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Viggo Mortensen

Viggo Mortensen Films

Lord of the Rings


Viggo Mortensen in Prison

Viggo Mortensen as Burke in Prison

Release: 1988

Director: Renny Harlin
Writer(s): Irwin Yablans, C. Courtney Joyner, Renny Harlin
Producer: Irwin Yablans

Runtime: 102 min

MCAA Rating: R for violence and profanity


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Prison Cast and Crew

Viggo Mortensen: Burke/Forsythe Electrocution

Other leading roles:

Prison Synopsis

A prison is haunted by the spirit of a former prisoner who wants revenge for being wrongfully executed. Viggo Mortensen plays "Burke," a car thief incarcerated in the prison.

Prison Brief Review

Viggo Mortensen plays a dual role here: Charles Forsythe, who was executed 30 years ago in this rural Wyoming prison for a crime he did not commit, and Burke, a car thief who is now incarcerated in the same prison.

Warden Eaton Sharpe, played with great conviction and believability by Lane Smith, was in charge when Forsythe was executed. Though Burke does not seem to realize it, his spirit is haunting the prison, seeking revenge on Sharpe. The institution seems to come alive, with walls, ceilings, doors and fixtures inexplicably attacking guards and prisoners at random moments.

In contrast to the mounting panic around him, Burke is a calm, cool character. He does not apologize for his criminal record, but he behaves in a dignified and decent manner with other prisoners, rescuing one man from a tortuous death and defending his cellmate, Cresus (Lincoln Kilpatrick), and other inmates when they are threatened.

I am not a horror movie fan, and could have done without the special effects, but thankfully they were more cheesy than horrifying, IMHO. Clearly this was not a big-budget film. The good news is that the camera work and acting far exceed what you would expect from a B-grade film. Mortensen, Kilpatrick and Smith turn in the most notable performances, but there are no embarrassments among the cast.

Why the director chose to feature Viggo Mortensen and other prisoners either naked or in nothing but their tighty whities so often is not quite clear to me, but the scenes are certainly memorable. See video clips and stills below.

Note: the film was never released on DVD in the U.S. I have seen what purports to be a Region 1 Canadian DVD for sale on eBay, but given the seller's feedback I'm guessing it may actually be copied from video tape. Used VHS tapes are readily available, and Antisoshal makes a DVD available (see link below).

Prison Soundtrack

Features original music from Christopher L. Stone and Richard Band. See more information in the Soundtrack Details from
1. Main Title/The Execution
2. The Prison Cellar
3. The Entity Is Released
4. Death In Solitary
5. Barbed Wire Unleashed
6. Stripdown
7. Rabbitt's Escape
8. The Inmates Sense The Entity
9. The Warden's Recurring Nightmare
10. Sandor Calls Up The Spirit
11. The Prison Break/Finale

Prison Articles & Interviews

PrisonPrison - The Unknown Movies
Detailed review of the script, acting and production hails director Renny Harlin but pans Viggo Mortensen. "Judging from his performance here, it's hard to believe Mortensen managed to work his way up to a high class project like Lord Of The Rings. He is incredibly vanilla bland, whether he's being confronted by a Bubba-like prisoner, or trying to escape from the evil wraith that has enveloped the prison. His unemotional state ends up transforming him into some kind of holier-than-thou snot, making him quite an annoying hero.... In his defense, Mortensen's character is just as blandly sketched by the screenplay."

The Fire That Fuels an Artist's HeartThe Fire That Fuels an Artist's Heart - Carpe Noctem #15, March 1999
Viggo comments on most of his pre-1999 movies, including Prison, Leatherface, Reflecting Skin, Indian Runner, Crimson Tide, The Prophecy, G.I. Jane, A Perfect Murder, Psycho, and the upcoming Walk on the Moon (tentatively titled The Blouse Man). He also discusses his art and upcoming showings. Finally, when asked, "In twenty years, would you rather be remembered as an actor who painted or a painter who acted?" he replies, ""I'd like to know that I was honest. I was myself as far as just being an artist and being an actor or poet or photographer or painter or whatever the hell. A pebble stacker, whatever the hell you end up doing, that's art. Being an artist is being an artist. So just be. If you only do acting, you're still an artist. I'd just like to know that I actually challenged myself."   []

Prison Resources

HorrorWatchHorrorwatch Review: Prison - The reviewer gives a reluctant thumbs up to the cast, but pans the film primarily because of its weak plot development. "Prison is a jailhouse flop. Although it does go to show you that all most all major stars have a horror flick hid somewhere deep in their acting closets."
Nick Schager Film Project: Prison - Reviewer gives Prison a C- rating, citing its lack of plot development and wimpy evil spirit. Viggo is mentioned as "a convict with a thing for James Dean/Montgomery Clift hairstyles."
Prison (1987) Review - Richard Scheib writes a well-crafted review of Prison, praising its atmosphere and acting while poking quite a few holes in the plot. About Viggo, he says, "Viggo Mortensen plays with an appealing heroic individuality and an incredible handsomeness that leaves one surprised that it took more than another whole decade before he went onto greater stardom with The Lord of the Rings."
Prison Trailer - Video clip of the Prison trailer.
Review: "Prison" - Reviewer (and Viggo fan) Colleen Wallace looks for the depth in Prison and finds it a "fascinating story of inhumanity, reincarnation and karmic justice." About Viggo, she says, "Viggo Mortensen...will go down in film history for playing the most decent convicted felon the screen has ever known and even looks great with a seeping head wound."

Prison Video Clips

Whatever you might think about the plot or special effects in Prison, any Viggo Mortensen fan can see that the cameraman and director had a great appreciation for Viggo's looks and talent.

Viggo Mortensen as Forsythe in Prisonpris-01: Condemned hands  «27-Apr-05» - In a flashback scene at the beginning of the film, the prisoner (Viggo Mortensen) curls his hands after being cuffed.
Quicktime video 320x240 (00'12, 976KB)
Viggo Mortensen as Burke in Prisonpris-03: Picking up the poster  «27-Apr-05» - Dressed only in his tighty whities, Burke (Viggo Mortensen) surreptitiously picks up a poster that was confiscated from another prisoner.
Quicktime video 320x240 (00'11, 996KB)
Viggo Mortensen as Burke in Prisonpris-04: Meeting Lasagna  «27-Apr-05» - Burke (Viggo Mortensen) gives the retrieved poster to Joe "Lasagna" Lazano (Ivan Kane) and they introduce themselves. Lasagna is clearly impressed with car thief Burke: "I hear you can take anything on four wheels, man, and fly it away to heaven." Burke replies quietly, "Well don't believe everything you hear."
Quicktime video 320x240 (00'23, 1.6MB)
Viggo Mortensen as Burke in Prisonpris-06: Old locks  «27-Apr-05» - When Burke hints that he might try to break out of prison, Lasagna says, "I thought bustin' cars was your thing." Burke (Viggo Mortensen) replies, "Well a car ain't nothing but a series of locks. Older the lock, easier it is. And this old."
Quicktime video 320x240 (00'13, 896KB)
Viggo Mortensen as Burke in Prisonpris-08: First aid  «27-Apr-05» - A bloodied Burke (Viggo Mortensen) gets his wound treated by Katherine (Chelsea Field). After she questions the wisdom of the work the warden had them doing, Burke replies, "Maybe he's got special plans for us."
Quicktime video 320x240 (00'23, 1.7MB)
Viggo Mortensen as Burke in Prisonpris-10: Shower  «27-Apr-05» - The warden looks on, baiting Burke (Viggo Mortensen) as he takes a shower. Burke ignores the harassment, asking only for his towel.
Quicktime video 320x240 (00'54, 3.6MB)
Viggo Mortensen as Burke in Prisonpris-12: Football  «27-Apr-05» - When the prison yard bully (Tom 'Tiny' Lister, Jr.) takes Burke's football and tries to threaten him, Burke (Viggo Mortensen) grabs the fellow by the nuts and quietly tells him, "Let me tell you something. I was making it a real point to mind my own business. Maybe you oughta try that for a while. Start right now. You give me back my ball, I'll give you yours."
Quicktime video 320x240 (00'54, 3.9MB)
Lincoln Kilpatrick & Viggo Mortensen in Prisonpris-14: Cresus falls  «27-Apr-05» - The prisoners have been kept standing in the yard overnight, stripped to their undies. Burke's cellmate, Cresus (Lincoln Kilpatrick) falls to the ground. Burke (Viggo Mortensen) catches Cresus and stands up to the guard who is threatening to break Cresus' glasses.
Quicktime video 320x240 (00'43, 3.6MB)
Viggo Mortensen as Burke in Prisonpris-16: Escape  «27-Apr-05» - This is for the hand and foot fetishists (you know who you are). The escape of Burke (Viggo Mortensen) from his prison cell is captured in three brief vignettes of hands and feet.
Quicktime video 320x240 (00'32, 2.1MB)

Prison Photo Gallery