Once he completes his Lippert merit badge, Judge Gordon Sullivan will be a full-fledged Drive-in Scout.
Women so hot with desire they melt the chains that enslave them!
I consider myself a pretty stalwart genre warrior. I'm no Joe Bob Briggs, but I've earned my share of drive-in merit badges. Everything from nunsploitation to Z-grade slashers have made it past my none-too-discerning eyes. However, in all those hours spent scouring the bottom of the genre bins, I had never taken the time to watch a "women in prison" flick. It just isn't my bag. After Roger Corman Cult Classics: The Women In Cages Collection, I can certainly say I've seen my share of women in prison flicks, even if these three examples of the genre didn't covert me into a fan.
Facts of the Case
This release is part of the Roger Corman Cult Classics lineup and includes three films on two discs:
Big Doll House
Women in Cages
The Big Bird Cage
To some people, programming an evening of movies is a sacred trust. Creating double and triple bills is an art that requires a vast knowledge of movies, a subtle sense of timing, and a solid understanding of what an audience wants. As a so-called "triple feature," The Women in Cages Collection doesn't work. This is especially troubling because any two out of the three would be just fine together. Big Doll House and The Big Bird Cage go together because they share a director (Jack Hill), a producer (Roger Corman), and stars (Pam Grier and Sid Haig). Women in Cages and The Big Bird Cage go together because they feature women in explicitly non-U.S. prisons, giving both films a slightly more exotic touch. Finally, Big Doll House and Women in Cages go together for the opportunity to see Pam Grier on both sides of the bars. All three, taken together, are simply monotonous, with the same "women in trouble trying to escape sadistic guards" plot recycled over and over with minor variations.
Strangely, that's not a slight to any of the movies individually. Sure, they're all B-grade flicks that are long on lesbian BDSM scenarios and short on anything else, but there's an undeniable energy and talent involved with all three films. Jack Hill (who directed Big Doll House and The Big Bird Cage) is famous for giving us both Coffy and Foxy Brown. The guy knows his way around an exploitation film set. Pam Grier also knows her way around those same sets, and The Big Doll House was her first real role (outside an appearance as "Girl #4" in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, and she tears into all of these films like a woman possessed. She's strong and vulnerable when she's behind bars, and cruel and sexy when she's not. This could easily have been called The Pam Grier Collection in her honor. Finally, the director of Women in Cages, Gerardo de Leon, is no slouch himself as one of the more lauded directors in the Philippines.
Whether you're a fan of women in prison flicks or not, drive-in or exploitation movie fans are not going to want to miss this release. First, all of the films look darn good for low-budget films from the early Seventies, with surprisingly little print damage. Colors tend to have that gritty, Seventies feel, and the transfer does a fine job handling them with no serious compression artifacts. All three films also feature mono soundtracks that do a decent job with the dialogue, keeping it clear and balanced with the sometimes-funky music in these films (including some singing from Pam Grier herself!). Audio recordings fared less well than the film, so don't expect total clarity (or, as the liner notes mention, complete lip sync accuracy).
The extras, though, are where this release really shines:
Big Doll House on a disc by itself gets an audio commentary with Jack Hill, who discusses the history of the film, how it came to be made, as well as some fun tidbits from the production. He goes a bit silent towards the end, but this is an informative track nonetheless. Next up is a 49-minute film, "From Manila With Love" that gathers a whole host of people involved in these films together, including Hill, Sid Haig, Anita Ford, and Roger Corman to talk about these women in prison films. It's great to hear their stories and see where they are now. Considering the low price point of this set, it's worth the price just for this documentary. We also get a separate interview with star Judy Brown, taken from the documentary American Grindhouse. The disc rounds out with a trailer, a TV spot, and a gallery of behind-the-scenes and publicity photos for each film.
The Big Bird Cage also gets a commentary from Jack Hill. Again he shares his experiences making low-budget films in the Philippines, and again there is a bit of silence in an otherwise informative commentary.
Women in Cages gets the short end of the baton in this set, with only a trailer and TV spot.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
No matter how you slice it, these films are still all about putting women in degrading positions for our viewing pleasure. They come to us as time capsules of a culture in tremendous upheaval between the sexes, and time has not blunted their force. Those looking for well-rounded portrayals of women should look elsewhere.
The Women in Cages collection may not be to everyone's taste—I, for one, remain unconvinced of the dubious joys of watching women in prison flicks—but the informative extras and solid presentation of these films make the set really easy to recommend to any fans of low-budget fare, drive-in history, or exploitation gems. Those with older versions of these films should find plenty worth upgrading for.
They may need to be locked up, but these films are not guilty.
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Scales of Justice, The Big Doll House
Perp Profile, The Big Doll House
Studio: Shout! Factory
Distinguishing Marks, The Big Doll House
Scales of Justice, Women In Cages
Perp Profile, Women In Cages
Studio: Shout! Factory
Distinguishing Marks, Women In Cages
• TV Spots
Scales of Justice, The Big Bird Cage
Perp Profile, The Big Bird Cage
Studio: Shout! Factory
Distinguishing Marks, The Big Bird Cage
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