Chained Heat (1983)

DVD Cover (UK)
Genres: Prison Film, Sexploitation, Women In Prison
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Paul Nicholas Paul Nicholas
Linda Blair Linda Blair
John Vernon John Vernon
Sybil Danning Sybil Danning
Tamara Dobson Tamara Dobson
Stella Stevens Stella Stevens

5.0 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by Chad
Added: March 19, 2009
If you've been following the site for the last couple of weeks, you've probably noticed that I've been taking a fond look back at the women-in-prison genre. I'm coming to the end of my little streak here courtesy of a nice case of burnout due to the monotony of these films, but I couldn't put an end to it without covering the most well-known release of them all: Chained Heat, a film that would go on to spawn eleven sequels and put more than a couple of asses in seats with the promise of Linda Blair's first nude scene. Toss in a handful of other recognizable names, add every little plot device that had been done in the previous genre flicks, and you've got yourself a winner... right? Well, not really.

As is always the case, we begin with a young lady named Carol (Linda Blair) who winds up in jail for an accident that a judge labeled as a crime - she "accidentally" killed a man, if you can believe that. She soon finds a friend in Val (Sharon Hughes), but she will need more than a mere friend once she sees what's going on inside these walls. Warden Bacman (John Vernon) is selling drugs and making porno tapes with the prisoners, Captain Taylor (Stella Stevens) is running a competing drug trade and pimping the girls to rich men on the outside, the guards make money by allowing the women to be raped in solitary, and of course, there's two rival gangs that are constantly at each other's throats. These aren't just your run-of-the-mill gangs, either: there's a group of white girls led by Ericka (Sybil Danning), and there's also a group of black girls led by Dutchess (Tamara Dobson). Yeah, it's something of a race war in here, and needless to say, more than a few bodies hit the floor with all of this going on. Will poor Carol be able to find a way out of this madhouse? Whose bitch will she become? Will John Vernon trade in the warden job for a handheld camera and a stack of condoms? There's only one way to find out.

As mentioned, this is certainly the most well-known release to come out of the women-in-prison genre, but it's not because of its quality. It's not a horrible film, don't get me wrong, but if the cast had been rounded out with lesser names, it wouldn't have received half of the attention that it did. One of the biggest things working against it is the fact that it was just a little late to the party, and by "a little late", I mean that it came out well over a decade after the genre had begun spawning films on a consistent basis. There were a handful of classics in the genre alongside countless imitators, all of which used the same plot devices and clichéd characters, so to pull a chair up to that table a decade late would be a challenge for any filmmaker.

Obviously, this little fact isn't damning in and of itself; the zombie genre really found its groove in the seventies, and there are still movies being produced to this day that feature the walking dead. As long as a filmmaker can take the basics of the genre and do something fresh and new with it, the final product is sure to find some sort of an audience. The boys responsible for Chained Heat failed to heed this advice, and the only thing that they brought to the table was a handful of notes from the pioneers of the genre and some big names.

I've mentioned this before in my other reviews for films from the genre, but I'm going to go ahead and repeat myself by saying that you don't pick up a women-in-prison flick for creative storylines. You start with a pitiful / innocent young girl, insert a cruel / corrupt warden, toss in some sadistic / lesbian guards, and spice it up with plenty of shower scenes and catfights: that's the basic outline for a solid ninety-nine percent of the movies in the genre. However, most filmmakers attempted to add that one little hook that would differentiate their film from all of the others, and that is where Chained Heat fails.

It's not that they didn't try, I'm going to have to give them credit for that. We have competing drug dealers, not one but two prostitution rings, high-profile murders, a pornography peddler, a race war, and various other subplots that weave in and out of the storyline. Herein lies the problem: I just said that "most filmmakers attempted to add that one little hook", and the key word there is one - two, maybe three if they were especially crafty. Here, we're treated to damned near every hook that had ever been attempted throughout the history of the genre, and the result is something along the lines of an entire decade of films wrapped up in one ninety-minute package. Had they simply picked one or two of those "hooks" and ran with them, the film would have worked out so much better; instead, we get ten or eleven subplots that are seemingly there for the sake of padding out the running time. Things happen with little rhyme or reason, plot devices pop up for a minute or two only to be forgotten for the rest of the film, and the entire affair feels like more of a clip-show than a legitimate movie.

With the complaints out of the way, I did say that the film wasn't downright horrible, and I'm going to stand by that. If you're a fan of women-in-prison flicks, then yes, you will probably somewhat enjoy this one. All of the elements that go into making one of those films work are on display here (and I do mean all of them), so if you just want to see some titties and a couple of catfights, then yes, you'll get that from Chained Heat. The three big names - Blair, Vernon, and Danning - are all enjoyable to watch regardless of how good or bad their acting may be, and even though the plot is all over the place, I can't say that I fast-forwarded through any of it. It's just a shame that the film didn't top any of the classics in the genre, and in fact, it really didn't even come close to comparing to them.

So, here's the deal: if you want a women-in-prison flick and you require reasonably well-known actors, pick this one up. If you're a huge fan of the genre, give this one a shot. If, however, you simply want to see a good representation of the genre, start with the Jack Hill releases and the other pioneers. None of them are high art, but some are simply more entertaining than others. 5/10.
Tristan #1: Tristan - added 03/19/2009, 10:49 PM
Really liked this one. One of the better WIP films around.

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