Women! Prison! It’s not Prisoner: Cell Block H and nor is it Bad Girls! It’s got more breasts than a chicken factory and it was the only non-porn shot that some of these actresses had except for plucky little Linda Blair…
To say that I have limited experience of women’s prisons is probably an exaggeration. Indeed, I have no experience of them unless a few episodes of Prisoner: Cell Block H and a couple of Jess Franco women-in-prison movies count but, regardless, I suspect that few women’s prisons feature the likes of Linda Blair and Sybil Danning soaping one another down whilst various women cavort nude in the background. That part of Chained Heat smacks somewhat of a male fantasy, a world away from the actualité, wherein a lot of pan-faced women shout, “Slag!” at each other. Indeed, life in a women’s prisons is probably much like living in any one of the nation’s various sink estates but without the equally pan-faced men, prams full of supermarket vodka and the daytime outfit of T-shirts and leggings.
But that would, of course, make for rather a dreary film and so the classic women-in-prison movie tends to feature much lesbian action, as safely ensconced in the WIP movie as a dropped bar of soap is in the prison-as-nightmare movie. “I’ll never understand why scum like you make such a big deal over a little fuck!” is not the opening line in this film but it is the second one and that, as well as the knowledge that Linda Blair will eventually show her breasts, rather sets up the kind of movie Chained Heat is. Opening with a gun battle within the prison and following it up with a smack deal, John Vernon videotaping a nude inmate from within his hot tub and then a stabbing, Chained Heat is almost the classic WIP movie. With prison virgin Linda Blair being sent down for accidentally killing a man, we meet her in the bus that takes her into prison along with a choice selection of passengers – hookers, addicts and killers.
Before long, there’s knives being drawn, cigarettes being traded for favours and everyone’s a bitch. As Blair is led onto the ward – her first sight is of a new black arrival being murdered – she learns that the wings are split, one for black inmates and the other white, with Duchess (Tamara Dobson) leading one and Erika (Sybil Danning) the other. All of this happens with the blessing of warden Stella Stevens. With Blair’s innocence going the way of the dealing – down! – she’s soon a ringleader in the action, grassing on inmates, being escorted out of prison by pimp guard Henry Silva and kicking off a riot. As the blood sprays the walls and the prison burns, Blair sees a way out but intends that her freedom isn’t the only thing she’ll be reclaiming that night. There’s her dignity too…
Blair is back in Red Heat, a sequel to Chained Heat that was later remade as the more obvious Chained Heat 2. As you won’t be surprised to learn, given the title, the action takes place behind the Iron Curtain with Blair flying into West Berlin to visit her soldier boyfriend. After their first night together – spent making love, naturally – Blair takes a walk but, finding herself in the wrong place and at the wrong time, is kidnapped by Communists. Taken behind the wall, Blair is put into an East German prison where an orange-haired Sylvia Kristal does favours for the butch-looking warden and takes a dislike to the spirited Blair. As expected of two icons of cult cinema, Kristel and Blair are at each other’s throats throughout – except for the obligatory shower and love scene where they’re busy playing with one another’s breasts – but one of them refuses to remain imprisoned quietly and, having already brought one prison down, plans another riot. Back in the West, though, Linda Blair’s boyfriend isn’t prepared to forget about her and sets out to bring her back.
The third film in the set sees the return of John Vernon, despite dying earlier in the series, but, presumably having gotten a better deal elsewhere in cult cinema, Linda Blair has excused herself. As indeed has the prison with Jungle Warriors featuring seven models and Marjoe Gortner who travel to Peru for a photoshoot but have their plane shot down between locations. As Gortner leads them through the jungle, narrowly avoiding being eaten by crocodiles – though Gortner, living up to his Rambo-on-a-budget credentials, does serve up the crocs for dinner – they’re abducted by coke dealers Paul L. Smith and Sybil Danning, who likes to torture the models and offer them up as a reward to her guerrilla army. With the models imprisoned under Smith and Danning’s villa, they, with the help of an old woman, plan their escape, little realising that their efforts coincide with an assault on the villa by government forces…
John Vernon and Henry Silva as evil wardens in a prison…were it not for the shots of nude women in the showers, it could almost be an episode of The A-Team or The Fall Guy. Indeed, I certainly remember at least one episode of Charlie’s Angels where Farrah Fawcett, Jaclyn Smith and Kate Jackson were required to go undercover in a women’s prison to investigate the death of an inmate and barring everything that would have made Chained Heat an 18, its plot isn’t anything that Charlie wouldn’t have assigned his girls to. Granted that, Charlie’s Angels wouldn’t have ended with a riot in the prison but neither is it quite as memorable a film as Chained Heat.
What these films do is to deliver on the nudity, often quite copiously. There’s a distinct muckiness to seeing Linda Blair, who many of us will remember as a teenage girl in The Exorcist, going topless for the first time. Anyone who hears themselves say, “My…hasn’t she grown!” ought to be concerned but then there’s the more familiar forms of Monique Gabrielle and Emmanuelle star Sylvia Kristel in Chained Heat and Red Heat. Sporting an orange wig, it’s hard to believe this is the same Kristel whose shower room antics inspired the Human League to write Love Action but in her close encounters with Linda Blair, there’s a certain swagger to her sexuality that would convince you that she was indeed the woman whose bedroom, opium den and airplane adventures put the sex in the seventies.
However, by 1983’s Jungle Warriors, most of the sex was cut in favour of rather dull South American shootouts. Coming out at roughly the same time as the similar American Ninja, but, disappointingly, without the ninjas, Jungle Warriors is the real letdown in the set largely because there’s very little nudity in it. And although it does feature a lot of women firing weapons, its action is even less convincing than the sex scenes of the two other films in the set, with its cast of models just about knowing which end of the gun points away from them. Of course, if you’re rather careful about the kind of movies you let into your home, you’ll have absolutely no interest in any of these films. None of them are particularly well made and even the better actors – Henry Silva, John Vernon and Linda Blair – aren’t really that good. But, like films featuring Amazonian women wearing stilettoes and treading uncomfortably on the testicles of men who are foolishly willing, the women-in-prison movie does have a small but dedicated audience. Although not hard to see the appeal of the genre in Chained Heat, it becomes ever harder to find in Red Heat before disappearing almost completely in Jungle Warriors.
None of these films had, I suspect, a great deal of money behind them and, as you’d then expect, none of them look very impressive on DVD. Anchor Bay have done their best in sourcing prints that are largely without print damage. Of the three films here, Red Heat probably looks the worst with a print that’s very soft – anyone who recalls the fuzzy titles of straight-to-video releases will feel at home here – but both Jungle Warriors and, in particular, Chained Heat are fairly satisfactory. Granted, there’s a cheapness to all three films that can’t be fixed no matter the standard of the discs – even Criterion couldn’t do anything more than Anchor Bay have done here – but Anchor Bay have delivered to the standard that one expects of them.
Of course, being Anchor Bay, we are given a selection of Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS and DD2.0, with the surround options probably being remixes of the stereo one. Regardless of your opinions of surround remixes, neither one here is that impressive, only using the rear channels for ambient effects and to give the soundtrack some presence in the room. Although the Dolby Digital 5.1 track is the default option, I preferred the stereo mix with it sounding slightly thicker than the remixes. Finally, not one of the three films come with subtitles.
All three discs feature only a Trailer (1m59s, 2m39s and 1m33s) and an Artwork Gallery (29s, 26s and 29s)…which will be artwork in the same way that Razzle or Shaven Ravers is artwork.
Jungle Warriors may be something of a letdown but both Chained Heat and Red Heat are classic women-in-prison movies, realising that although there ought to be some acknowledgement of the penal system, it ought to be staffed and populated by the most freakish examples of humankind that one can conceive. Hence the prison warden in Chained Heat who appears to be locked up at any and all times that he’s not raping the inmates or the prison gang sporting gruesome tattoos in Red Heat. The appearance of Paul L Smith in Jungle Warriors seems like a fait accompli…he will eventually appear in at least one so it might as well be this one.
Taken apart, you really only need Chained Heat but together they make for an fair enough set. One surely can’t have expected better transfers nor a more extensive list of extras so Anchor Bay have probably done the decent thing in bringing these films together in the one box. You may not want to count anyone as a friend who would admit to being a fan of such movies but, like Duran Duran albums, the women-in-prison movie is more popular that one would like to admit.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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