Thursday, March 29, 2007

Death Row (2006)

Some of my favorite horror movies are those set in long-abandoned, haunted buildings. Whether it’s an asylum, prison, mine shaft or house, as long as it has an infamous history and is supposedly haunted I’m all in. Session 9 is a great example of such a movie (and, in fact, is one of my favorites!) while Death Tunnel is an example of how such a spooky place can go to horrible misuse with the wrong script. Death Row had a lot of promise with the great location of an abandoned prison, but after a few creative sparks it fizzles out.

A group of young documentary filmmakers are making a film on the notorious Isla de la Roca Penitentiary, which lies dormant after an inmate and guard massacre closed its doors for good. After interviewing an old prison guard (Stacey Keach) from his hospital bed who only tells them half of what really happened, they set off for the supposedly haunted island prison. What they don’t know is that a group of jewel thieves have already holed up inside. Strange things start occurring as members of the two groups are bloodily killed. Can the two groups band together and try and escape the haunted prison?

Judging from the fact that Jake Busey was in this, I wasn’t expecting anything along the lines of Session 9. This being another “haunted prison” movie (hilariously enough, film’s original title was Haunted Prison) I was perhaps expecting copious amount of TG&A, a term I’ve coined for tits, gore and ass. Oddly enough (or perhaps because this was a made-for-cable movie), Death Row doesn’t feature T&A, but it is pretty heavy on the Gore with a capital G. Though there are some pretty neat death scenes, they weren’t enough to hold my interest in this film, which was a real snoozefest complete with bad acting, poor scripting and pretty cheesy effects.

Unlike Session 9 or Death Tunnel, Death Row was not filmed in a real-life haunted place, but it is set in a fictional prison that has quite the history of death. The penitentiary is one spooky place, but the film doesn’t take advantage of that fact. The film hardly sets up any atmosphere and doesn’t thrill or scare. I felt like so much more could have been done with such a great setting, but it failed to deliver any solid creeps.

The cast is pretty interchangeable and identifiable only by race, sex or stereotype. You’ve got the spicy Latina, daddy’s little rich girl, the wimp, the jock, the black guy and so on. The characters weren’t developed at all and I didn’t really care what happened to them. The only character who stood out was Marco, the leader of the thieves, and that’s only because he was played by Jake Busey. While the acting wasn’t atrocious, it still wasn’t good enough to garner any praise; most of the time the actors are either overacting or giving unbelievable performances.

The cast’s shaky performances could probably be blamed on the weak script that featured a wispy-thin plot and silly dialogue. I did think that combining two different groups in a haunted place was a cool idea, but it just wasn’t handled too well in Death Row. Where’s the friction and confrontation between the groups? Where’s the actual emotion when some of their best friends die? Also, the ending was laugh-out-loud ludicrous and the “twist” came out of nowhere. A little more build up and explanation would have been nice, just for things to actually make sense.

One aspect that the film does excel at is the gore. There are some pretty wicked scenes, from the opener which shows us what happened during the inmate and guard massacre to the first kill where a guy’s flesh gets forced through a heavy steel gate to an equally nasty kill involving a body getting chopped in two by a ceiling fan. The two groups combined have a total of eleven people, so there are plenty opportunities for the vengeful ghosts to exact their bloody revenge.

Speaking of the ghosts, I thought making them all blurry and wavy looked very cheesy. Their makeup looked great, though, and I would have loved to see them without the blurriness. They had the potential to be scary, but making them look like they were enveloped in flames made me laugh out loud. Other special effects, like the CGI fire, were pretty hokey as well. I wish things had been kept more straightforward and realistic in the FX department.

While Death Row is a film I didn’t enjoy, it could be entertaining as a brainless flick to watch with a few friends over some beers (make that many beers for me). I have to say, this might be the goriest Sci-Fi Original release I’ve seen! I dug the death scenes, but I had to suffer through the rest of the film just to get to them. Not even a cameo by Danny Trejo as a priest could save this flick for me.

Buy Death Row!

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