Women In Cages (1971)

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Framed by her vicious drug-dealing boyfriend, Rudy, innocent Carol "Jeff" Jeffries finds herself behind bars in a dark Philippine prison somewhere in the lush jungles of Manila. There, always under the thumb of the sadistic lesbian warden, Alabama, Jeff comes face-to-face with the cruel reality and the extreme conditions of the hellish jail, forced to endure daily humiliation and brutal torture. In the past, many have tried to escape Alabama's horrible purgatory; however, all have failed. Can Jeff and the dirty inmates of Devil's Island pull off a brazen prison break? --IMDb
Judith Brown
Judith Brown
Roberta Collins
Roberta Collins
Jennifer Gan
Jennifer Gan
Pam Grier
Pam Grier
Bernard Bonnin
Bernard Bonnin
Review by Chad
Added: March 03, 2009
Most films require some degree of talent to make - that's the bombshell of the year, right? Well, you know what I mean: a horror flick has to be scary and / or gory and / or feature an antagonist that we will enjoy watching, while a comedy has to have good writing and actors who can make the material work. A documentary should educate us while also entertaining us to a certain extent, while a drama should make us feel something for the characters that we are watching. Women-in-prison flicks, on the other hand, require very little talent to make: head down to some third-world country, hire some locals to show off their breasts, rip off the storyline that dozens of filmmakers have used over the years, and you have yourself a movie that exploitation fans will enjoy. Throw in a cult actress or two and spice it up with some witty dialogue, and you've got something that is better than a solid fifty percent of the other releases. Yes, this is a genre that requires very little talent, so it always baffles me to no end when I stumble upon one that isn't even of average quality. That is the case with Women in Cages, a flick that was downright awful.

I could probably copy the plot synopsis from one of the other films in this genre and only have to change the names, but what the hell, let's go through the motions again. This time around, we meet up with Jeff (Jennifer Gan) and her mobster boyfriend at a cockfight, where said boyfriend receives a huge amount of heroin from one of his gangster buddies. However, the police step in and realize what's going on, so what's a man to do? Why, he stashes that shit in Jeff's purse, that's what. The authorities discover it and poor Jeff is soon sentenced to ten years of hard labor at a prison with a cruel warden and sadistic guards, yatta yatta yatta - look, you know how these damned things play out.

Her cellmates for this adventure include the drugged-out Stoke (Roberta Collins), the defiant Sandy (Judith M. Brown), and Alabama's Filipino playtoy / informant Theresa (Sofia Moran). Wait, Alabama who? Why, I forgot to mention that Pam Grier steps outside the bars for this film: instead of playing the token nonconformist prisoner, she's now one of those aforementioned sadistic guards. She's also a bit of a sucker for the ladies, but woe be to those who turn down her advances as she has a torture chamber stashed away below the compound where she takes the "bad girls" for punishment. Toss in some shower scenes and cavity searches, insert an escape plan, and cap it all off with the worst escape sequence in women-in-prison history, and you have the film known as Women in Cages.

One of the biggest issues here comes courtesy of leading lady Jennifer Gan. Now, I hate speaking ill of the dead, but the woman just wasn't very attractive, she apparently had a "no nudity" clause in her contract, she had zero charisma, and she couldn't act like she was smoking if she was doused in gasoline and set ablaze. Did I mention that she was the leading lady, and thus received most of the screen time? Look, I know that not every woman can be a supermodel and I realize that some don't want to "show the goods", but this is sort of a requirement for the genre - you can't take the leading role in, say, a porno with nothing in the looks department and a chip on your shoulder about showing your body. The two genres have their differences, naturally, but that is one thing that they definitely have in common.

I also mentioned that the woman couldn't act, and getting that statement out of me for one of these movies is actually sort of an accomplishment. You don't pick up this type of movie looking for award-winning character portrayals and you expect mediocre acting before you even push play. That's a given, but this woman... my word, this woman went beyond "horrible acting" and made her way deep into "Please, God, get her off of my screen" territory. Corman mainstays Roberta Collins and Judith Brown are acceptable in this regard, but they're not given much to work with as, again, Mrs. Gan eats up the vast majority of the screen time.

Going back to my original point, a storyline is not something that you go into these films looking for. Each of these movies borrows liberally from the handful of releases that pioneered the genre, so to single this one out because it does what basically every other film in the genre does would be unfair. What I will complain about, though, is the way that it's done here: it's just not much fun. The filmmakers obviously thought that they were making a legitimate film with original storylines, and it seems that they lost sight of what makes these movies enjoyable to begin with. The majority of the storyline (that is, the chunk that takes place inside the prison) is lackluster at best, and it just gets worse as they move on to their escape plans. I'll give them a thumbs up for the final twist, but otherwise, the entire escape sequence and aftermath was downright botched.

The lone saving grace here is Pam Grier as the nasty guard, and as much as it pains me to say it, even she isn't enough of a reason to pick this up. She's easily the highlight of the film, don't get me wrong, but something just seemed a little off about her - the Grier that we know and love was missing, and we got a woman who seemed to be going through the motions to get a check instead. I suppose that every actor and actress has that one movie that they'd like to erase from their filmography, and from my perspective, this is probably the one that Grier would pick if given the choice.

Overall, this is one to avoid even for fans of women-in-prison releases. I try not to fault movies for not bringing anything unique to the table (though that is certainly a huge perk), but to take a tried and true formula that requires minimal effort and completely drop the ball with it? It takes very little talent to make one of these movies, but it takes a load of talent to fuck it up. 3/10, and knock off, oh, I'd say about three points if you're not a fan of Mrs. Grier.
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