Chained Heat (1983, USA)
Inside the first 20-odd minutes one prisoner gets shot dead after holding a toy gun at a guard who was about to rape her, a prisoner with whom the Warden is having a sexual relationship is killed by other prisoners for being a snitch, an African-American prisoner is sliced up by prisoners in an all-white cellblock, and the Warden and Guard Captain are separately implicated in corrupt drug activity. And there’s a shower scene. This film is not afraid of action. Or cliché. Or exploitation.
Ten years after she starred in The Exorcist, Linda Blair appears as goody-two-shoes interior design student Carol Henderson, who has been sentenced to 18 months in jail for manslaughter - a motor vehicle accident about which nothing is said. Maybe she was momentarily distracted while trying to help someone in need.
It is the corruptest of jails. Warden Bacman (John Vernon) is both a consumer and supplier of drugs and has a spa bath in his office in which he entertains and films prisoners. His drug peddling rival in the prison is his second-in-charge, Captain Taylor (Stella Stevens), whose romantic and commercial partner, Lester, is having it off with the prison’s top dog, Ericka (Sybil Danning). Lester also runs a prostitution racket, sneaking women out of the prison for wealthy clients. Inside the prison, the guards procure suitably attractive women for one guard, Stone, to rape. Those same guards are happy to not intervene in a fight between Ericka and the African-Americans’ leader, Duchess (Tamara Dobson). And so on.
The prison is full of idiosyncrasies. Designed to hold 1,500, it is reportedly holding 2,000 - of whom we see about 20. But when those 20 riot, late in the piece, it’s said that they have “taken over half the prison”. No mean feat. The prison appears to be suffering chronic shortage of underwear, and would seem to cater only for women with photogenic body shapes, which makes you wonder where all the other prisoners are sent. Prisoners are murdered without any apparent investigation or repercussions. Not even when the Warden is murdered (sorry to have divulged that), are the Police seemingly called upon to investigate. But then, a prison with a Warden’s office that wantonly boasts both a spa bath and a bed is perhaps unused to (or immune from) any form of external scrutiny.
It’s unashamedly exploitative, of course, and bounces from one corrupt activity or piece of brutality to the next… with Carol trapped in the middle of it, trying to navigate a safe passage for herself through it all. Blair does a reasonable job playing a stunned fish out of water, while just about every other character is a caricature of some sort.
There’s plenty going on, but I’m not sure that this adds much to the genre.
Filmed at the Lincoln Heights Jail, Los Angeles.
Posted on October 16th, 2016 at 2:19 pm. Updated on October 16th, 2016 at 2:19 pm.
#371 in the Top 500