At times, you don't know exactly how silly this is supposed to be, and the whole film has a tone of naivety in spite of its run of sex and violence (with drug addiction thrown in for good measure). The plot couldn't be more simple: a group of women in prison, led by the resourceful Collier (top-billed Judy Brown), plan an escape. Inside snitch Grear (Pam Grier in her first speaking film role) slips information back and forth to the guards and the evil warden, Ms. Dietrich (a hilarious Christiane Schmidtmer, best remembered for The Giant Spider Invasion), in order to get smack for her lesbian lover cellmate. Guards torment and molest prisoners. Prisoners get naked (though not as much as you'd expect for this genre). One evil head guard, Lucian (Kathryn Lodern, the quasi-Bette Davis villainess from Foxy Brown) tortures bad girls by tying them to tables and hanging snakes over them. With the aid of guard Sid Haig, the girls eventually the girls stage a big, violent breakout which claims a few lives and leads to a riotous, over the top sequence in the middle of the jungle.
The Big Doll House has a small place in exploitation cinema history as it was the one whose success sparked off the women in prison cycle of the nineteen-seventies. Fast paced and surprisingly well acted, The Big Doll House takes itself more seriously than its semi-sequel, The Big Bird Cage, and delivers all the usual thrills you would expect, though a few witty lines and some hysterical monologues (the one about the husband and the poolboy is priceless) indicate the filmmakers already knew how to keep their tongues firmly in cheek. As if that weren't enough, you also get a theme song, "Long Time Woman," performed by Pam Grier herself (and later reused in Jackie Brown).
Big Doll House was shot on less than optimum materials in the Philippines, thanks to the producer wishes of Filipino scholock experts Eddie Romero and John Ashley (Mad Doctor of Blood Island), so this edition is about as good as it's going to look. Sound quality is fine if a bit ragged in spots due to the recording techniques, and the disc is well compressed and contains no noticeable artifacts (wrinkles). Watch it irony-free, and feel the love.