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July 19, 2011

Women in Prison Triple Feature

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Chained Heat
Paul Nicholas - 1983

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Jungle Warriors/Euer Weg fuhrt durch die Holle
Ernst R. von Theumer - 1984

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Red Heat/Unschuld hinter Gittern
Robert Collector - 1985
Panik House Entertainment All Region DVD

The regulars who check out this blog are pretty smart about cinema. They not only know the difference between King Vidor and Charles Vidor, but also don't confuse Andrew Lau with Andy Lau. And most cinephiles know that some movies simply aren't made to undergo the kind of analysis given to a film like Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach or even The Big Combo. Some movies are made simply to make money, pure and simple. Maybe not a lot of money, but enough to pay the rent, and live in relative comfort between jobs. So the main concern of the people involved with these films was to produce a movie that could deliver the goods for audiences around the world, back in the day before studio productions got the idea to dominate multiplex screens, squeezing out the small time companies.

You want an auteur? How about producer Ernst R. von Theumer? Not only did Herr v. Theumer have a hand in production of all three films, but also had a say in the direction and writing, if not always credited. There's nothing in English about the Germany based Ernst R. von Theumer, but you'll have to admit that the posters for a couple of his earlier films, Operation Jamaica and Ballad of a Gunman are quite eye catching. The guy has been doing low budget exploitation and genre films for a couple of decades and could well be worth a little further investigation.

Most of the women in prison films, and variations of the genre follow certain conventions. The main character is usually the good good girl who finds herself behind bars almost always by accident, or as Curly Howard would say, "I'm a victim of circumstances". The good good girl is aided by the good bad girl, often a career criminal of some sort with a code of honor. The chief nemesis is the bad bad girl, someone who loves to make life hell for other people, and the ruler of her own little roost. There is also the warden, who makes life miserable for everybody, supposedly for their own good. What is provided here are some of the highlights of the films, plus a convenient "cinephile's alibi" for those who might need a convenient explanation for those who are near and dear, or to assuage guilt over putting off viewing that Criterion Collection DVD that remains unopened.

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Chained Heat is the story of good good girl, Linda Blair, sent to prison for making Roller Boogie, for accidental vehicular homicide. Blair is taken under the wing of repeat offender Sharon Hughes. One nice thing about seeing a movie like Chained Heat is that it forces me to do some research on the cast an crew. Unsubstantiated, but darn interesting, is the meme that Hughes was the inspiration for the song, "Little Red Corvette". Anyways, the bad bad girl is Sybil Danning, who peddles drugs from within the prison, leads a gang of nasty girls, and lusts after Blair. As it turns out, the people running the prison are even worse. John Vernon is the evil prison warden who videotapes his hot tub rendezvous with select prisoners. Stella Stevens is the captain of the prison guards who actually runs the drug ring with Henry Silva, who happens to be two-timing Stella with Sybil Danning. As if that wasn't enough, Danning has a rivalry with Tamara Dobson, a Vassar educated perp who keeps "her sisters" in line.

As far as Women in Prison movies go, Chained Heat has a lot more nudity than the Roger Corman productions that came out about ten years earlier. Compared to the WiP films of Jesse Franco, Chained Heat might even be considered quite restrained. The high points include a shower scene, and an appearance by former Russ Meyer muse, Edy Willams. The down side is that seeing more of a partially undressed John Vernon that I would ever want to in any lifetime. You want to see Stella Stevens nude? Get thee to The Ballad of Cable Hogue. Best line, from amateur porn videographer John Vernon, "Don't call me Warden. Call me Fellini.".

Cinephile's Alibi: Cinematography by Mac Ahlberg. The name may not mean too much now, but as a director, Ahlberg's I, a Woman was the film that helped beat the distinction between porno and art house films over forty years ago. Lots of big, deep shadows and some Argento like point of view camera work. The DVD supplements include recent interviews with Danning and Stevens saying how much they liked Linda Blair and working with director Paul Nicolas, and how much fun they had making the film.

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The real punishment in Jungle Warriors is the theme song, alternately croaked and screeched, by Marina Arcangeli. I don't know if this film was planned with an alternate English language title, but the song lyrics are about giving "heat, it's within reach". Apparently the real drama was in the making of the film with original director Billy Fine, producer of Chained Heat given the heave-ho by producer Ernst von Theumer, and a drug addled Dennis Hopper replaced by a less addled Marjoe Gortner.

A gaggle of fashion models, the kind more likely to appear in a K-Mart catalogue than the pages of Vogue, are trapped in the Central America jungle when their plane is shot down by portly drug lord Paul Smith. Living in a huge old fort, Smith, with very loving sister Sybil Danning, run a massive cocaine operation, with their private army led by Woody Strode. In the meantime, mafioso John Vernon, with nephew Alex Cord, shows up in the jungle to make an offer to Smith that he hopefully can't refuse. Feds are on the case trying to trap Smith, with an undercover agent among the models. Nina Van Pallandt gets top billing here, but the best part of the film is watching John Vernon ham it up. I also like to think of the scene where Woody Strode kills Alex Cord with a bow and arrow as Strode's belated revenge on behalf of John Ford for Cord's starring in the 1966 remake of Stagecoach. Best line, from Vernon surveying the remote jungle paradise, "Do you get television here?".

Cinephile's Alibi: Cinematography by Nicholas von Sternberg. Of course the big tragedy of cinema history is that Josef von Sternberg never got to make a Women in Prison pic. But think of this film as a son's tribute to his father. There is a small display of sapphic affection like in Morocco, a jungle setting like Anahatan, some kinkiness to equal The Scarlet Empress, and women in exotic settings like Shanghai Express. Sybil Danning is even photographed to look sort of like Marlene Dietrich. Too bad Cesar Romero never thought to blow up Dietrich with a hand grenade in The Devil is a Woman.

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Red Heat takes place in a parallel universe where everyone in East Germany speaks perfect, if heavily accented, English. Unlike all the complications of Chained Heat, most of the story revolves around the good good girl, Linda Blair, and the bad bad girl, Sylvia Kristel. Blair goes to Germany to be with her fiance. After a disagreement, she accidentally sees a female scientist, kidnapped by a couple of men. Taking no chances, Blair is also grabbed, and the two women are in an East German prison. Sylvia Kristel is a prisoner who seems to have the run of the joint, with assist from two nasty women with tattooed faces. Not only is Kristal the lover of the woman who officially is in charge of the prison, but she also hosts orgies with her girlfriends at night.

For those who couldn't possibly get enough nude Linda Blair in Chained Heat, there's a shower scene here. The best line is from Sylvia Kristal when threatening Blair: "I've murdered three people at least. The first one was my step-father. He ate my pet snake.".

Cinephile's alibi: Soundtrack by Tangerine Dream. Coming in between Hollywood projects Vision Quest and Legend.

All three films have voice-over introductions by Mr. Skin, proprietor of a website bearing his name. I only found out about the website by accident when I absentmindedly googled the words "Margaret Rutherford nude". The main point of this DVD package is see movies with reasonably attractive women in various states of undress. These three movies succeed in varying degrees, especially when they don't let the story get in the way.

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An additional note: Check out the remarkable filmography of Monica Teuber, who, in addition to serving as producer on all three films, has a small role in Red Heat.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at July 19, 2011 08:26 AM


Nice Google there. Good ol' Sylvia Chrystal and Sybil Danning - these are films for the money only, but have surprisingly good casts of 'B' actors. I haven't seen the jungle film, now I'll look for it. Fun stuff!

Posted by: Vanwall at July 19, 2011 02:52 PM

Well, of course, now I want to see these immediately. I did, in fact, see CHAINED HEAT in first run, and still shivver thinking back on a nekkid Vernon/Fellini.

You fail to mention what else you came up with while Googling Mrs. Rutherford nude. The mind boggles, the body winces.

Nice dig at "Roller Boogie," by the way. It's on Netflix Instant, little Linda's baby fat all buff and tan in her early 80s Spandex. Those who dig the finer nuances of "Xanadu" and "Can't Stop the Music" are urged to check it out.

Posted by: Flickhead at July 19, 2011 04:06 PM