THE CHAIR, DEATH HOUSE) came out during this period. PRISON, however, was the first and the best of the bunch thanks to its succinct script and creative direction.
The film centers on hard-as-nails prison warden Ethan Sharpe (Lane Smith, fresh off the prison pic WEEDS) trying to reopen a Wyoming penitentiary. Sharpe has a history with this place as he was a guard here in 1964 and present during the institution’s final execution of a con by the name of Charles Forsythe. The old school Sharpe thinks prisoners should be seen/not heard and soon receives confrontation on several fronts. First from Katherine Walker (Chelsea Field), a prison board member bent on reform and prisoner’s rights, and later from Burke (Viggo Mortensen), a young con who bears a striking resemblance to Forsythe. But those troubles are manageable compared to the supernatural presence that has been unleashed after the sealed off electric chair chambers are unearthed. Yes, Forsythe is still around and not too happy that he may have been sent to the hot seat for a crime he didn’t commit.
success HALLOWEEN (1978) inside a prison (the initial script was originally called HORROR IN THE BIG HOUSE). It was Joyner who suggested a ghost story and that set up works perfectly within the confines of a penitentiary. Another impressive thing about the screenplay is how it is not only a great horror film, but it is a perfect prison film as well. It hits every cliché we’ve come to know and love from this subgenre, but each with its only unique horror twist. So we get a prison escape bit, but with a guy dealing with pipes rather than tough “screws”; we get the dreaded “in the hole” sequence, but with fiery results. Best of all, it makes the audience more sympathetic towards the prisoners. Yes, we’re actually rooting for the criminals and murderers (and ghost), which is what every prison film worth its salt should do. COOL HAND LUKE’s Strother Martin would definitely be upset by the script’s ability to communicate.
Rare pic from Lane Smith's heavy metal career: