Saturday, July 14, 2012

#698. Caged Heat (1974)

Directed By: Jonathan Demme

Starring: Juanita Brown, Erica Gavin, Roberta Collins

Tag line: "Women's prison U.S.A. - Rape Riot and Revenge! White Hot Desires melting cold prison steel!"

Trivia:  To stay in character, Barbara Steele kept her distance from the rest of the cast

Caged Heat, a 1974 Roger Corman film, marked the directorial debut of future Oscar-winner Jonathan Demme. This bit of trivia aside, however, Caged Heat is also a damned entertaining exploitation flick, a movie that spawned a number of sequels and imitators, yet stands alone as a shining example of the women in prison sub-genre.

Following her arrest and subsequent trial, petty thief Jackie (Erica Gavin) is transported to the Connorville correctional facility, where she and the other prisoners are subjected to all sorts of physical and mental abuse by the wheelchair-bound warden (Barbara Steele) and her guards. So bad are the conditions at Connorville that, before long, Jackie must team up with Maggie (Juanita Brown) and Pandora (Ella Reid) to stage a daring rescue of fellow inmate Belle (Roberta Collins), who’s scheduled to undergo experimental brain surgery to “correct” her so-called violent tendencies.

If catfights, coupled with gobs of nudity, are your thing, then Caged Heat is the movie for you. Shortly after Jackie is sentenced to 10-40 years for drug possession and being an accessory to attempted murder (In the opening scene, while trying to escape the cops, one of her male accomplices shoots an officer in the throat), she’s taken to Connorville and introduced to the rigors of prison life. Upon her arrival, Jackie and two others are led into a small room and ordered to strip by a pipe-smoking doctor (Warren Miller), who then tells the three to do deep-knee bends so he can “inspect” them for possible contraband. Things go from bad to worse for our heroine when she’s confronted by Maggie in the shower, who hassles Jackie for asking too many personal questions. This, of course, leads to the obligatory shower fight, and won’t be the last time one of the girls gets into a scrap (with or without clothes on). But for most of the inmates at Connorville, a hard-as-nails attitude is simply a way to conceal their sexual frustration. Even the warden, played by the always-interesting Barbara Steele, comes across as sexually stunted. In any other film, the topic of repressed sexuality might have served as fodder for exploring the psychological harm caused by prolonged incarceration, but I never got the feeling Caged Heat cared one lick about this. Leaving the problems of society for another movie to tackle, Caged Heat uses its setting as an excuse to show plenty of T&A, with the odd masturbatory scene thrown in to spice things up a little.

An exploitation classic, Caged Heat is a must for any fan of the grindhouse era.

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