FORTRESS. Science fiction prison actioner

We know it well from a thousand sci-fi films without genre restrictions.

Jacek Lubiński

6 January 2024

FORTRESS. Science fiction prison actioner

Some vision of a totalitarian future à la the exaggerated rule of Trump (or Merkel/Macron/Duda – no one should be excluded from this electoral list). A place where you can’t eat radishes, sleep together in one bed, and wear breeches on the second Friday of the month. In short: a nightmare. And at the same time, a country that seems to spend billions on super-ultra-hyper-modern prisons, where not only troglodytes and rapists end up but also anyone who opposes the “new order”…

In the Fortress, that someone is the god of thunder himself – Raiden, whose batteries apparently ran out. That is Christopher “Scottish Highlander” Lambert, who, along with his pregnant wife, makes a mess trying to cross the Mexican border (as if a ride with a pregnant woman into an area controlled by merciless cartels was a solution). As a result of a short but incredibly intense event, which not only makes no sense at all but also fails to keep the viewer on the edge of their seat, the blonde heroine with the face of Loryn Locklin (once a solid 8/10 visually and 5/10 in every other aspect) disappears into the darkness. The former immortal is caught like an amateur and ends up in the titular abode for a long sentence for sins and, as you can easily guess, kicking the asses of bad people. But really bad ones.

fortress vhs

As evidence of how bad they are, one can find banned faces of Vernon Wells (Bennett from Commando), Tom Devil’s Rejects Towles, or the young Clifton Collins Jr., who will later play Perry Smith in the Capote biopic. And in the role of the main bad guy, who wields a futuristic cat belonging to the heartless corporation MenTel (thankfully not MenTal), a villain from RoboCop – Kurtwood Smith is cast. Moreover, the guy is equipped with technology that not only fries the most unruly with lasers – among whom Lambert will quickly find himself – but also infiltrates the dreams of his inmates (sic!). And the guy also has a computer worthy of HAL 9000, meaning it can override directives when it deems fit. In two words: it’s happening!

And it happens in the year 2017 – although the Italians, being old jokers, translated the title in their country to 2013 La fortezza – so it’s already a bit retro. Despite being a production from A.D. 1992, it maintains its form in terms of the design of the action location (even considering that, for savings, the crew shot in a functioning prison and in the surroundings of real criminals). It doesn’t shine like a diamond, but remains appropriately minimalist and at the same time impressively inventive and practical – such as the mobile walkway. The few special effects have also held up in quality, and the action scenes have a dynamism worthy of classic VHS hits – although the whole thing had previously hit theaters, earning a quite substantial sum considering its ridiculously small (especially from today’s perspective) budget of eight green bills.

Fortress Christopher Lambert

This budget would probably have been much, much, much higher if Fortress had been made according to the original plans, as another action hit for Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was supposed to be the Austrian who would play John Henry Brennick (oh, those double names!), portrayed by Lambert in the end, which would probably have made for a good double feature with the slightly earlier released Total Recall. Supposedly Arnold became interested in the project only because of the director – Stuart Gordon – whose Re-Animator he really liked, and in which, incidentally, his stunt double, Peter Kent, also played (that’s enough about industry connections and production trivia). However, for some reason, the muscular star backed out of the project at the last minute (probably after reading the script), so the studio ultimately approached it with the smallest possible budget and without priorities. Unfortunately, it shows, is heard, and felt.

Fortress Christopher Lambert Loryn Locklin

Despite the mentioned advantages, the film is glaringly B-class in almost every element. The main hero maintains a poker face almost all the time, which for Lambert means tormenting himself and the viewer, who can only thank God that even without elaborate facial expressions, the actor does not lack charisma. On the other hand, the actor’s specific voice almost screams here: “if only I had the will to do it, as I don’t want to!” But can you blame him when he is surrounded by a herd of cardboard, schematic characters exchanging dry dialogues and responses older than the cheese in the fridge? It must be admitted to the creators that they constantly touch on very ambitious topics that could easily wrap around many interesting stories with a chance to go down in the annals of the genre. But one, they don’t really add up, and besides, they are quickly abandoned in favor of bloody, yes, but spineless and not very exciting action, in which Lambert mows down hordes of mindless enemies like in Hot Shots! 2 – mainly using a peculiar three-barreled weapon that quickly became the Fortress ‘s trademark, working flawlessly on the viewer’s imagination even in uninspired teasers revealing too much.

Fortress Loryn Locklin

All of this is filmed with the energy and determination reminiscent of the best films of the aforementioned Arnold. But what’s the use if it’s flat and ugly because both the shots and Frédéric Talgorn’s music (previously Robot Jox for this director) smell like second-rate products. In other words, there’s no sensation. Additionally, the further into this concrete-steel forest, the less everyone seemed to want Lambert, as with every passing minute of the film, its quality drops. And the whole thing is crowned with a finale so “haphazard” that it clearly indicates that at some point the money for further scenes simply ran out, so it was decided to slap on the “The End” caption and brush it all off. Ironically, the Fortress was hit by the plague of censorship, so depending on the country, the ending was slightly different. However, if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all, because each one is equally idiotic and devoid of substance. Not to mention emotions, as this project has had serious problems delivering them from the beginning.


None of these things, however, prevented the Fortress from jumping onto the list of cult productions of the VHS era, and its financial success even guaranteed it a sequel. For some reason, you had to wait for it (and it’s not worth it) until 2000, the twilight of the dominance of heavy, black monoliths, rewound by enthusiasts with a pencil eraser in their free time. Life loves paradoxes, and although Fortress 2 is a shittier film than its predecessor in many ways, it seems to better understand the characteristic atmosphere of this medium (and unlike the original, which was intimidating with penises, there are breasts there!).

Regardless of what one may write, both films are immersed in VHS sauce, and it’s really hard to deny them fantasy in easily selling almost any possible nonsense on springs. So you can have fun with them like a pig, swallowing everything that comes your way without hesitation. I especially recommend it to those who are captive – it’s perfect for killing time.


Jacek Lubiński

CINEMA - a powerful tool that I absorb, eat, devour, savor. Often tempting only the most favorite ones, which it is impossible to list them all, and sometimes literally everything. In the cinema, I am primarily looking for magic and "that something" that allows you to forget about yourself and the gray everyday life, and at the same time makes you sensitive to certain things that surround us. Because if there is no emotion in the cinema, there is no room for a human being - there is only a semi-finished product that is eaten together with popcorn, and then excreted just as smoothly. That is why I value most the creators who can include a piece of heart and passion in their work - those for whom making films is not an ordinary profession, but an extraordinary adventure that overcomes all barriers, discovers new lands and broadens horizons, giving free rein to imagination.

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