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After struggling and suffering through a pair of low-budget horror flicks (called Kraken: Tentacles of the Deep and Decoys 2: The Second Seduction, if you must know), I sure wasn't looking all that forward to Kevin VanHook's Death Row. Given that the last VanHook flick I'd seen, the outrageously silly The Fallen Ones, didn't give me much reason for enthusiasm, I slid the Death Row DVD into the player and prepared myself for silliness, stupidity, and boredom.
And guess what? This one turned out to be pretty darn fun, actually! No, it's not what anyone would call "a good movie," but you have to give credit where it's due -- and Death Row doles out just enough action, carnage, and well-mounted mayhem to warrant a rental from the hardcore horror-heads. Plus it's got a bunch of familiar faces, a pace that keeps things flowing, and some surprisingly creative gore!
The plot is the epitome of simple: Two different groups of people (killers on the run and a bunch of young documentary-makers) have arrived at a prison that's as deserted as it is haunted. Seems that this particular penitentiary has some, well, evil in its walls. It causes (relatively) normal convicts to devolve into murderous psychopaths and it turns (allegedly) decent guards into gun-happy executioners. But with the building left vacant and only a large fistful of new denizens beneath its roof, this prison is surely safe to hang out in these days... right?
No, of course not! This prison is still knee-deep in rather influentially evil spirits, apparitions who love nothing more than squooshing a guy between iron bars and tossing others into the nearby license plate machine. It's all a bunch of mindless gore and mayhem, but at least Death Row has no delusions beyond those goals. The cast is composed of your typically photogenic soon-to-be meatbags, but fans of the B-fare will no doubt enjoy the combined presence of Stacy Keach and Jake Busey. Heck, even Danny Trejo pops up for an amusing cameo.
It's a low-budget and blood-soaked "haunted prison" affair, but it's also one that delivers the goods at an appreciably slick clip. I'm not saying it's a horror flick that deserves a "sight unseen" pass into your DVD collection, but if you're scanning your Netflix queue hungry for some entertainingly low-rent horror, you can probably toss this one into the bin.
Audio/Video: For a low-end movie, the video sure looks handsome enough. The flick is presented in a fine anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfer, with audio delivered in either Dolby Digital 5.1 or DD 2.0. English captions are available.
Extras: The multi-hatted Kevin VanHook stops by with a feature-length audio commentary in which he covers all the requisite details. Also along for the chat-fest are actors Jamie Mann and Scott Whyte. The trio seems to have a sense of humor about the flick, which only bolsters my opinion that Death Row is passably silly fun. Also included are an 11-minute "making of" piece called "An Axe to Grind," in which cast & crew members banter about their movie, a 4-minute "License to Thrill" piece, in which the gore is the focus, one deleted scene, a photo gallery, some concept art, and a bunch of Anchor Bay trailers.
Go in with lowered expectations and you might enjoy a piece of B-movie cheese more than you expected to. That's the lesson I re-learned with Death Row. Call it schlock or call it a guilty pleasure, but the thing held my interest and delivered the goods. Not every flick has to be Amadeus, after all.