Chained Heat: An innocent young woman winds up in the slammer. It's a bad place.
Women In Prison films run the gambit from artsy exploitation to sadistic crap. The genre was popularized by Jack Hill (Big Doll House) and became a staple of low budget exploitation features worldwide. The top three WIP films, in this reviewer's opinion, are #1) Female Prisoner #701 Scorpion, #2) Bamboo House Of Dolls, and #3) Chained Heat.
Chained Heat wins few points for quality dramatics or biting social commentary, but seldom has such overt sleaze been presented in such an accomplished and enthusiastic presentation. It boasts one of the finest scripts of any WIP feature and an all-star cast of exploitation veterans. It takes the basic elements of the genre and adds suspense, dark humor, and gore to the standard mix of corruption, sex, drugs, shower scenes, rape, and lesbian assault. But most of all, this is a successful dark comedy with a witty script, (mostly) great performances, fast pacing, atmospheric sets, and sleaze galore. Yes, it is over-the-top but still retains it's footing in the [alternate] universe presented. If you're thinking this is in the same league as campy and shoddy eighties product like Reform School Girls, guess again.
Linda Blair was duped into appearing as the protagonist and still maintains that it ruined her career. Perhaps her disdain for the project is what makes her the weak link as she whines her way throughout. It's a tossup over who chews the scenery with wilder abandon, John Vernon or Stella Stevens, and they're given solid support by Sybil Danning and Henry Silva. Exploitation regulars Louisa Moritz and Edy Williams appear, as does Irwin Keyes in a `blink and miss' cameo as a chauffeur. The standout, though, is Tamara Dobson in her best baddass sista role next to Cleopatra Jones and the Casino Of Gold. Many of the supporting cast are quite memorable and obviously relish their roles, with only a few being memorably bad.
The visual and audio is exceptional, with no discernible damage. The widescreen matting looks proper, and even the dark cellar scenes are quite clear with no grain. The audio is far superior to the noisy Vestron VHS. This version includes extensions of most of the nude scenes and significantly ups the `Mr. Skin' rating, but nothing here really affects the dramatics of the story. There are two brief cuts, one extraneous and unnecessary (the needle injection), but another that changes the dynamics of the entire movie. In the pre-credits sequence a female prisoner attempts escape and is shot to death. The fact that she was shot in the back, and more importantly who did so, affects the viewer's regard for that character and anyone closely associated with her, and that is what was cut.
SPOILER ALERT - it was Ann Day (Butterfly) as Harriet.
Red Heat: An innocent woman is taken captive with a female agent and spirited away to interrogation. She is forced to confess as a C.I.A. agent and is incarcerated within a hostile prison population. Her fiancée had just thrown her a spit ball, and doesn't know what to think of her disappearance.
When Linda Blair signed onto Chained Heat, she thought it was a serious prison drama in the vein of Caged (1950). Her next WIP film shows her getting exactly that. The first 30 minutes is all setup that mostly features Linda sinking her chops into meaty domestic drama. In Chained Heat she went from naive submissiveness to enlightened determination. Here she begins self-assured and assertive and winds up the instigator and inspiration of a rebellious faction in the cell block. Her performance here is miles better than in Chained Heat. Though imprisoned in the WIP genre this is an impressive attempt to resurrect her career and escape typecasting. Too bad it didn't work.
This film is a serious and grim portrayal of Iron Curtain prisons. Sylvia Kristel is the trustee of the block and leader of the lesbian gang. Members have face tattoos, and rule with an iron fist. When events turn tragic, the `good' prisoners become defiant. Meanwhile, Linda's fiancée [a dead ringer for Saturday Night Fever era John Travolta] never relents in his attempts to find her.
The presentation exhibits more grain than Chained Heat, but is another very nice anamorphic widescreen effort. The conclusion is very dark, but that is obviously by design, and the viewer participates in the chaos of combat. A Linda Blair rape scene has been cut.
Jungle Warriors: A fashion designer takes his models on a shoot in an exotic local despite warnings to the contrary.
Not really a WIP film, this plays like a television movie of the week for the most part. The headliners walk through their parts, and it's a blessing when Marjoe Gortner (Star Crash)gets killed. His gory death is where the film starts to pick up steam, but it still flounders around quite a bit. In the conclusion to Red Heat you can't see who gets killed; here you can but you just don't care [we're supposed to root for the women by default]. There is enough over-the-top graphic violence to make the whole thing worth watching one time. My favorite scene plays like a match between Hercules Hernandez versus Gorilla Monsoon with lots of broken chairs and tables, even the old breakaway glass bottle.
Widescreen anamorphic with heavy grain, this one appears to actually be uncut.
Extras - Chained Heat gets two interview segments with Stella Stevens and Sybil Danning. Both fondly remember the production and have interesting tidbits to share. Both are quite charming and it's pleasant to visit with them. The trailers for the three features are provided, along with Mr. Skin promo spots.
Chained Heat is essential viewing, and Red Heat is a good prison drama, just not as much fun. Jungle Warriors is okay, but it certainly is grand to see the Panik House logo one more time.
Review written by Carroll Jenkins of 10,000 Bullets Web Site.