Caged Heat (1974)

JONATHAN DEMME

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.  USA, 1974.  Artists Entertainment Complex, Renegade Women Company.  Screenplay by Jonathan Demme.  Cinematography by Tak Fujimoto.  Produced by Samuel W. Gelfman, Evelyn Purcell.  Music by John Cale.  Production Design by Eric Thiermann.  Costume Design by Deborah Paul.  Film Editing by Johanna Demetrakas, Michal Goldman, Carolyn Hicks.

Jonathan Demme makes his directorial debut with this shameless exploitation produced by Roger Corman. Set in a women’s prison, it centres its ensemble on Erica Gavin as a woman arrested for what appears to be attempted robbery, then sees her through the humiliations of prison life (which conveniently include a whole heck of a lot of breast-baring) under the watchful eye of superintendent Barbara Steele. When an outbreak of violence during field work detail results in Gavin escaping with her rival Juanita Brown, they hit the road to freedom until they decide to go back and save Roberta Collins from the cruel medical experimentation and sexual assault being performed upon her by the institution’s doctor. None of the acting is particularly good and most of the production value is shoddy, suffering from the conflicting visions of its director and producer: Corman is clearly pushing for more shameless indulgence of nudity and grindhouse stereotypes (Steele’s character is straight out of a Dario Argento movie) while Demme is aiming for a level of sincerity in his presentation of the grimy life in prison that this production can only sometimes accommodate.

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