Fire burns in the wild eyes of a dangerous criminal mastermind, locked alone in a heavily guarded prison in an uncompromising film by Jonathan Demme. It's 1974's Caged Heat--later he made some movie called Silence of the Lambs that I guess had one or two points in common. Unlike cinema's introduction of Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter, Caged Heat is an exploitation film of the Women in Prison genre, and really not the best of that genre. It's filled with lousy performances and mostly shapeless humour. But it does have some interesting ideas from Demme in composition and editing and, of course, gratuitous shots of beautiful naked women.
For those who wonder how I choose the films I watch, I use a variety of methods, mostly films just seem to pile up from my idle wonderings. Often I choose films because they're made by someone or star someone whom I liked in another film. In this case, Caged Heat was produced by Haunted Palace director Roger Cormen, it features Cheryl "Rainbeaux" Smith from Lemora in a supporting role (pictured at left above), and it has Barbara Steele whom I saw recently in The Curse of the Crimson Altar. Which film led me to Caged Heat? I don't remember.
Steele easily gives the best performance in the film as the fastidious prison warden McQueen. Mostly she lectures the inmates but she has a dream where she gives a burlesque performance for them instead, one of the bits of humour that doesn't connect at all, but I guess it was mainly to get some cheesecake mileage out of Steele who spends most of the movie in a wheelchair in conservative dress.
The movie centres on the new prisoner, Jackie Wilson, played by Erica Gavin who, aside from her large, beautiful breasts, doesn't seem to have any assets, certainly not in acting ability. Rainbeaux is a little better, though slightly somnambulant. A scene where she's locked in solitary for something she didn't do turns out to be one of the rare effective bits of humour as she kicks the door and jumps up and down because she's hurt her toe.
Of course, there's nothing about this movie to suggest a realistic prison situation. Only random prisoners wear uniforms and most of the time the cells are open and everyone's casually smoking, playing cards or dice, or doing each others' hair, like some kind of big, mildly BDSM slumber party. At one point Jackie and another prisoner successfully make a break for it, one of two chase scenes Demme sets up rather well. They hide out at a friend's place of business:
Oh, I almost forgot to mention, the soundtrack is by John Cale of all people. It's pretty good.
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