Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
Recommend this product?
I have to admit that I have a soft spot for the Women In Prison flicks. As a rule they are so shamelessly, utterly gratuitous, an endless parade of brutal guards inflicting torture on helpless inmates, the occasional rape and revenge story, countless shower scenes with all kinds of tits on display. They're unabashed fun and completely unpretentious - they know exactly what kind of film they are and don't pretend to be otherwise. Take, for example, the latest Roger Corman Double Feature DVD from Shout! Factory: Caged Heat and Jackson County Jail, two further extremes of the WIP dynamic you'd be hard pressed to find.
Caged Heat opens with some narcs busting up a drug operation out of a motel room, sending three youngsters on the lam before running Jacqueline Wilson (Erica Gavin, last seen in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls) to ground. Since this is a Women in Prison film and not a Women in Court film, she's quickly tried, sentenced and sent to spend a 20 year stint at the Connorville Women's correctional facility, under the watchful eye of McQueen (Barbara Steele, Piranha), a tough as nails, wheelchair-bound warden who derives pleasure from the extreme punishment she deals out to her charges.
Locked deep within the hell of The Big House, we follow Wilson as she tries to stay clean and out of trouble. She crosses swords with the hardened, Queen of the Prisoners, an inmate named Maggie (Juanita Brown, last seen in Willie Dynamite). Although Wilson and Maggie constantly scrap, when a chance to escape presents itself, the pair seizes it and go over the wall. Oh sure they could go on the run, or they could get some guns and some help, go back to The Stir and deliver some justice to the corrupt warden and put her hellish prison out of business once and for all.
This is an exploitation flick - what do you think happens?
While Caged Heat isn’t a very complex flick with deep storytelling or anything, it is fun. Okay, the characters never rise above blatant stereotypes - the Crazy Girl, The Smarmy Doctor, The Klepto, The Fish-Out-Of-Water, The Tough Bull-Dyke Bitch - all the characters are believable and reasonably sympathetic (or villainous as appropriate) and everyone gives at least memorable performances. Plus they show off their tits. Lots and lots of tits.
But you know the real star of the show? Director Jonathan Demme (Who would eventually go on to do The Silence of the Lambs) and cinematographer Tak Fujimoto who did Batman Begins, but don't hold that against him). The two have a slick production style, giving Caged Heat a look you generally don't get in exploitation flicks. Sure the story may be dumb as a sack of hammers, but Caged Heat looks more like an art house film than a grind house film.
Meanwhile, over in Jackson County Jail, the second half of the double feature, Yvette Mimieux (from the criminally underrated The Black Hole) is Dinah Hunter, producer at a los Angeles advertising agency. After a spectacularly sexist client totally blows up at her and she comes home to her boyfriend (played by Doctor Johnny Fever!) dipping his wick in another ladies candle, she throws in the towel and goes back to her old job in New York.
But instead of spending the six hours on a plane, she decides to see the country and drive from coast to coast. And so she packs her lemon yellow AMC Pacer (!) and sets off up what I'm guessing to be route 66. One unfortunate carjacking later, she finds herself in Texas in the middle of the night sans possessions, money, or her wallet - which leads to her getting locked up in the local jail on vagrancy charges before getting the shit raped out of her.
Bet she's regretting that whole "Get to know America" thing now.
Anyway, after attacking back against her cop rapist and accidently killing him, next thing she knows, Hunter and a very young (and still really good looking) Tommy Lee Jones are on the run from the long arm of the law. Plenty of car chases, gun fights and daring escapes ensue. . . .
While being in jail is certainly an important plot point, Jackson County Jail isn’t really a Women In Prison flick. There's no gratuitous shower scenes, there's not a lot of nudity, and shockingly, there's actually a plot and reasonably complex characters. Sure it’s a brutal flick, but it's not quite to the level shameless exploitation of flicks like The Big Dollhouse or Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS.
The acting is, for an exploitation flick, top notch stuff. Showcasing Roger Corman uncanny talent for finding untapped talent and bringing it to the screen, we get Tommy Lee Jones first big flick. Jones is just terrific as inmate-on-the-run, Coley Blake, really showing off that, yeah - he is totally star material. Yvette Mimieux hasn’t exactly been burning up the Hollywood charts (her only notable appearances are the old George Pal Time Machine and the aforementioned Black Hole, plus a couple of made-for-television movies) and that's a damn shame, because she is excellent here. Her post rape shell-shock state is emotional with a real sense of her just holding it together.
THE DVD -
Both Caged Heat and Jackson County Jail get a nice, 1.78.1 widescreen anamorphic print. There is the odd instance of minor print damage here and there, mostly near the reel changes, but it's never intolerable or off-putting. As far as the soundtrack goes, we get a Dolby Digital Mono track for both. The soundtrack for Jackson County Jail is pretty clean and sharp, but the sound for Caged Heat seems tinny and distant - although that's probably more of an artifact of the original production than a flaw with the DVD mastering.
THE EXTRAS -
Shout Factory delivers the good again, with a boatload of trailers (The Big Dollhouse, Big Mama, Piranha and The Great Texas Dynamite Chase - plus a trailer for his new Sci-Fi Channel flick: Sharktopus, which I will now go on record right now as proclaiming the greatest achievement in the history of film EVER!) an interview with Roger Corman conducted by Leonard "Laserblast is better than Blade Runner" Maltin from the mid nineties.
But the centerpieces of the extras are probably the commentaries. On Caged HeatWe get yak tracks from Jonathan Demme, Tak Fujimoto and actress Erica Gavin who go on about the history of production, the tons of homage and inspirations throughout and the endless stream of cameos from the various New World personnel. Meanwhile over on Jackson County Jail, we get audio commentary with director Michael Miller, cinematographer Bruce Logon and producer Jeff Begun. It takes a little bit to get really going, but once the three loosen up, they have loads of trivia and production tidbits to lay out.
Plus there's the Grindhouse Double-feature feature, where trailers play before each film, recreating the 42nd Street experience without all those pesky junkies and perverts in the theater with you. Oh - and there's a 2 dollar off coupon for Sharktopus - and rest assured, I am *USING* the hell outta that coupon!
THE BOTTOM LINE -
While both Caged Heat and Jackson County Jail are good flicks, they're really wildly different in tone. Caged Heat plays more like a standard prison exploitation flick while Jackson County Jail is more like a dramatic Bonny and Clyde. Jackson County Jail is the stronger film of the two, with good acting and a great story - but Caged Heat is still a fun flick in its own right.
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Good for Groups
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older