PRISON, 1988, Empire Pictures in Association with Eden Ltd.
The Prison, which some dubbed "Poltergeist Penitentiary," was to be a supernatural thriller. It would be shot in Rawlins, Wyo at the old Wyoming State Penitentiary - the real star of the film, aka the Wyoming Territorial Prison, aka the Wyoming Frontier Prison, "Creedmore" in the original screenplay. The "prison of nightmares," structure would be analagous to the hotel in The Shining or the house in Amityville Horror, essentially taking on a life of its own. Budgeted at $2.5M, with a new and untried director, Renny Harlin, Producer Irwin Yablans announced plans for a big premiere event that would also take place in Rawlins.
The Problems: Of course such a film at an old prison, with a new prison only a short distance away, would seek the use of real inmates for the onscreen ambience, and newspapers were quick to do interviews. Originally 2-300 inmates were to be used, but this didn't work out due to local criticisms of security risks and other reasons. One of 44 minimum security inmates that were brought in was a Steven Little who was serving 10 to 20 yrs. for manslaughter of a Casper hotel clerk, and of course, he didn't do it. He planned to go to Hollywood to pursue acting after his prison release which would nearly coincide with the movie's release, asking the Yablans family to represent him. Yablans' son Mickey had a role in the film and expressed some trepidation about being locked up with Little as his cellmate. Little received an injury to his groin during a realistic fight scene that Harlin loved. He got to have lunches with the cast, under guard of course. Yablans said that even the Governor promised local cooperation that he couldn't or wouldn't deliver. Most extras were bussed in from Cheyenne(150 miles) and Rock Springs(110 miles). They were promised one free meal and $45. for the day.
By late September Yablans was stating that the only way the premiere could be held in Rawlins was if the state footed the bill. There was no money left in the Empire Productions' budget, which folded(They left with bills unpaid as these entities so often do.) soon after the company returned to CA. Plans now were for the premiere in New York on Nov. 7. While in production, the company kept requesting services from the town supposedly not previously expected. Yablans said he would let anyone who wanted to watch the filming to come out, and that he engaged in constant "stroking" of local officials, something not uncommon to other productions. He spoke of the unkept promises by the Wyoming Travel Commission for prison extras that cut into their expenditures. Then Mayor Della Vivion called the statements, "...a breach of faith, and I resent that," an expression echoed by Lyle Anderson, the Rawlins-Carbon Co. Chamber of Commerce Manager. He added that many extras weren't paid, many local agencies contributed office space to the production company and weren't compensated either. A lot of people had hard feelings toward Yablans and his "slick" ways of promotion. As would be expected, they would welcome another film company in the future, but contract with them much differently. Some damages to the old prison weren't repaired and there was virtually no cleanup before the company left town. At the end of filming despite some acrimony, Mayor Vivion presented Yablans, aka the "Merchant of Menace," with a plaque of appreciation which read, "In appreciation for your support of the community of Rawlins during the filming of the movie Prison, The Movie."
A Review: Due to the male nudity in the prison yard, one female reviewer called it, "Beefcake behind bars," no doubt a comment based on numerous prior exploitation films that dealt with female prisons. She panned it but had a few good comments on the film's SFX content.