Fortress – Stuart Gordon – 1992

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Fortress is one of the best prison escape films ever. Built on the sacred remains of classics such as Escape From New York and Escape 2000, Fortress really ought to have a name like Escape From Fortress 2017.

The year is 2017 and you can’t have more than one baby, even if your first one died. John Brennick and his wife get caught trying to have another and get sentenced to prison in the Fortress, a 33 story underground prison run by the omnipresent Tyrell Corporation. Computers keep you from having happy dreams and red lines on the floor threaten intestinal explosion if you cross them. It’s just like Disneyland.

John Brennick is an ex-war hero, (ala Snake Plissken), which explains why he’s such a badass. The plot mostly goes where it has to for an escape film with no real surprises. Except for Kurtwood Smith. He’s not surprisingly the best thing in the film. In a Cronenbergian twist, he plays a creepy android warden who is revealed to be the product of what the state does with all non-sanctioned babies.

It’s a grim future Gordon has imagined, where children are stolen and innocents are imprisoned with violent criminals. Two of Brennick’s cellmates are horror veterans Jeffery Combs and Tom Towles both of who are given room to shine and make the most of their time on screen.

The film is well designed and bloody. Despite looking like sets and special effects, at least they look like really cool sets and effects. The pace is brisk with the whole affair coming in at 95 minutes, and it really feels like they get a lot in there, but not in a bad way.

The film juggles tough-guy fight scenes and weirdo robot sex fascination throughout. Kurtwood Smith’s warden has it hot for Brennick’s wife. These scenes are positively icky and Loryn Locklin is to be commended for her performance. She reacts appropriately disgusted when she needs too.

This film is by no means some staggering effort, but it is a film that succeeds at every beat, giving great characters, a slimy villain, a high body count and some extremely gruesome content. Put it in your pile of ESCAPE films. It can stand up with the best of them.

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