Prison-A-Go-Go! (2003, USA)
The problem with these hit-and-miss spoofs is, well, that they’re hit-and-miss.
The plot: Callista (Lauren Graham) is kidnapped by thugs working for scientist and torturer Dr Hurtrider (Travis Willingham), who operates exclusively out of the largest prison in the Philippines. Her sister Janie (Laurie Walton) finds Hurtrider’s card at the scene and resolves to commit a crime to get into prison to rescue her. She promptly kills a homeless man… and gets flown straight to the Philippines. Hurtrider experiments on the women prisoners there, trying to find a cure for the cold. His methods are novel – mostly involving torture (e.g. whippings, having prisoners watch Robin Williams movies). His experiment on Callista involves him having to cross her with a porcupine; luckily, one of the prisoners, Cross Eye (Louisa Lawless), keeps a pet porcupine which is commandeered for this purpose.
Once settled in the prison Janie seems to forget about Callista; instead she makes new friends: amongst them Jackpot (Rhonda Shear) who sexually abuses the male staff; Breezy (Tina Parker) who keeps a warehouse of household items in her back passage; and Boom-Boom (Mae Moreno) who is addicted to ‘ice’ (air conditioning, not the drug). By the time they get their collective acts together, Callista is half-porcupine, Hurtrider realises that he misread the instructions which called for the girl to be combined with Betadine, and a ninja joins them. They escape… as a convenient way to finish the film.
The formula is a fairly simple one: think of a prison cliché and turn it on its head. Hard-bitten, hard-ass Warden? Have an insipid, ineffectual, drug-using, new-graduate-from-warden-school run your prison. All those sleazy WIP films shot in the Philippines? Set this one ostensibly in the Philippines, but have no Filipinos (or anything of the Philippines) in the film at all. Male guards who rape female prisoners? Have a voraciously-appetited prisoner sexually assault all the male staff. Gratuitous shower scenes? Cross to the male guards in the shower. Stereotypes in the staffing complement? Make all the guards Jewish. And gay. Low budget? Nup; can’t turn that on its head.
Of course it fully embraces the WIP genre, with tongue mostly in cheek: shower scenes (even featuring a countdown clock to the next scene), a mud wrestling pit, a food fight, general cheesiness… and flesh-eating mutant zombies (prisoners on whom Hurtrider’s experiments have not worked so well).
Some of it works beautifully. Some doesn’t. Its best feature is perhaps that it doesn’t take itself too seriously (sometimes it might try overly hard to not take itself seriously). My favourite example? The novice Warden, Wilber Thorn (Mike Wiebe), is given his assignment in the Philippines. He’s in the US and is expected to take up his post the next morning. “Isn’t that like a long flight?” he asks. “Yes, yes,” says his boss, Dyanne She-Bitch Slutface (Mary Woronov). “But you don’t have to worry about that. You simply show some stock footage of an airplane in mid-flight, and then you are there! All right?” And she’s right; there he is.
Some of it works beautifully. Quite a bit doesn’t, to be honest. But it’s worth checking out if you’re a fan of WIP movies and don’t mind fun being made of the genre.
Posted on January 5th, 2019 at 4:28 pm. Updated on June 13th, 2019 at 3:23 pm.
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