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Fortress (1992)

Echo Bridge Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 5/7/2013

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Audio: 1/2
Extras: No Extras

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 4/19/2013

In the 1970s and 80s, scary movie fans were always on the lookout for the next "King of Horror" and many directors held the crown, if just for a short time. John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, Wes Craven, Sam Raimi, John Landis -- these were the filmmakers who ruled over horror at the time. When Stuart Gordon burst (literally) onto the scene in 1985 with Re-Animator, he was immediately ushered into this fraternity, and his next two films, Dolls and From Beyond, helped to cement his reputation as someone who loved horror and over-the-top gore. However, Gordon then began to prove that he was multi-faceted, as he turned his sights on other genres. He especially seemed to have an affinity for science-fiction and he melded that with skill at gore in 1992's Fortress.

Fortress takes place in a dystopian future where couples are allowed only one child and a second pregnancy is against the law. John Brennick (Christopher Lambert) and his wife Karen (Loryn Locklin) are attempting to leave the country when they are caught and it's revealed that Karen is pregnant with their second child. Karen gets away, but John is taken to an underground prison which is run by the Men-Tel Corporation. The facility is state of the art and has many levels which go down into the Earth. Each prisoner is fitted with an "Intestinator" -- a device which is lodged in the stomach and produces severe pain if they misbehave. The prison is overseen by Poe (Kurtwood Smith), an evil man who likes to punish the prisoners. Despite its size, the place is over-crowded and John must share a cell with Nino (Clifton Gonzalez), Abraham (Lincoln Kirkpatrick), D-Day (Jeffrey Combs), and Stiggs (Tom Towles). After asserting himself as the tough guy on the cell block, John realizes that he has something to live for and decides that he is going to escape.

Stuarts Gordon's horror movies played like the equivalent of having an elegantly dressed woman tell you a filthy joke -- they looked sharp and professional and then proceeded to show you nightmarish images. But, Fortress is a B-movie from the outset and it seems to wear this badge proudly. Screenwriters Troy Neighbors & Steven Feinberg & David Venable and Terry Curtis Fox (it took four people to write this) have taken all of the prison movie stereotypes (the new guy having to prove himself, the evil warden, the shifty smart guy, the old-timer, etc.) and placed them in this futuristic setting. I wouldn't go as far as to call this "hard sci-fi", but it does have some interesting ideas about artificial intelligence and like its brethren Alien and RoboCop, it's set in a world where big companies run things.

All that aside, the reason to watch Fortress is for the campy fun and the bloody spirit which Gordon brings to it. This movie could have easily taken on a dark, serious tone, as it does deal with things like powerful corporations and government population control, but Gordon lets those things stay in the background, as he clearly wants us to have a good time. The movie focuses on the action and John's plan to escape (even this is dummied down to the "heist movie" basics). The action set-pieces are well-done and the finale is especially good. However, the thing which you will take away from Fortress is the memory of the "Intestinators". The phrase "Random Intestination" will resonate in your mind long after you've forgotten much of the movie.

While Fortress is a well-made B-Movie, it is still a B-Movie and thus has the shortcomings shared by those movies. There is basically no character development here and we don't get to know anyone beyond their basic traits. (What happened to John and Karen's other child? What did they do on the outside? Why are other inmates there?) Again, despite the futuristic setting, the story is cliched and I can see how many will find it silly. Lambert is OK, but there's something about his voice which makes me crazy. It is fun to see a post-RoboCop and yet, pre-That 70s Show Kurtwood Smith chew the scenery. Still, Fortress is a film which has been shuttled around to various home video companies, and I don't know if it's ever found a true audience. (I seem to remember seeing it in the theater, but I could be wrong.) Perhaps this Blu-ray Disc release, especially with its value price, will help others discover this wacky movie.

Fortress shows that flimsy barns still exist in the future on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Echo Bridge Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 28 Mbps. The image is fairly sharp and clear, showing only slight grain. There are some black dots on the image from the source material. The colors look pretty good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is good, but the picture does look flat. Overall this is a slight improvement over DVD. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 1.9 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The sound here is adequate, but not spectacular. The stereo effects are good and show good separation. They do a nice job of adding a sense of space to the environment.

The Fortress Blu-ray Disc contains no extra features.

Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.