Escape from Death Block 13 (2021) Review
The first trailer for Escape from Death Block 13 showed up nearly three years ago in early 2019. Given all the hype around its star, Charles Bronson lookalike Robert Bronzi (Death Kiss, Once Upon a Time in Deadwood) it seemed to be taking a long time getting released. And now that it’s here I still can’t see why.
Mick Kovack (Robert Bronzi) has come to America from Hungary to settle the score with his dead brother’s boss Renda (Nicholas Turturro, The Penthouse, Angels Fallen). But rather than pay him the money he owes he sets his goons on him. Which doesn’t go very well for the goons until he intervenes with a large gun.
They all swear Kovak started it and he’s hauled off to jail. And the judge that will hear the case just happens to be related to Renda and will see that he’s sent to the badly misnamed Pleasant Hill Penitentiary. Detective Borelli (Lyindaa Russell, 6 Feet Below Hell, Black Mamba) and FBI Agent Langley (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Welcome Back Kotter, Compton’s Finest) offer him a deal. If he works as an informant they’ll get him out when the time is right. Of course, we all know that’s easier said than done.
Escape from Death Block 13 is writer/director Gary Jones (Mosquito, Axe Giant: The Wrath of Paul Bunyan) return to directing after concentrating on his career as an effects man for the past few years. That need for a change of pace may explain why he stepped away from the horror and sci-fi films he was known for in favour of an old-school action film.
And at its heart Escape from Death Block 13 is an old-fashioned prison film, its title even evokes the old Lee Van Cleef film Escape from Death Row. It’s all here, the violent inmates and sadistic guards all overseen by the corrupt Warden Jack (Debbie Scaletta, The Curse of Lilith Ratchet, The Kingsbury Run). This means several fights, mostly involving the warden’s stooge Bunyan (Chris Hahn, Inoperable, Wrong Turn).
Unfortunately, some of those fight scenes are not exactly brilliantly choreographed. They’re far from the worst I’ve seen, but they’re also fairly clunky and shot with very static camera work. I get that Carver didn’t have the budget to stage elaborate brawls, but I’ve seen lower-budget films like Nightshooters do it a lot better too. Thankfully the throwdown between Kovack and Bunyan that sets up the film’s climactic riot is given much more care and attention than the other similar scenes.
I wish as much attention had been paid to the riot’s CGI blood and gunfire effects. The last half hour of Escape from Death Block 13 is full of action, but the effects take a lot away from them. The best scene, which involves a guard ending up on the wrong end of his cattle prod, is all practical, however.
Like The Shawshank Redemption, Escape from Deathblock 13 was filmed in Ohio’s Mansfield Reformatory which gives it an authentically oppressive atmosphere. Unlike that film though they didn’t have the budget to fill it with extras which leaves some scenes looking comically underpopulated. Better choices of camera angles could have helped with that, this is one time emphasizing the vastness of the location wasn’t a good idea.
As for Bronzi himself, this was the first time I saw him in a film that wasn’t directed by Rene Perez. I’ve read that Perez dubbed someone else’s voice in to make him sound more like Bronson. That would explain why he sounds a bit different here and some of his dialogue scenes are cringingly bad. Thankfully once he gets to Pleasant Hill he mostly lets his fists do the talking. His next two films were shot in England by the uber prolific Scott Jeffrey (The Mutation, Bats), which should be an interesting team-up.
Weighing it all out, Escape from Deathblock 13 is an average low-budget action film. Yes, it has some problems, but it also has a lot more going for it than plenty of films that found a distributor a lot quicker. Certainly worth a weekend watch with pizza and plenty of beer.