Cellblock Sisters: Banished Behind Bars (1995, USA)
May Conner (Gail Harris) is 19* and in prison. She’s a Miss Goody Two-Shoes… a little naive when it comes to crime and punishment, and is unused to prison lingo. “They found a second set of finger things.” “Prints,” says her street-wise older sister, April (Annie Wood). “Prints, right.”
It’s 16 years since May and April were sold to other families by her step-father, without the knowledge of her drug-addled mother, June. April was bought by a man in LA who sexually abused her; she has spent years in prison and is now running with a rogue bikie pack. May, on the other hand, was sent to England where she was brought up real proper by a loving couple. Somehow, April tracked May down and invited her to LA, but May is unaware that it is so she can share in the execution of their step-father, Sam (why he isn’t named August is anyone’s guess), who managed to kill the girls’ poor mother on the same day he sold her kids for $5,000.
Just maybe April should have tipped May off about the planned execution stuff beforehand. After April shoots Sam, a distraught May straddles the dead body, imploring it to divulge where her mother is buried… just as the cops arrive and find her the only one at the scene and her finger, ah, prints on the murder weapon. May is charged with his murder and heads off to prison, even though the dashing Lieutenant Detective Armand (Dean Howell) is sure she’s covering for someone else. Which, of course, she is.
As a prim and proper Brit with incongruous, surgically-enhanced breasts she is naturally a bit of a fish out of water in prison. Mind you, some aspects of this prison might be odd even to more experienced prisoners; for example, Warden Smith (Christi Engel) has all the new receptions seated naked in front of her before addressing them, possibly to ensure that there are no hidden agendas. She also finds it helpful to alert the new prisoners to the fact that she and her husband have sex on Friday nights.
May’s cellmate, Flo (Jamie Donahue), can teach her the basics of prison life but can’t teach her not to watch, transfixed, when the prison’s top dog, Manny Mendoza (Jenny Bodnar), stabs another inmate. Manny can’t be sure that May won’t run to the Warden and “cough up a hairball”, and her people rough May up a bit just to keep her mouth shut.
In due course, April feels guilty about May being in prison on her behalf and commits an armed robbery – and then effectively calls the police herself. Her arrival in the same prison is timely; she can intervene in another attack on her sister in which Flo unfortunately gets in the way and is killed. April’s arrival also causes much consternation; Manny knows that she used to be the prison’s top dog and that recruiting women to work for her on the outside (and making money) will be more difficult if she loses her power base in prison.
So Manny sets up an elaborate scheme to eliminate April and May; she arranges for two guns to be smuggled in, kills eight guards (yes, eight) and orders the other women to riot as a diversion while she tracks down April. And then kills another two guards. “We have a problem in Cellblock C,” guards tell the Warden, who is clearly used to such understatement and doesn’t even ask, “What sort of problem?” before dropping everything and running off to sort it out. While the murders of so many guards is… problematic, the riot is as feeble as you could possibly imagine; prisoners simply run through the jail, not breaking of smashing things, most seemingly too tired by the exertion to even match the whooping and hollering of the soundtrack.
Meanwhile, Lt Det Armand is racing to the prison to secure May’s release. He has, of course, fallen in love with her… or perhaps the sexual congress he had with his murder suspect (or witness, at the very least) in the prison interrogation room just a little while earlier was an opportunistic act which went way beyond an extraordinary breach of his professional ethics.
May herself is a complex figure. She should be overawed and frightened; she’s not, particularly… but for a psychologist she’s awfully slow on the uptake. She abuses her lawyer for daring to suggest a plea-bargain, but has no Plan B. “You touch me and I’ll go right to the Warden,” she shrieks at Manny, who is threatening her in the showers. Not sensible. And when April, who has snuck in as a visitor (in disguise), apologises to her for dragging her into the whole murderous affair with “Gosh, I wish I never wrote that letter”, May replies, “It was my decision to come out here.” Eh? What?!
I’m rather fond of these stupid movies; their sheer silliness much more entertaining than the plot.
* It’s 16 years since May was sold as a 3-year-old, yet she has already graduated as a psychologist. Go figure. Maybe she was a child prodigy who entered university really young.
Posted on May 16th, 2016 at 9:59 pm. Updated on July 9th, 2016 at 6:13 pm.
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