It is the future and world overpopulation has led to drastic measures from the authorities. In the United States it is illegal for a couple to have more than one child, which leaves John Henry Bennick (Christopher Lambert) and his pregnant wife Karen (Loryn Locklin) in a quandary for their first baby died as an infant, and they are now flouting the law by having another one. They are currently trying to flee the country over the border, and to hide Karen's pregnancy she is wearing a flak jacket under her coat; they would have gotten away with it, but the guard notices her collar and raises the alarm...
So it's off to prison they go, to the fortress of the title where the late eighties/early nineties cycle of prison movies which became oddly popular with filmmakers if not audiences came to its science fiction conclusion. There had been action movies as when Jean-Claude Van Damme was banged up in Death Warrant and Sylvester Stallone was incarcerated in Lock Up, and of course there were a rash of prison themed horror movies such as, er, Prison, but Arnold Schwarzenegger had a mind to do one of his own, and hired Stuart Gordon to direct it on the strength of Re-Animator. As it turned out, Ahnold left but Stuart stayed, with the budget version of the yarn now starring Lambert.
Whether Lambert had the equivalent degree of star wattage as Schwarzenegger was up for debate, but he was perfectly acceptable for all this grunting and groaning, indeed for the first half he seemed to spend most of his time grimacing in agony. This was thanks to Bennick having swallowed - forcibly - a device known as the intestinator, which appears to be the screenwriters' favourite new word given how many times it is repeated. What does it do? When the security system notices a breach, be it a brawl or an escape attempt, it sets off incredible pain in the prisoner, and if that doesn't work then it explodes the device, killing them instantly. This serves to depict the jail environment as punishingly extreme, and our hero as the victim of great injustice.
All he wanted was to have a baby - a basic human right! Is that too much to ask?! But wipe away those tears, viewers, for we have a plan of action. From this seemingly impossible situation there is a ray of hope, and that's dependent on the grumpy jailbirds setting aside their differences and fathoming a way out of this place, though not before Bennick must prove his he-man credentials by fighting the meanest inmate there (Vernon Wells from Commando!). Meanwhile, events are being watched by the man who never sleeps, Prison Director Poe (Kurtwood Smith from Robocop!), a genetically enhanced but lonely observer who with the aid of his computer system Zed can dole out the punishment to wrongdoers, and even infiltrate their dreams to make sure they're not enjoying themselves there either.
For reasons of plot convenience, Karen ends up in the fortress too, but on a different level, though she and Bennick quickly become aware of each other's presence. Poe, even though he's impotent, lusts after her and arranges to have her stay in his quarters in a sort of Phantom of the Opera type set up, though there was an element of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest to this as well, if not in terms of cinematic excellence in the way the pathetic but dangerous warden lords it over his emasculated charges. That won't last, naturally, so once Bennick is saved from brain death by Karen's plaintive pleading, he is able to conjure up a scheme, being from the Army where he was a past master at such things, well, before he accidentally got his men killed that is. So there was even a spot of redemption in there too, though if this sounded overstuffed it didn't play that way thanks to Gordon keeping the action flowing pacily, creating pure pulp that if difficult to defend, entertained nonetheless. Music by Frédéric Talgorn.
American director of horror and sci-fi, who made his debut in 1985 with Re-Animator, following 15 years working in theatre in Chicago. This HP Lovecraft adaptation was a spectacular mix of chills, black comedy and inventive splatter, but while it still remains his best film, the likes of From Beyond, Dolls, The Pit and the Pendulum, Space Truckers and Dagon do have their moments. He followed these with the David Mamet adaptation Edmond and true crime-inspired Stuck. Gordon also wrote the story for the box office smash Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.