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Thursday, November 14, 2013

PRISON OF THE PSYCHOTIC DAMNED -- movie review by porfle


(NOTE: This review was originally posted in 2006 at, based on an advance screener.)

Remember how scary Jan de Bont's multi-million-dollar remake of THE HAUNTING was? And how much fun it was to watch, with its all-star cast and oodles of CGI effects? Me, neither.

That's why I love independent horror films like PRISON OF THE PSYCHOTIC DAMNED (2006), made by people who know what they're doing and how to do it on a tight budget. It only took around $250,000 and eight intensive days of shooting to create this spooky tale of "urban archeologist" Rayna Bloom (Susie Adriensen, UNDER THE RAVEN'S WING, THE BLOOD SHED) and her four-person crew as they tape a documentary inside New York's Buffalo Central Terminal.

Writer-producer David R. Williams' (KILLER ASYLUM, ICE QUEEN) fictitious history of this cavernous, long-abandoned train station includes a horrendous train crash that killed hundreds of people, a serial killer who tortured and murdered several victims within its walls, and a period in which the terminal was used to house the criminally insane.

During this dark time the inmates preyed upon each other in horrible ways while twisted doctors performed ghastly Mengele-like experiments on them. And, of course, the vengeful spirits of those who died violently are said to still roam the terminal, with evil intent toward anyone foolish enough to venture inside.

Venturing inside, Rayna and her crew make their way through the upper floors of the building and the dark, labyrinthian passageways below. (I don't think I've ever seen a low-budget movie with a better "found" location than this -- the Buffalo Central Terminal is an incredible visual for a horror film.)

Aurora (Demona Bast, who also contributed to the score with a stunning closing-credits song) is there because of her psychic abilities, and becomes more and more disturbed by the ghostly eminations she's perceiving, while jocular nerd Jason (Jim Vaughn, in his first film), who resembles a grown-up version of Spanky from "Our Gang", catches everything on videotape.

Despising everything and everyone involved with the endeavor is the beautiful but deeply-disturbed Kansas (Melantha Blackthorne, AVERSION, SINNERS AND SAINTS), who is there only because Daddy will cut off her funds if she doesn't participate in something constructive once in a while. Rounding out the group is the childlike, highly-excitable Nessie (actress and stand-up comic Noel Francomano), the character I most identified with because she spends much of the movie in a state of gibbering terror.

Director-editor D.W. Kann takes his time setting up the story and letting us get to know the characters, which is fun because Williams has written some really good dialogue for them and the actors make the most of it. Jason constantly tells Kansas bad jokes and mistakenly calls her "Iowa" or "Missouri" at different times, which eventually leads to the following exchange:

AURORA: "What happened to you?"
JASON: "Nothing, I walked into...uh..."
KANSAS: "My fist."
JASON: "Yeah."

The eccentric Aurora and the ill-tempered Kansas spend a lot of quality "in-your-face" time together ("I just love women," Jason delightedly remarks after each of their near-catfights), and Nessie's wet-poodle giddiness is often pretty funny. All of which makes it that much more involving when the wrathful spirits finally descend upon them and really bad things start happening to these characters.

The first one to totally flake out, not surprisingly, is Nessie, who flees in a blind panic down the dark underground corridors and gets hopelessly lost. The others separate to search for her, and it is here that the film becomes a non-stop series of surrealistically horrifying situations, some of which evoked the same creepy feeling I had watching the final scenes of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT.

The hapless Jason has a decidedly unexcellent adventure which involves the ghosts of some psychotic doctors who like to perform unnecessary surgery; Aurora finds herself locked in a room filled with a bunch of scary dolls and a baby with a face that only a mother could love; Nessie encounters a guy who scarcely even has a face.

And Rayna -- well, she may be obsessively dedicated to her work, but maybe she shouldn't have gone back downstairs to retrieve that video camera. This is really good low-budget filmmaking, with skillful cinematography, sharp editing, and a talented director bringing a well-written script to life.

In addition to all that -- and I'd feel remiss not to mention it -- you may have heard that PRISON OF THE PSYCHOTIC DAMNED features Melantha Blackthorne (or "Countess Bathoria" to many of her fans) in her first topless scene. It does, but it's not the usual gratuitous "boob shot" you see in a lot of exploitation films.

The film opens with a long sequence of Kansas in a cheap hotel room, languishing in a delirium as she struggles with some past trauma that has filled her with self-loathing and a compulsion to cut herself ("The flesh parts...the lipless a baby bird wanting to be fed..." she murmurs as she slowly slices her wrist).

She then applies a piece of broken mirror to the front of her shirt (nobody ever made "braless" look better, by the way) and rips it open, and we see by the faint scars that she's done this before. It's a jaw-dropping scene, to be sure, but well-integrated and significant in giving us a deeper understanding of a character that otherwise might have seemed shallow later on.

Strangely enough,  the sequence is vaguely reminiscent of the opening from APOCALYPSE NOW, with Martin Sheen going through a similar self-crisis in a hotel room, and it ends with her lounging in the bath in the dark, mesmerized by the flickering flame of a candle. It's very nicely-done, and Melantha Blackthorne's performance is hypnotic -- all in all, pretty impressive stuff.

Does anyone survive a night in the PRISON OF THE PSYCHOTIC DAMNED? The final shot of the movie lets us know. At first I thought the ending was a little abrupt, but after watching it again, it felt right -- one of many images that lingered in my mind long after the fade-out.

Buy it at


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