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The Bootleg Files: Capital Punishment

BOOTLEG FILES 693: “Capital Punishment” (1925 silent drama featuring Clara Bow).

LAST SEEN: On Internet Archive.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: In a crummy public domain dupe.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: A lapsed copyright.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: It is unlikely that this will be digitally restored.

Unless you are a character in a Joshua Ryan story, it is safe to assume that you would probably not voluntarily submit yourself to prison incarceration. But in this obscure 1925 silent feature, the central character agrees to forsake his liberty and go behind bars as part of an elaborate ruse to call attention to the failings of the criminal justice system. And, perhaps not surprisingly, the system fails him with extraordinary brutality.
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Death House (2017)

Touted as “The Expendables” for horror fans, “Death House” is a huge missed opportunity that revels in its painfully derivative and clumsy premise. Ripping off “Alone in the Dark,” “Cabin in the Woods,” and yes, even “Jurassic Park,” Harrison Smith manages to do absolutely nothing with the plethora of horror stars that show up for the film. Most of the people that are promoted in the opening credits only show up for thirty seconds at a time with glorified cameos, while folks like Kane Hodder take a back seat to the bland, forgettable protagonists we’re supposed to be rooting for. By the time the movie ended I couldn’t even tell you what their names were.

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The Bootleg Files: Disney’s 3 Days in the County Jail

BOOTLEG FILES 677: “3 Days in the County Jail” (1976 nontheatrical short film distributed by Walt Disney Educational Media Company).

LAST SEEN: On YouTube.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: On a gray market DVD with other imprisonment-related short nonfiction films.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: Never made available for commercial home entertainment release.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Nope.

Back in the mid-1970s, when Walt Disney Pictures was stuffing theaters with such happy nonsense as “The Apple Dumpling Gang” and “Escape to Witch Mountain,’ the company’s nontheatrical subsidiary Walt Disney Educational Media Company was attempting to convince America’s youth that crime didn’t pay. Through a four-part series called “Under the Law,” the sons o’ fun at the mouse factory offered a grim and gritty – at least by Disney standards – view of the mishaps that befell naughty young people who thought they were above and beyond the reach of law enforcement.

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Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies (1999)

I’m surprised since it usually takes two or three sequels before a movie series turns in to a spoof of itself. It only took “Wishmaster” one sequel before it basically becomes a parody of the first film’s premise. Even Andrew Divoff, who was menacing in the first film, mugs for the camera delivering dialogue in over the top inflections sounding a lot like a sinister impression of George Takei, for some reason. “Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies” tries to hide the fact that it’s about the same narrative as the first film by making the djinn the main character. Except this time he’s in prison– for some reason!

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Jailbreak (2017) [Fantasia International Film Festival 2017]

A special police team is sent to transfer a high risk prisoner from holding to a local prison where the Butterfly clan should not be able to get to him.  Once at the prison, things go south fast and the team members find themselves in a fight for their lives.

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Solitary: Inside Red Onion State Prison (2016)

Kristi Jacobson’s HBO-aired documentary goes inside the segregation units at Red Onion State Prison, a supermax facility located in rural Virginia. The convicts incarcerated here are among the most violent in the penal system – and while they initially come across as articulate and charismatic in their on-camera interviews, the insouciant manner in how they detail the carnage that landed them behind bars is more than a little unsettling.

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Dangerous Worry Dolls (2007)

dangerous-worry-dollsLife is funny. One moment you’re in prison being beaten up, the next moment you’re having a miniature skull growing out of your forehead. “Dangerous Worry Dolls” is a silly, dumb, and very unscary take on the further obsession of mini monsters doing dangerous things by Charles Band. You have to give it to the man, he always finds a way to squeeze in miniature monsters on to film and look for new and unique ways to make them villains. “Dangerous Worry Dolls” is terrible, but at least Band has a new and unique idea for making mini-monsters become the villain for a movie that looks like it was made on a budget of ten dollars.

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First Degree (2016)

Two-time Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Roger Weisberg (“Sound and Fury,” “Why Can’t We Be a Family Again?”) helmed this intriguing documentary short on efforts by New York’s notorious Sing Sing Prison to reduce recidivism through higher education.

A primary force in this endeavor is Sean Pica, who first came to Sing Sing as a 16-year-old convict—he earned his Bachelor’s Degree while incarcerated and later returned to run the prison’s program in conjunction with Mercy College. Also interviewed is Jermaine Archer, a former drug dealer and convicted murderer who is banking on his degree to help facilitate a successful reintegration with the outside world. Also included here is graduation ceremony within the prison—and no less a figure than legendary singer/actor Harry Belafonte is the commencement speaker, offering an upbeat pep talk for the unlikely student body.

The film details how the program also provides job-hunting consultation involving work-appropriate clothing, resume writing and interview training. One graduate, Clarence Maclin, benefits from this last boost and is able to gain work as a social worker counseling juvenile offenders. There is also a financial consideration of how the investment in education proves to be more cost-effective: recidivism among graduates of the Sing Sing program is miniscule.

Sadly, “First Degree” has a troubling post-script: funding for this type of program has been shrinking over the years while the U.S. prison population is ballooning. Hopefully, this well-made and moving tribute to the power of education can help change minds and bring more money back to this worthy cause.