The once beloved word Grindhouse has been so overused as of late when it comes to cult film that it is all but meaningless. Does it refer to the time period of the seventies before the mandatory “R” rating of all modern day film, where nasty, hyper-sexualized violent movies played in double and triple features in small filthy theatres or small town drive-ins? Does it refer to the Planet Terror/Death-Proof double feature by Rodriquez and Tarantino, which sought to reclaim the authentic feel of a double feature from long ago by using stressed film, fake trailers, and a finished hardcore product which still packaged the same tame lame MANDATORY R-rated viewing experience that might as well have been filmed on digital all along? Whatever the true, “according to Hoyle” meaning of grindhouse, Full Moon has recently released an ongoing series of movies which, hopefully, will reintroduce this overused phrase to a whole new generation of moviegoers, most of whom won’t remember when it actually meant something.
It hardly ever happens this way, but this is a rare moment that I have a film that lives up to the title concept, letter perfect. Let me run CAGED WOMEN through the premise checklist one more time just to be sure. Does it have WOMEN? Check; it features all sorts of lovely ladies that one would want to see naked, which, fortunately they often are. Are they CAGED? Check. These poor, poor dears are locked up for a litany of trumped up charges atop a remote mountain fortress prison which can only be accessed by helicopter. As the warden of women-in-prison movies, let me just say that this particularly naughty film will end up “locked away” like all women incarceration films I have judged before it; forever kept in a secure place filed alphabetically between BARBED WIRE DOLLS and CHAINED HEAT, where I can watch them closely (for the good of society, of course).
For those of you uptight folks who have never seen a women’s prison movie before, be prepared to be shocked and horrified as I describe the threadbare plot. For all others, let it be said that that it has the same eight easy elements that go into a prison film that connoisseurs of this particular subgenre of sleaze all but riot for: Naked Women, Shower Scenes, Violent Uprisings, Predatory Lesbian Guards, Evil Prison Hierarchies, Secret Criminal Enterprises, Punishment as Sex, Sex as Punishment, Sex as Sex! It also has the ninth intangible x-factor that most W.I.P. films simply cannot get right, and, by that, I mean it is so perfectly insane and impossibly abstract that you don’t feel guilty for enjoying all the other terrible elements even if, on the inside, you’re a closet liberal who loves and respects women as equals. Just always remember not to ever actually tell any of the women in your life that, or they will surely mistake your chivalry for weakness, and mutiny/riot/escape with all the ferocity of one of the female protagonists of one of these films because, truth be told, chicks dig lost souls with bad habits (or so I’m told).
Disclaimer and unsolicited relationship advice aside, here is the run down on this film. Janet Cooper is a statuesque brunette with a perfect body who travels the world in search of adventure. During a slight layover in a backwoods third world country, she makes the mistake of traveling alone, checking into the wrong hotel, rebuffing the advances of a corrupt sheriff named Sgt. Flores, and, essentially, acting “as big as she pleases” in a part of the world where “liberation” of any kind has no meaning. She does have the good sense to have a passionate one night stand with a nice man named Frank, who rescues her from the bad government official – an impetuous torrid act that may have ultimately saved her life (if not the first twenty minutes of this film). Of course, because law and order are neither and nor in these films, the government official return the next day and arrest Janet over obviously falsified drug possession charges, and she is soon transferred to the local prison.
I hate to make a big deal of a certain visual nuance because it sounds so adolescent, but it should be stated that, once she is incarcerated, Jennifer will be (full-frontal) naked for the remainder of the film, unlike the first twenty minutes of the where she is completely clothed at all times except for her lengthy, unrated, sponge bathing sequence and lurid sex scene. So please adjust your V-chips accordingly.
From there this thing hits its stride in a symphony of savagery and silliness. She meets many new exciting friends on her vacation-turned-incarceration, including a lesbian prison guard named Gerda, who punishes wayward women by threatening them with severe punishment and then by ultimately chaining them to a giant wooden X so she can joylessly and mechanically fondle their breasts. No, dear God, anything but that! She also meets a man named Captain Juan, the sleazy prison honcho who inspects all the girls personally, ultimately offering them up for sale for any tourist who can afford one (and yet all I got when I got when I went to Central America was this stupid T-shirt).
Yet, admittedly, even Captain Juan isn’t all bad; there is one scene where he actually refunds the money to the men who bought Janet and her friend Louise because they kicked the bad men in the groin when they tried to rape them in a locked cell. Because, like, what else could he do? That’s something you don’t see too much from an evil criminal kingpin in movies like this; adherence to the tenets of polite customer service. Of course Captain Juan does get some payback for this unthinkable lack of respect from his two hottest comfort women; he strips them completely naked (for the third time) and locks them in a cage outside on a hot day allowing them no water whatsoever, and forcing them to subsist by licking the sweat off each other’s naked bodies. Now let me be the first to say that that, from a purely survivalist perspective, that unlike drinking urine, the licking of sweat off someone else’s another’s body would only lead to further dehydration, heat exhaustion, certain madness, and death. But as a cult film reviewer of B movie offal let me say that this savvy survival trick somehow worked (hells yeah it did).
Meanwhile, Frank wonders whatever happened to Janet. Thankfully his job as the sole helicopter mechanic on the island makes him responsible for maintaining the only mode of transportation which will efficiently carry scores of locals up to the island fortress to continually rape his girlfriend. While this admittedly seems like a severe example of the “working man’s blues”, thankfully Frank has the wherewithal to pose as a pilot and mount a rescue. Meanwhile, Captain Juan, that corrupt, deranged honcho, has grown tired of his brothel full of temperamental women, and has changed up his business...into a game of death! Now visitors to the island no longer pay to spend the night with a woman; they pay to stalk them through the jungle. Of course, weapons are not only encouraged, but provided. Never has the phrase “hunt for a mate” been so fraught with peril or punctuated by gunfire.
Spoiler Alert: The ending of this thing is cult movie Babylon. Frank, Janet and her sweaty friend Louise all fly to safety in a stolen helicopter having a three-way. Had they crashed into the mountain at once, I have to say that I would still have envied Frank and loved this film no less. Indeed, it would be one of the most badass endings to a woman-in-prison film one could conjure up.
Restored from the long lost English print by having 21 minutes of objectionable lost footage restored, this is a brilliant cacophony of stupid sexy savagery that should appeal to devotees of this sub-genre and has all the sequentially right (and morally wrong) scenes you might expect. I have to give it a four because you have to be a prison movie junkie to truly appreciate the little nuances of this, but if you are, these caged women truly captivate.
Extras include a selection of trailers and that same stale old tired intro where Charles Band tells you what “Grindhouse” means, once and for all. Or better yet you can just watch this film. Despite the fact it was released in 1991 which is a little late for that shamelessly overused adjective, this film is the epitome of what I like to call the “Majesty of Tragedy”, a factor in a cult film that never fails to delight regardless of era.