Oh yeah, all my Christmases have just come at once – four W.I.P. Roger Corman productions in one box! Break out the cold spoons honey I’m gonna need ‘em. Corman takes the tried and true formula of the innocent gal sent to priz and amps up the violence, nudity, stupidity and fun with these drive in classics. With groovy 70s chicks, bamboo cages, tiny outfits, lots of Asian extras who seem to be doing their best to keep a straight face, mud wrasslin’, sadistic prison guards, food fights, sexual perversions and wonderful hair he really couldn’t go wrong…
BIG DOLL HOUSE (1971)
Directed by Corman stalwart and Jack Hill in the sunny climes of the Philippines, kicked off the trend and this series. A sweet young thing, played by Judy Brown who can’t act fer shit but is quick to get her top off, is sent to a prison somewhere in Asia though we never quite know where and locked up with Pam Grier (playing Grear? Maybe she had trouble with names) and a coupla other top sorts like Roberta Collins and introduced to the harsh realities of prison life in this unnamed Asian hellhole. Like drab orange clobber, bamboo cages hanging on the portals, snakes, a kind but ineffectual doctor (who at least gets a regular eyeful – tough job) good shampoo, (well I kinda figured that last one by myself cos everyone has lovely hair despite the conditions) and then there’s Sid Haig and his mate who seem to own the concession stand and make for a fine comedy duo in their search for poontang. What, they couldn’t get any on the outside? Throw in a revolutionary chick, a warden with sadistic intentions and a nice wrasslin’ mask, gratuitous shower scenes (though personally I never consider shower scenes gratuitous), whippings, torture, electric booby shockers!, mud wrasslin’, Grier turning out to be a snitch, a failed escape, Haig’s continuing comedy routine and you got a winner. Pity most of the gals die but at least Haig finally gets laid. Sure it’s dumb, half the cast can’t act to save themselves, the characters are cardboard and we don’t really care about them – so, what’s your point?? It’s funny, dirty, violent, actually paced quite well, dumber than a roomful o’ backbench liberals and you can get up and get yourself a beer and still not miss too much of the plot. Now that’s what a drive-in movie is supposed to be!
WOMEN IN CAGES (1971)
Directed by Gerry De Leon, seems to be the movie they made the next day when they still had some time left before the flights home. Virtually the same cast members, same locale, same weather, same truck even! Except this time Grier plays a sadistic prison guard called Alabama and the innocent gal, Jennifer Gan, can’t act, has no sex appeal and has that whiney face that your first girlfriend had when she told you it tasted disgusting. Oh, and the prison outfits are hot pink now instead of drab orange and just a little shorter. Collins is back as is Brown, only this time Brown is the gal who knows it all. Well, sort of… Grier has a torture chamber downstairs this time too, which includes some weird and wonderful items that have to be seen to be believed. The innocent gal is there cos her boyfriend stitched her up with some drugs so he wouldn’t get caught. Sound familiar? I reckon all girls leaving Australia for Asian destinations should have to watch this film before they go. They might learn not to trust those sweet, charming guys who take them to cockfights and have no visible means of support but lots of money and nice suits. Anyway, the boyfriend wants her dead, Collins plays a junkie who attempts rather badly to kill her and the cops meanwhile are trying to stitch the boyfriend up and there’s an escape and Alabama gets hers rather nastily from a pack of bounty hunters, the gals get on a ship and are forced into prostitution and then the cop comes to the rescue and the good gal gets saved and the junkie is left on the boat to fuck her debt away. This one don’t have half the drive of Big Doll House and it leaves a nasty taste in yer mouth (just like that first girlfriend said it would)… obviously Jack Hill was a much better director than a lot of people give him credit for. Even exploitation needs some sort of guidance. Still, as a first feature on a double bill this would do while you got the beer cold and the girl hot. And the shampoo is still first rate.
BIG BIRD CAGE (1972)
With Jack Hill back at the helm and Anita Ford (The Longest Yard) as the not so innocent gal who gets locked up it’s all fun again. Rather than a fortress this time round we get the plantation with bamboo huts, straw roofs, a big grinding mill, coconuts and two gay guards, Tweedledee and Tweedledum who camp it up to the max. The safari suited warden complete with bad European accent has no idea what’s going on but that’s ok, neither do we half the time. Pam Grier and Sid Haig are back on board too but this time they’re a coupla revolutionaries and a damn good comedy act besides. The honey I’m home routine where Haig gets attacked by Grier with a knife and defends himself with a chook is a barrel of cheap laughs as is his comrades response to watching the hut rockin’ (if its rockin’ don’t bother knockin’) when Grier and Haig kiss and make up. The revolutionaries, well, okay, the ones who aren’t getting any from Pammy, decide that their first revolutionary act should be to liberate the (female) prisoners from their terrible conditions so Pam is sent in undercover as a prisoner to get things set up. Sid then plays up to Tweedledee and camps his way into a job as a guard. Of course, when Pam arrives she has to play it tough and set herself up as top dog which means we get catfights and mud wrasslin’ (staple of any good WIP flick). As well there’s the usual snitching, nudity, shower scenes, a weird ass naked greased up Amazon blonde running through the jungle, a failed coup, Haig’s wonderful gay guard stint, an escape, lots of guns and violence but for a change the good gal (if you can call a slutty humper like Ford a good gal) gets away to fight another day. Oh and Tweedledee gets raped by the gals. How’s that for fair-play? This one’s a keeper. It’s funnier, sillier, not half as bleak or as dark as some of the other films in the genre and Sid Haig is a master of timing. Oh and yes, the shampoo concession still does well. How do they manage it?
THE ARENA (1973)
Steve Carver brings us this baby. Not your standard WIP flick, this time we’re in a Roman sandal scandal where the gals are being kept as slaves by some buggerer who buys them from the auction stand and sets them to work at the villa. No bamboo cages here but it still has all the other shit. The innocent gal is Bodecia of Brittany! (Margaret Markov) and damn is she hot! Pity about the tan lines. Pammy makes her appearance as the dusky Mamawi from Nubea or somewhere like that and then there’s a fallen Roman bint and a drunk babe and some other part timers who are just there to get em out. All of them I think have been arrested for sultana smuggling but it doesn’t stop them, oh no, Bodecia in particular seems to need a hell of a lot of them and is always trying to smuggle them out. Of course even in Rome you needed a good hose down and delousing and then there’s a tough bitch to push them around, and an orgy scene where Pam shakes her thing like its Saturday Night in down town Harlem and blokes look all sweaty and wave swords around. The story as such, is that the locals have grown bored of the entertainment, which is mainly watching blokes kill each other in the coliseum while they get pissed in the stands, sorta like watching Collingwood Vs Carlton, only the Romans dressed better, and they need new entertainment. After a food fight breaks out in the kitchen the emperor/boss/ fat bastard who runs things decides to let the women fight in the arena and arranges for his head trainer, Septimus to get the gals up to speed with the swords and the nets and the right way to tie your outfit up so your sultana smuggling ways are more obvious, even to the drunk Collingwood supporter way up in the nosebleed section of the stand. Anyway, Septimus is pussy struck by one of the smugglers, Lucinia but she has to fight. In a scene that actually builds up some real tension we watch as Mamawi has to make the choice whether to kill Lucinia after their battle, the fat bastard having given her the thumbs down or whether to risk being cut down by the archers who line the arena. Of course, Lucinia gets the chop and Septimus loses his mind, thus ruining a planned escape by the remaining gals. Mamawi and Bodecia then have to fight each other in the arena but turn on the fat bastard and his mates. The gladiator blokes join in, the fat bastard and his cronies (Sanctimonius, Bitch Slappius, Gaybobius & Stonedoffhisgordius) are dragged into the arena and killed and the crowd loves it! It’s the most entertainment they’ve had since the famous bloodbaths of the early 80s when Hawthorn and that Brereton bastard were on the field. The gals and guys make their escape in a pitched battle with various Eyetalian extras and there’s lots of blood and sweaty men and fighting women and the good gals get away and the bad guys get the chop and they all live happily ever after. Ok, I made that last bit up. You’ll have to watch it to see what happens. An epic film made on a piss poor budget unfortunately means that the fight scenes and the whole sandal scandal experience does tend to lack something, like atmosphere and a crowd but hell they at least had enough money in the budget for, you guessed it… good shampoo. Margaret’s sultana smuggling just about makes it all worthwhile anyway. Pity she didn’t make more films.
Of course, no DVD pack is complete without extras these days and this one has a coupla good ‘uns. A short Roger Corman interview with that smarmy Leonard Maltin (how come no one has hit him yet?) gives us an insight into how the Big Doll House all came about as well as a quick look at some of his other stuff. Jack Hill gives audio commentaries on his two flicks (though I gotta admit that kinda stuff pisses me off. I want to hear the flick not the guy in the back seat tellin’ me what’s goin’ on. I had a mate like that, we used to hit him and lock him in the boot!) but the big extra is the doco Baadassssss Cinema – a great look at ’70s Blaxploitation Cinema that I guess fits in here because of Pam Grier. You get Shaft, Super Fly, Coffy, Blacula plus Pammy, Samuel Jackson, Fred Williamson and the Kylie of the movie world, Quentin Tarantino – who dresses like a dick too, I mean come on, a beret? As Fred put it when talking about Jackie Brown, Tarantino’s homage to Blaxploitation – “Homage? Ain’t that when they step over me in the gutter and say hey look its Fred Williamson.” The best part though are the smarmy types trying to justify the films as some sort of political movement… you can say it all you want but hell, they were dumb ass good ol’ exploitation movies – colour don’t matter at the drive in. And the footage of Isaac Hayes in the studio is priceless. Damn but that guy looked cooler than anyone on the big screen and he was just at work!
- Image Gallery
- Umbrella Trailers
- Two audio commentaries by Director Jack Hill
- Interview with Roger Corman by Leonard Maltin
- Baadasssss Cinema – 60 minute documentary on 70s blaxploitation cinema
DIRECTOR(S): Jack Hill / Steve Carter | COUNTRY: USA | YEAR 1970 | DISTRIBUTOR(S): Umbrella Entertainment | RUNNING TIME: 350 minutes | ASPECT RATIO: 4:3 | REGION: 0 | DISCS: 4