Judge David Johnson did a nickel in Alcatraz once. And in case you didn't know, "doing a nickel in Alcatraz" is the modern colloquialism for "pulling a groin muscle while playing badminton."
Welcome to death row.
Another day, another unheralded horror movie release from Lions Gate.
Facts of the Case
A group of researchers are summoned to Alcatraz to investigate a possible murder. A skeleton was recently unearthed and these nerds are here to get to the bottom of what caused the death. Was it murder? Or something worse?
When our heroes are forced to spend the night sleeping in the cells of the infamous prison, they find that it is most definitely the latter. Suddenly, screams rip through the dead night air as one by one people go bonkers, afflicted with a mysterious contagion that was responsible for the initial deaths.
Curse of Alcatraz is half-decent (emphasis on the "half") except for a crippling pace and some other complaints. But there are a few good ideas here and I like the twist on the source of the terror given at the end (delivered, unfortunately, in an endless bout of excruciating exposition). It doesn't merit a rental, but if it happens to be on in your relative vicinity you won't run away screaming.
The major strike against the film is the tedium. This sucker takes a looooooong time to get moving, with nary a slice of mayhem transpiring on-screen until nearly the half-way point. And when the action and death finally do start rolling out…well, there's not much to flip for. The overlong suspense building does not culminate in a sufficient payoff and the lack of hard-nosed action and horror will probably leave most gorehounds cold. I wasn't too impressed. However, to be fair, one guy was shown the business end of a cell door on his forehead and that was kind of cool.
Looking past the underperforming scare tactics of the film, I'll admit that the setting and the reveal of the cause for all the death and psychosis was pretty cool. Marketed as the last film to be shot on Alcatraz, the prison's setting is bodacious and goes a long way to generating an eerie atmosphere. Yes it's a shame that not much was done to capitalize on it all, but props to the filmmakers for hauling their stuff over to the island to begin with. Alacatraz looks cool.
And I like the direction they took with the true identity of the killer. It's clever (though a tad derivative) and a welcome change of pace to the usual hack ghost story that tends to permeate the slasher genre. In this case the "curse" is more figurative than anything and aside from the goofy overlong exposition at the end, it's a nifty idea. Beyond that, there's not much else going on here that is compelling.
The DVD's high point is the moderate amount of special features. A commentary by the director and writer is actually interesting as they candidly talk about the process of stringing a low-budget film together and ruminate on the mandatory inclusion of bare breasts in horror movies, and two segments feature on-set footage at Alcatraz. The non-anamorphic video transfer is grainy and disappointing and stereo audio track is merely functional.
A few good ideas are nice and all, but there's nothing else happening that lifts above "generic disposability."
Why don't you hang around that cell a little longer?
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Scales of Justice
• Director and Writer Commentary
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