It don't matter. Judge Ike Oden was born dead.
Our review of Caged Heat, published May 5th, 2006, is also available.
Dinah Hunter: "They're gonna kill you!"
Can I just say, I'm officially in love with Shout! Factory. Head over heels, even. Their continued work restoring and remastering independent horror, science fiction, and exploitation classics has long made them one of my favorite DVD companies. This consumer romance has only grown stronger and longer with their continued work on Roger Corman's back catalog of schlock classics. Jackson County Jail/Caged Heat ranks among the best Corman sets released to date, housing two exploitation classics, remastered beautifully and with some substantial features.
Facts of the Case
Caged Heat is exactly what awaits petty thief Jacqueline (Erica Gavin, Beyond The Valley of the Dolls), who is thrown in Conorville prison following a botched police escape. Even worse, the female correctional facility is run by a sexually repressed warden (Barbara Steele, Federico Fellini's 8 1/2) and a mentally deranged doctor (Warren Miller, Philadelphia). To survive, she forms a bond with three misfits (Juanita Brown, Foxy Brown); Roberta Collins, Death Race 2000; and Ella Reid). Together, the four stage a breakout that The Man never saw coming.
Jackson County Jail starts with ad exec Dinah Hunter (Yvette Mimieux, The Time Machine) having a bad day. Her husband leaves her and she loses her job in the same day. She packs up and decides to drive across the U.S., only to be beaten and car jacked by pill popping hitchhikers Robert Carradine (Revenge of the Nerds) and Nancy Lee Noble (The Pill and The Body). Through a misunderstanding, it is she who winds up in Jackson County Jail, where she must endure the worst kind of abuse from some bad cops. When she strikes back at the authorities, Dinah finds herself on the lamb with badass prisoner Coley Blakely (Tommy Lee Jones, No Country For Old Men).
Whether you're programming a film festival, producing a DVD, or picking a choosing from a home DVD collection, crafting a truly great double feature takes precise consideration. Too often have studios dumped two films onto arbitrarily one disc and labeled it an "Action Double Feature" or some such nonsense. Jackson County Jail and Caged Heat, on the other hand, fit together as two important pieces of the cinematic puzzle that is Roger Corman. Both films deal in the "Women In Prison" genre popularized by the legendary producer, and approach the subject matter in unique, sophisticated ways.
Caged Heat relies on meticulous cinematography to get in the heads of its ensemble cast of hardened female prisoners and wardens. The film doesn't have a lot of particularly strong or complex characters, but derives memorable performances from actresses in stereotypical roles. The New Fish, The Kleptomaniac, The Tough Chick, and The Crazy Bitch are all well represented and given a sympathetic character arc of their own to follow. Collectively, they endure rape, torture, shock therapy, and a number of other nasty hurtles blocking their basic freedoms. They also take a lot showers together. A lot of showers.
B-movie horn doggery aside, the film's real stars are writer/director Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs) and cinematographer Tak Fujimoto (Batman Begins) whose gorgeous direction and camera work elevate Caged Heat above the limitations of its formula. The result is an exploitation film steeped in art house aesthetic that's just as psychologically heady (especially in the film's many surrealistic dream sequences) as it is schlocky, sexy, and violent. Caged Heat is a fairly dumb movie made with a smart, sexy approach.
In comparison to Jackson County Jail, Caged Heat looks downright juvenile (well, it sort of is, but even more so). Jackson County Jail is not a sexy movie. Yes, it has some brief gratuitous nudity and some bad hayseed humor, but the film isn't a fun foray into the genre. It has most of the rape, torture, and misdoings on display in Caged Heat, but grounds it in a stark reality that feels very un-Corman. Big-city gal Dinah is simply at the wrong place at the wrong time—over and over again and over again over the course one day. Through theft, imprisonment, and rape, she has her dignity slowly and painfully stripped from her. When she finally lashes out at her captors, it isn't a fun, "Sh*t just got real" moment, but a shocking revelation that this woman is officially and unequivocally doomed.
From there, Dinah's on the lamb with Tommy Lee Jones (the only guy I'd ever want to be on the lam with). Jones' performance as wanted man Coley is impossibly magnetic, peeling back layers of a caged murderer to reveal a romantic outlaw and, finally, a criminal at peace with the corrupt world around him. His relationship with Dinah isn't a love story per se, but one of parallel bonding. Dinah goes from a high-powered businesswoman to an abused crook like Coley in the course of a day. As Coley watches this transformation, he protects her as if she was himself. The audience knows that the partners' quest for survival is ultimately a futile one.
Heavy, I know, but the film hits the rural-prison-breakout checklist, showing off some excellent car and foot chases as well as some brawls and gun fights. These set pieces are embellished by the film's sense of gritty reality and by the fact that there are untouched by the CGI muckety-muck that passes for action sequences today.
Image wise, each film looks spectacularly solid. Caged Heat is riddled with grain, dirt, and scratches (in keeping with its Grindhouse origins) but is very sharp nonetheless. Jackson County Jail looks the better of the two with a very clean transfer overall. The stereo tracks complimenting the transfers do the job with minimal popping and hissing.
Extras aren't plentiful, but they are substantial. My favorite feature on the set is the optional "Grindhouse" mode, which plays both films sequentially, interspersed with trailers, old theater ads, and other intermission delights. Both films also get an audio commentary—Caged Heat with Demme, Fujimoto, and Erica Gavin; Jackson County with director Michael Miller (Silent Rage), producer Jeff Begun and cinematographer Bruce Logan (Tron). Of these tracks, Caged Heat is the liveliest, divulging plenty of indie filmmaking tricks, background info on the film's context, and fun behind-the-scenes anecdotes. Jackson County is a much drier track, with each participant unsure of what to say. This awkwardness results in a fair amount of screen description and dead air between substantial comments.
Each film also gets a brief retrospective interview of Roger Corman courtesy of film critic Leonard Maltin, as well as a gallery of trailers, posters, and stills.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Unfortunately, both films too often succumb to Corman's formulaic approach to crafting exploitation films. Each movie is rife with plenty of cringe-inducing sexual and redneck humor that makes the exploitation aspects of the film feel even more distasteful. These films are the sort of lurid Corman movies that haughty film critics beg audiences to look past in favor of feminine social commentary. I'll admit, there's a fair amount there (especially in Jackson County) but really they're more concerned with boobs, torture, and action, i.e., the sort of material that drove young men and women to movie theaters in droves. After all, you can't spell exploitation without "exploit," so it's important not to take these films too seriously.
If you're a fan of Roger Corman, Jonathan Demme, or exploitation films in general, there is absolutely no reason you shouldn't own this DVD. It's a modestly priced, thoroughly entertaining double feature with oodles and oodles of replay value—and not just because of the gratuitous nudity.
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Scales of Justice, Caged Heat
Perp Profile, Caged Heat
Studio: Shout! Factory
Distinguishing Marks, Caged Heat
• Grindhouse Mode
Scales of Justice, Jackson County Jail
Perp Profile, Jackson County Jail
Studio: Shout! Factory
Distinguishing Marks, Jackson County Jail
• Grindhouse Mode
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