Director: Jonathan Demme
Stars: Juanita Brown, Roberta Collins, Barbara Steele
A girl is caught in a drug bust and sent to the hoosegow. The iron-handed superintendent takes exception to a skit performed by the girls and takes punitive steps, aided by the sadistic doctor who is doing illegal electroshock experiments and raping drugged prisoners. After a while the prisoners put away their petty differences and plan the Big Prison Escape
This was one of the films that I had intended to a video review on as many consider Caged Heat to be a vital entry into the Women in Prison genre. I don’t know about “vital,” but it certainly has its own following. However, this movie is such a confusing mess of random happenings and abortive and stunted story threads that I really was at a loss as to what clips to include in a video. So, sorry to say, the written word will have to suffice for this film.
Caged Heat is yet another of those Roger Corman produced Women in Prison films. What makes this one any different from the loads of others? Perhaps because it was directed by Oscar Winner Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia), In fact a LOT of noteworthy and admired directors got their starts working for Corman – Francis Ford Coopola, Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdonavich and James Cameron just to name a few. Caged Heat was Jonathan Demme’s directorial debut, follwed by another Corman epic Crazy Mama the following year – but that series of films is for another day. Caged Heat does have the feel of a visionary director that would most likely be taking off someday. It certainly has the stank of an overeager film student who, perhaps, watched far too many Federico Fellini films. While Caged Heat doesn’t have any of the straight-forward sentimentality that Demme would later express with The Silence of the Lambs or Philadelphia I suppose every director has to start somewhere… right?
This is an obvious exploitation film and has no business being taken seriously as a women in prison film. The first clue of this is the fact that no women in this prison wear uniforms, they wear whatever they want to wear. Heck, one lady is even wearing a goddamn neckerchief that matches her blouse. This isn’t a lax prison either – the women are put through the usual living hells of inmates, abusive guards and extreme punishments that are, by now, familiar necessities of the women in prison genre. However there is no real semblance of a story. For the longest time there are just casual occurrences, lackadaisical attempts at character development and the strangest damn dream sequences I’ve ever seen – well that I’ve ever seen in a women in prison film – a genre that has so far been void of dream sequences. One gal dreams about a guard groping her through the bars while she waves a butcher knife around, another dreams about orgies in the hallway and then the pope comes by for no reason, even the prison superintendent gets in on the dream action with her own theatrical fantasies preaching the evils of sex. Really, these dream sequences serve very little purpose. Most of them establish the fact that “these women are bothered by the fact that they’re in prison,” which is unnecessary since EVER OTHER scene in this movie is about how much these girls dislike prison. The superintendent’s dream develops some character – but it’s nothing that’s not repeated time and time again in every scene she’s in.
One of the highlights in the first confusing half of this film is a little stage show put on by two of the inmates. They dress in drag, complete with wigs and fake beards and put on some little vaudevillian skits. Some of their “vulgar” little dialogues brought a smile to by bitter and jaded soul.
“What do you get for the girl that has everything?”
“I didn’t have sex with my wife until we were married. How about you?”
“I don’t know, what’s your wife’s name?”
Yeah it’s a fun diversion that, in other film, I would nitpick for being unnecessary. However, with Caged Heat there is nothing going on at all other than portrayals of the daily life of crazy women in a crazy prison, so if this scene is supposed to be a diversion, what is it diverting from? In fact, the superintendent, a crippled woman with one of the angriest faces and dispositions I’ve seen, takes a great moral offense at this show and punishes the two girls for their foul sense of humor. This is a sort of background and impetuses for other random events that follow. So the funny little vaudeville show isn’t useless filler after all
Some of the girls break out of prison. There’s a bank robbery some prostitution, a bunch of boring and poorly acted dialogue. It’s entertaining enough exploitation in small doses – like sketch comedy; all the fun of a women in prison film without having to bother with the meat of a story or anything like that. Like I said before, as long as no attempt is made to take this movie seriously because it clearly was not made with a serious state of mind. If you’re having a serious fix for a women in prison film than this will suffice if you can’t find anything better – though that’s a bit like giving a heroine addict some Tylenol to help them get by. This film really only serves as passing entertainment for completionists you aim to see every women in prison film ever made.