Thursday, October 23, 2008

Two Young Girls In A Women's Prison

Only in the 1970s could a movie this downbeat and sleazy air on network television. Not only does NIGHTMARE IN BADHAM COUNTY present a depressing and even frightening look at prison life (so much so that I have seen this film referred to as "horror"), but Vidmark Entertainment's home video version is one assembled for overseas theatrical release, which means extra scenes of depravity, profanity and full-frontal nudity have been added to what was already an intense viewing experience.

Two sweet college coeds--white Cathy (Deborah Raffin, later the lead in the FOUL PLAY TV series with Barry Bostwick) and black Diane (Lynne Moody)--are arrested on trumped-up charges in a small Mississippi town, where Diane is raped by the bigoted local sheriff (THE RIFLEMAN himself, Chuck Connors). Without benefit of an attorney, due process or even a phone call (the judge is the sheriff's cousin), the girls are tossed into the Badham County Farm, which is run by a pedophile rapist named Harry Dancer (Robert Reed!) and his main trusty, the cruel Greer (Tina “Ginger” Louise).

Racism and violence ran rampant behind the scenes, as the prisoners are segregated by color and given separate quarters, jobs and eating schedules. What were originally supposed to be 30-day sentences for Cathy and Diane eventually become more serious, as Dancer's high-placed political pals need more slave labor for their farms, and the girls realize that their only way out is escape or death.

Unlike, for instance, the women-in-prison pictures made by New World Pictures and directed by Jack Hill, NIGHTMARE is a joyless experience, preferring to heap physical and emotional distress upon its characters with little hope of rescue. Adding to the squirminess is the additional R-rated material, which range from a jarring insert of Lynne Moody's body double's bare breasts during the rape to lengthy scenes of inmates and guards (none of whom are played by the cast's major stars) stripping or being stripped, whipping or being whipped. These scenes were probably not directed by the talented veteran John Llewellyn Moxey (THE NIGHT STALKER), who definitely directed the network cut, as they are crudely blocked and quickly lensed, and would fit more cleanly into a Jesus Franco picture than during the dinner hour on ABC.

While not a "fun" film, NIGHTMARE is fascinating nonetheless, if only because of the recognizable television actors who surprisingly allow themselves to appear extremely unsympathetic, whether it's Connors ripping apart Moody's shirt or BRADY BUNCH dad Reed, who looks slimy in his white leisure suits and large, round white Afro, coercing a 15-year-old virgin into the sack. Raffin and Moody are very good at projecting the necessary desperation and vulnerability, although their behavior leading up to their arrest seems designed to making the audience feel as though they deserve what's coming to them, talking as they do about their various boyfriends and their independence. However, the deck is so stacked against them that you quickly get on their side. Perhaps it's too stacked--it's difficult to believe that everybody in town is content to go along with the conspiracy headed by Reed and Connors, which also reaches to the local mayor and even the governor's office.

Charles Bernstein (WHITE LIGHTNING) provides a masterful score, and it's hard to believe that a script this misogynistic was penned by a woman (Jo Heims, whose credits include PLAY MISTY FOR ME). Also appearing are Della Reese, whose performance was nominated for an Emmy (!), Fionnula Flanagan, Lana Wood, Ralph Bellamy and Denise Dillaway (THE CHEERLEADERS). Moxey shot in Mississippi, which provided some suitably rundown locations. Women-in-prison movies (WIPs) were extremely popular with drive-in audiences during the 1970s, including director Jack Hill’s THE BIG DOLL HOUSE and THE BIG BIRD CAGE for executive producer Roger Corman. No network would air something like NIGHTMARE IN BADHAM COUNTY today, but in the wild, un-PC ‘70s, it wasn’t surprising to see TV jumping on the bandwagon of any passing fad. A notorious episode of CHARLIE'S ANGELS ("Angels In Chains", which guest-starred Kim Basinger) and a remake of JACKSON COUNTY JAIL with the same director (Michael Miller) and star (Yvette Mimieux) are just two more examples of networks trying to capture the essence of one of exploitation cinema’s grimiest subgenres.

P.S. The first ten minutes of NIGHTMARE IN BADHAM COUNTY are on YouTube.


Rich D said...

Dear Lord, this sounds like an utter trainwreck of a film that I would have loved to spring on my "Movie Night" friends before I got married. The Rifleman, Dad Brady and Gilligan Island's Ginger! Wow!

Hal said...

This one does sound fascinating.

Of note is that Connors, Moody and Reed all appeared in the much more lauded ROOTS miniseries just one year later, and Connors played a sleazy, racist rapist in ROOTS as well. Reed was also unsympathetic in ROOTS as well, as the owner who callously seperated Kizzy from her parents by selling her to the rapist slaveowner Connors.

cheap viagra said...

Jail can be devastating for any human being, so two pour girls in this obscure place is very disturbing.