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The Women in Cages Collection(1971-1972)
No synopsis for The Women in Cages Collection.
For more about The Women in Cages Collection and The Women in Cages Collection Blu-ray release, see The Women in Cages Collection Blu-ray Review
Starring: Pam Grier, Judy Brown, Roberta Collins, Sid Haig, Christiane Schmidtmer, Brooke Mills
Directors: Jack Hill, Gerardo de Leon
» See full cast & crew
The Women in Cages Collection Blu-ray Review
Bras have no purpose inside of a prison.
Reviewed by Brian Orndorf, October 12, 2011
Big Doll House
1971's "Big Doll House" is the first installment of what would later be recognized as the "Women in Cages" trilogy, a series distributed by Roger Corman focusing on the exploits of braless women struggling in humid, unforgiving prison systems. Shot on the cheap and spotlighting a cast of adventurous actresses, the pictures emerged as exploitation classics in the eyes of some, beloved for their gratuitous nudity and violence. "Big Doll House" kicked off the pervy merriment, with director Jack Hill setting an impressive tone for the run on the first outing -- a rough and randy incarceration extravaganza that's stuffed with forbidden delights, peppy performances, and decidedly eager attitudes when it comes to manufacturing sweat-soaked grindhouse distractions.
Sent to a nameless prison in the Philippines, Collier (Judy Brown) is a scrappy young thing ready to accept the challenges of her sentence. She's tossed into a cell with the likes of feisty lesbian Grear (Pam Grier), aggressor Alcott (Roberta Collins), junkie Harrad (Brooke Mills), and revolutionary Ferina (Gina Stuart), quickly grasping the routine of the penitentiary, ruled with an iron fist by the sadistic Lucian (Kathryn Loder). Dealing with daily work details and bullying from her fellow inmates, Collier eventually comes to earn trust, soon involved in an escape plan concerning two outside prison suppliers, Harry (Sid Haig) and Fred (Jerry Franks). Also in the mix is Warden Dietrich (Christiane Schmidtmer), who entertains compassion emerging from new hire Dr. Phillips (Jack Davis), a man unaware of the devious practices of torture going on inside the remote facility.
Scripted by Don Spencer ("The Student Nurses"), "Big Doll House" is a fantastic bouillabaisse of depravity, a collection of sinful delights packaged into a roughhouse prison adventure. The argument could be made that this parade of jiggles is a thinly disguised display of feminism, where the women featured expel a level of aggression matched by everyone else, but let's not kid ourselves here. This is Roger Corman production, made to titillate and repulse, highlighting a community of attractive actresses struggling with all sorts of setbacks, often shedding their clothes to solve problems. It's clear Hill was doing his damndest to elevate the picture's sensibilities, to remove as much of the cheap victimization as possible. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, there's just so much nudity, torture, and cat fighting, it's impossible to ignore the true DNA of the piece. It's exploitation heaven.
And there's mud wrestling. MUD WRESTLING.
Hill was a genius.
"Big Doll House" is essentially a series of power play set inside the prison, watching as the ladies size each other up, Harry and Fred sell their goods for gropes, and Lucian devises various Rube Goldberg-esque torture machines to keep her inmates in line. It's an episodic story held together by dreams of escape, observing the daily routine of hard labor and suffocating cell interactions, getting to know the characters through their broadly defined personalities. It's crude but effective, with Hill able to organize his disparity of tempers fluidly, capturing the ideal interplay between aggressive women (convicts who apparently have access to full hair and make-up). The performances are exaggerated but marvelous in their passions and gung-ho sexuality; the ensemble creates memorable portraits of domination, often in tiny outfits (even the prison guards rock mini-skirts). Hill has a nice handle on the campy chicanery of the material, confidently working through aggressive confrontations (some orange blood is spilled) and lighter asides, including the aforementioned mud wresting throwdown and a mid-movie food fight.
To Hill's credit, he's able to weave through an enormous amount of unsavory material without being weighed down by the ugliness. "Big Doll House" is fixated on rape, punishment, and misery. Although cartoonishly executed, a few scenes are obviously built to tease a certain section of the audience, creating these odd tangents of sadism in a picture that's far more engrossing as a prison romp. The addition of a hooded observer (think a kinky Cobra Commander) to the Lucian's torture shows establishes further perversity, adding a discomfort there that's undeniable. A few moments cross into excess, interrupting the flow of the feature. Nevertheless, Hill deserves an enormous amount of credit for following the material as far as it goes, maintaining its ogle-worthy appeal for longer than anyone could possibly expect.
The final act of the feature is devoted to escape plans and betrayals, staging ambitious action beats with absolutely no budget and tight exterior confines. "Big Doll House" is less convincing as a thrill ride, despite gonzo weapon discharge and a full examination of Alcott, who's not above approving a sexual assault to make her enemies suffer. The picture is more interesting sloshing around in its sleazy ingredients, generating a memorable portrait of cheap thrills and feral performances. Besides, we're all here to witness the shirt-ripping effects of confinement, not "Rambo" antics shot in a Filipino backyard.
Women in Cages
The second film of the cycle, 1971's "Women in Cages" turns to director Gerardo de Leon for guidance. Abandoning the light touch of Jack Hill, the latest round of torture and escape offers a complete lack of humor or even basic storytelling structure. "Women in Cages" is a grab bag of disease from a filmmaker who looks as though he assembled the picture blindfolded, struggling mightily to secure a narrative flow while surrounded by wonky cutting, scattered scoring, and an intense fixation on pain. It's a joyless event, an abyssal plunge in mood for act two, granting the producers a chance to stage some uncomfortably sadistic scenes in the name of exploitation. It's more of a "Saw" sequel at times, less of a randy, rotten women in prison epic.
Set up by her boyfriend, Carol "Jeff" Jeffries (Jennifer Gan) has been sent to a jungle prison on a drug charge, sure that the sentence was all a misunderstanding. Tossed into a cell with Sandy (Judy Brown) and junkie Stokes (Roberta Collins), Jeff freaks out, terrified of Alabama (Pam Grier), a vicious lesbian guard who loves to make life hell for the ladies of the penitentiary. Enduring torture and humiliation, the ladies are fighting to survive, a challenge intensified for Jeff when Stokes is hired to assassinate the latest addition to the cellblock, cleaning up various loose ends. At her breaking point, Jeff decides to bust out of the joint, hitting the jungle and the shoreline for help, finding only Alabama and endless, nameless men preventing her escape.
What's mildly refreshing about "Women in Cages" is that it's a dark film, packed with grim details and capped with a downbeat ending. It's a severe tonal shift from the director, who breaks away from Hill's work on "Big Doll House," choosing an atmosphere of penalty, not tomfoolery, to guide his effort. A viewing adjustment is required before sitting down with "Women in Cages," as those accustomed to the candied Jack Hill experience might feel a little dizzy after watching how savagely Gerardo de Leon handles the challenges of a women in prison picture.
In an askew way, "Women in Cages" submits a more intricate story, connecting Jeff to a prostitution ring run by Pilipino men on a naval ship, cutting between the struggles within the prison and the paranoia of the outside world. What should've been a thrilling assassination story is unwound quickly by the helmer, who displays immediate stagnancy, slashing the tires of his film in the opening five minutes, never to recover. The picture is a bore, but one that makes an attempt to liven up the proceedings with a customary amount of nudity and lesbian seduction. However, the violence seems awfully mean-spirited for this chapter, presenting various torture devices that Alabama uses to get her rocks off, leaving the prisoners with profound emotional and physical scars. Some might view the nastiness as a badge of honor, fearlessly taking the subgenre to extremes to rework stale elements. I found the grotesqueries too calculated to enjoy -- it's darkness braided into darkness, leaving little escapism to be found. "Women in Cages" takes itself very seriously, which doesn't do the rampant absurdity found in key encounters any favors.
Here's the primary difference between the directors: Jack Hill makes an attempt to film his actresses taking showers, all steamy and seductive. Gerardo de Leon likes to repeatedly blast his cast with a fire hose. I know which director I prefer.
There's no momentum to "Women in Cages," no sense of lunacy to grab and play with. It's a stillborn production employing ugliness to command attention, appealing to a darker awareness, draining the primal appeal of the subgenre. It deserves kudos for arranging an unflinching finale, but it's stuck at the end of an exceedingly tepid viewing experience. Any hope for shock is long gone by the time the conclusion arrives. "Women in Cages" makes the grindhouse aesthetic feel like a wet blanket.
The Big Bird Cage
The final chapter of this Roger Corman collection is 1972's "The Big Bird House," which returns Jack Hill to the director's chair, hoping to restore some of the magic found in "Big Doll House" to this colorful rehash. Broader in design and larger in scale, the movie is undeniably the most polished of the three pictures, containing a defiant energy as it stages its routine of bullets, breasts, and booms. The trade-off here is originality, an essential sense of surprise that's missing from this effort, a muddled film that desires to futz with the formula, but doesn't exactly have the euphoric moxie to reach the finish line.
Sent to a remote prison for women in the Philippines, Terry (Anitra Ford) is certain her ties to politicians will help expedite her release, looking to escape an elaborate sugar mill/work camp run by the wicked Warden Zappa (Andres Centenera) and his homosexual guard, Rocco (Vic Diaz). Surround by an itchy group of prisoners, including feisty blonde Carla (Candice Roman) and Amazonian wonder Karen (Karen McKevic), Terry endures the brutality of the fortress, tortured and shamed to keep the rest of the gang in line. On the outside, aspiring revolutionary Django (Sid Haig) is eager to build up his army numbers, looking to attract fresh cadets from the prison. Using lover Blossom (Pam Grier) as a way to draw interested individuals, Django also infiltrates the penal colony, under the guise of an unemployed gay man interested in Rocco's attention.
Although often described as a parody of the women in prison films, there's not much to "The Big Bird Cage" that suggests a profound change in attitude. The third installment plays much like the first, with Hill assuming screenwriting duties, granting himself an opportunity to weave his own spider web of exploitation elements, this time gifted a slightly superior budget and the benefit of hindsight, which comes in handy when detailing the shirtless lives of lady prisoners for a second round. "The Big Bird Cage" is a more cohesive, politically aware, emotive picture. However, the increase in filmmaking clarity manages to dilute the fun factor of this effort. It's amusing at times, but it also feels more distracted, almost resistant to indulge the delights that make the subgenre such a guilty pleasure to begin with. Even another mud-wrestling scene feels on the hackneyed side, not the delirious explosion of cheeky behavior found before.
Instead of buxom babes in limited clothes, the centerpiece of the picture is the sugar mill, a towering contraption used to keep the property profitable and respectable, but also results in a few horrific accidents involving the inmates, sometimes intentional. It's a display of budgetary might that keeps Hill invested in the production, helping him to arrange a mild riff on "The Bridge on the River Kawi," allowing him a scope "Big Doll House" could never achieve. The thrill of filmmaking is felt throughout "The Big Bird Cage," which has a great deal of fun with itself, but the merriment is rarely contagious. Instead, the script feels forced, especially anything involved with Django's scheme to mince his way into the prison. The homosexual content is stereotype comedy from 1972, rendering it tiresome, reaching nowhere near the gut-busting highlights Hill is aiming for. Haig is committed, but trapped in a feeble idea.
Also deflating is the saga of Terry, an American caught in a ghastly situation overseas, leaving her powerless, relying on others to make it through the prison ordeal. It's a fine performance from Ford, but she's quickly overshadowed by the feisty supporting cast and Grier, all gritted teeth and swaying breasts as the excitable warrior looking to bring Warden Zappa to his knees. Near the end of the feature, Hill doesn't know who to pay attention to, leaving some intriguing ideas with Terry and her growing sympathy for her bullied sisters to fade away in favor of big guns and hot explosions.
The finale once again selects a jailbreak scenario, following the ladies as they take up arms against their oppressors, indulging in a little revenge that includes gunfire and rape (what is with all the rape in these things?). It's a customary conclusion, missing a berserk quality that could bestow the picture with unforgettable sequences. Climatic fatigue is representative of the entire "The Big Bird Cage" experience. It's an entertaining movie, but only in fragments, feeling a little sleepy when it should pack one hell of a punch. Perhaps this third time wasn't the charm.
The Women in Cages Collection Blu-ray, Video Quality
(FYI: The liner notes state that A/V elements were difficult to corral for this trilogy release, explaining the less than ideal presentations.)
The AVC encoded image (1.78:1 aspect ratio) presentation on "Big Doll House" looks fresh and inviting for such a cult item, displaying a dense sense of color and skintones, keeping the ladies looking natural (in or out of clothes). Hues are strong, popping off orange costumes and jungle greenery, also memorable with the hair color. Clarity is pleasing, capturing details of terror and sweat, also seizing facial textures, with Haig's rough skin alone perfect for HD display. Set designs are up for easy inspection. Shadow detail is a touch too clouded, pulling depth out of evening shots and low-lit cells. The print is less than ideal, feature numerous defects and reel changes. However, the roughness does add an interesting retro theatrical vibe for more adventurous viewers. The imperfections add to the experience.
"Women in Cages and "The Big Bird Cage" appear slightly less intense with their AVC encoded images (each with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio) -- two unpredictable viewing experiences that shift rather radically in clarity from scene to scene ("The Big Bird Cage" is the primary offender), almost resembling a patchwork quilt of quality. A few shots are completely soft, lacking texture and cinematic grit, while others are relatively crisp, communicating an HD feel for the cinematography, with satisfactory detail on the actors and a good sense of location depth. Colors are capable, best with tropical hues. Crush is a problem, solidifying blacks with a distracting hold at times. Print damage is detected, with scratches, shifts, and reel changes apparent.
The Women in Cages Collection Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The 2.0 DTS-HD MA sound mix for "Big Doll House" is truly a mixed bag, requiring some patience with the tattered source material. There's a consistent presence of hiss and pops, which vacillate in intensity during the presentation. The Blu-ray producers have done an amazing job rescuing what they could, but a few scenes are difficult to listen to, swallowed by an erratic balance between hiss and dialogue. The rest of the film is expectedly frontal and shrill, requiring some mild volume riding when the action heats up in the finale. Music sounds crisp, especially the bookend tune from Pam Grier, but rarely dimensional, holding to a modest punch. Low-end is limited.
With 2.0 DTS-HD MA sound mixes, "Women in Cages" and "The Big Bird Cage" sound as clean as humanly possible, using the frontal hold to communicate a collection of vocal intensity. Though lacking crisp separation, the verbal exchanges sound fuller than "Big Doll House" (especially on "The Big Bird Cage;" "Women in Cages" retains heavy hiss and distortion), carrying more weight to articulate the dramatic content, offering limited audio resistance. Scoring is pleasing, never getting in the way of the actors, while holding a steady jungle beat to help propel the movie's action. Violence is elevated, with explosions carrying a rumble, also keeping gunfire charmingly chaotic.
The Women in Cages Collection Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
BIG DOLL HOUSE
The Women in Cages Collection Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The mud wrestling helps, but the torture remains.
The Women in Cages Collection Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Shout Factory Preparing The Women in Cages Collection - April 23, 2011
Independent distributors Shout Factory have revealed that they are preparing for Blu-ray release The Women in Cages Collection (Big Doll House, Women In Cages, The Big Bird Cage). Aside from the fact that this will be a two-disc Blu-ray set, however, no other ...
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