno Mattei would probably have rejected had it passed across his desk in the mid eighties, with bland dialogue, a plot structure that seems to make itself up as it goes along, and characters that are so abhorrent that you will have absolutely no sympathy for them when they finally fall victim to The Executioners blades. Gore effects are almost non-existent, being limited to a couple of squirts of blood here and there, and the half-arsed attempt at creating atmosphere though the use of constant lightning strikes and thunder claps only served to show just how cheap this production really was. The Executioners themselves looked like cheap imitations of Ossorio's Templar Knights (with the addition of glowing eyes), and the ghostly special effects were almost laughable. I am normally a very forgiving person when it comes to low budget horror movies, however Prison of the Dead failed to inspire on every level and should be avoided at all costs. Even with its relatively short running time of seventy three minutes, this film seemed to go on for far too long.
Prison of the Dead is presented in a letterboxed 1.77:1 aspect ratio and is without 16x9 enhancement. The image seems to vary slightly throughout the film, however it is generally of a below average quality. Many of the darker scenes suffer from low level noise and colour detail appears to be over-saturated at times, with flesh tones rarely looking natural. Prison of the Dead was made on a shoestring budget for the home video market, so the image quality was never going to be great, but there is still a great of deal of room for improvement here.
The English 2.0 stereo track is acceptable at best, although any problems with the audio track are more than likely due to the low budget nature of the film. Dialogue is always clear and easy to understand, while the minimalist musical score is served well enough. All things considered, there isn't too much to complain about.
Extra Features
The only supplementary feature on offer is a trailer for the film itself, which is more than you usually get from a Hong Kong DVD release, so I was somewhat surprised.
The Verdict
Prison of the Dead is a very ordinary film that has been given a very ordinary DVD treatment. In all honesty I can not think of one reason for recommending this DVD, so I won't, although the relatively cheap HK price tag did make the entire experience a little less painful. A little.
Movie Score
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