Sunday, May 22, 2011

Stripped Of Everything They Had

With all due respect to Jack Hill’s THE BIG DOLL HOUSE and THE BIG BIRD CAGE, if CHAINED HEAT isn’t the greatest women-in-prison flick ever made, I don’t know what is.

Jam-packed with preposterous plotting, arch performances, hilarious dialogue, and gobs of female nudity, CHAINED HEAT lacks the social satire of Hill’s New World programmers, but more than makes up for it in the camp department. Surely the humor is intentional; the warden (John Vernon) has a Jacuzzi in his office, for chrissake, where the coke-snorting perv videotapes his sex sessions with inmate Monique Gabrielle (EMMANUELLE V).

The premise is nothing new. Sweet-cheeked Linda Blair (SAVAGE STREETS), 23 when she made this, stars as Carol, the new fish doing eighteen months for manslaughter. In prison, she finds herself trapped between the warring factions of the white inmates led by tough, cheroot-smoking Ericka (Sybil Danning, BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS) and the Amazonian Duchess’ (Tamara Dobson, who played Cleopatra Jones in two 1970s blaxploitation flicks) black inmates. Eventually, the two sides fight together against a common enemy: repressed assistant warden Taylor (Stella Stevens, the villain in CLEOPATRA JONES AND THE CASINO OF GOLD) and pimp Lester (Henry Silva, memorable as the drug-soaked assassin in SHARKY'S MACHINE), who sneak girls out of the prison at night to work as prostitutes for rich men.

What first strikes you about CHAINED HEAT is the all-star exploitation cast, which also includes Sharon Hughes, Edy Williams (BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS), Irwin Keyes, Louisa Moritz, Greta Blackburn, Robert Miano, and Jennifer Ashley (THE POM POM GIRLS). And it’s definitely bizarre to see CAT BALLOU’s light leading man, Michael Callan, billed somewhere around a dozen for a two-minute scene as a creep who tries to rape Blair’s character. Although the pleasantly plump Blair, who performed her first nude scene in CHAINED HEAT, has claimed the screenplay by director Paul Nicolas (THE NAKED CAGE) and Aaron Butler (HELLHOLE) changed during shooting and was not what she had signed up for, the actors seem to know what kind of movie they’re in and ham it up appropriately. Vernon gets the best lines (after Gabrielle’s character is killed, he mutters, “She was the best piece of ass I ever had in here.”), and much of the fun in watching the movie comes from the gleefully over-the-top performances.

CHAINED HEAT isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It may be the grimiest American-made women-in-prison picture with nary six or seven minutes passing without a murder or rape attempt, and those viewers immune to the charms of its stars or the wonky screenplay may find it to be something less than tasteful. Nicolas shoots the violence without gloss, making CHAINED HEAT a tough haul for someone without the peculiar sense of humor necessary to succumb to its perverted pleasures. Oddly, it’s one of the few prison pictures in which the protagonists’ goal is not escape, but rather prison reform.

CHAINED HEAT's NSFW theatrical trailer:

1 comment:

Nick Cato said...

I remember seeing this on opening night back in 83 (or was it 84?) and having a BLAST! Easily one of the BEST WIP films of all time.