Thursday, September 6, 2012

Schoolgirls in Chains (Donald M. Jones, 1973)

In the early morning hours, I often to think to myself: I need to get my shit together–you know, put up some shelves, go on more bike rides, etc. As I'm thinking these productive thoughts, my mind usually wanders into territory I'd prefer that it didn't. Most recently, it's started to openly bemoan the fact that there aren't more movies like The Sinful Dwarf floating around out there. I don't feel so bad about this, because, hey, let's be honest, don't we all wish there were more movies like The Sinful Dwarf? What do you mean not everyone is wishing for that? Seriously? You mean to tell me there are people out there who would rather to watch L'Avventura than The Sinful Dwarf?  Normally, I would say, "To each his own" or its less bias cousin, "To each their own," to all the naysayers out there. But since I have recently come down with an immense dislike for that expression, I'll just say, your opinion is stupid, and walk away. Okay, what was the point I was originally starting to make? Oh yeah, I was blathering on about how there should be more movies like The Sinful Dwarf, the little person exploitation classic from Denmark starring the shapely Miss Anne Sparrow and the wonderfully demented Torben Bille. While I'm not sure who came up with the whole cellar/attic sex slave motif  first, it's safe say that Schoolgirls in Chains (a.k.a. Girls in Chains) is the unlawful confinement movie I've been patiently waiting for. It just dawned on me that, before I go any further, I feel I should state the following: The majority of the heinous acts carried out by the characters in this film do not in any way, shape or form reflect the views of the House of Self-Indulgence or its many affiliates; and, yes, even the pervert who runs Radioactive Lingerie. Whew, I'm glad I got that off my chest. Now, let's dissect us some sleaze, shall we?
Opening with the creepy doll montage to end all creepy doll montages, the film, written and directed by Don Jones, takes us into the mind of a couple of real...Wait a minute. Did you just say, "doll montage"? Oh, boy. Here we go. Yes, I said, "doll montage." Don't tell me, you have a thing for dolls? What a shocker? What do you have against dolls? Nothing. It's just that you weirdos and your fixation with dolls never fails to give me a severe case of the willies. Why can't you be into more regular stuff? You know, like, the films of Whit Stillman or Batwoman comic books? (Which reminds me, why isn't there a Batwoman movie?!? I mean, who gives a shit about a bat man? I might as well just rent a bunch of easily to digest gay porn.) The dolls, man. Focus on the dolls! Yikes! Sorry about that. You could say the doll montage is a reflection of the character's inability to grow up, much like Leonardo DiCaprio's inability to grow a mustache. Ooh, I like that. You know what? Forget about "you could say," I will say that. Look at me! I just made a salient point. 
What struck immediately after the creepy doll montage had finished was how much the relationship between Frank Barrows (Gary Kent) and Johnny Barrows (John Parker) reminded me of Gabi Delgado-López and Robert Görl from Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft. Except, unlike the D.A.F. boys, who are brothers from a different mother, these brothers have the same mother. A manipulative hosebeast who treats one grown son like he were a lover and the other as if he were an eight year-old with male pattern baldness, Mother Barrows (Greta Gaylord) has somehow managed to convince her boys that all women are evil.
After giving him a haircut, Frank takes Johnny, who, judging by his torn overalls, is mildly retarded (overalls on an adult + missing teeth = moderate to severe retardation), out for a spin in his menacing-looking black 1953 Packard Clipper Deluxe. However, this isn't you average joyride. Uh-uh. They're looking for something. And by the looks of it, they have found what they're looking for in the form of a woman in brownish slacks. Standing beside her olive hatchback parked by the side of the road, it would seem that Sue (Merrie Lynn Ross) is having a bit of car trouble. Noticing this, Frank pulls over to pretend to lend a hand to the blonde woman who is not only wearing brownish slacks, but a red sweater as well (I know, what an amazing ensemble). Offering to drive her to see a mechanic friend of his, Sue, without hesitation, gets in his car.
Realizing something is fishy right from the get-go, Sue starts to question Frank as to where it is he is taking her. Proving that he is a filmmaker to be reckon with, Don Jones shoots the lumbering Packard as it hurls down a dirt road from a number of different angles. The shots of the car, on top of giving the proceedings an added sense of dread, were, to put be bluntly, downright cool. Tired of hiding in the backseat, Johnny decides to make his presence felt. The combination of Frank's sinister coyness and Johnny's imbecilic cackling is what probably caused Sue to make a run for it. That, and they were stopped at a railroad crossing. Running alongside a freight train, Sue barely makes it twenty feet before being caught by Johnny, who is surprisingly fast for an uncoordinated half-wit.
Unceremoniously dumped in the fruit cellar located underneath their lovely home, which is next to an apple orchard, Sue meets her cellar-mates, Ginger (Suzanne Lund), a leggy brunette who's been down there for at least two weeks, and Stevie (T.R. Blackburn), a sickly blonde who has clocked somewhere around two months of fruit cellar time. Two months, you say? No wonder she's sickly.
Itching to play with his new toy, Johnny, not before asking his mother if it's okay, puts a dog collar on Sue and takes her for a walk. Well, he was supposed to play inside the house, but Sue persuades him to take her to the orchard to play. Expecting trouble, Frank grabs his shotgun and follows them. And he's right, Sue takes off running while playing a game of hide and go seek. Of course, the simple-minded Johnny has no idea Sue is trying to escape, but Frank knows better.
While the shelf life of your average playmate/sex slave may vary, the need to replenish the ranks has to always be in the back of the minds of the people in charge of its upkeep. As everyone knows, cellar-based slavery rings are the hardest slavery rings to keep afloat in today's unstable housing market. Though, to be fair, this film does take place in the early 1970s. In other words, the cellar-based slavery ring market was booming, as every home had at least three women held against their will somewhere on their property. Whether it be a dank fruit cellar or a creaky attic, you better believe there are leggy and not-so leggy women languishing in their own filth in that quaint-looking house at the end of the block.
On the lookout for a new playmate, Johnny is quite taken with Bonnie (Cheryl Waters), a young woman attending university. I'm going to guess she's a psychology major, because as Johnny is watching her, she's in the process of having sexual relations with Robert Matthews, her psychology professor.
Clearly excited by the sight of Bonnie canoodling in a pair of deadly serious white panties, Johnny heads home to play with Stevie. Only problem is, she's not up for it (she's very sick). As his repeated cries of, "Wanna play, wanna play"? begin to echo through the fruit cellar, Ginger decides to sub for Stevie. Using a wire hanger as a makeshift stethoscope, Johnny proceeds to examine Ginger. While Stevie watches, with what best could be described as bemused indifference, Johnny gives Ginger a fake shot to the buttocks (perverts will notice that some slight jiggling occurs when Johnny applies the fake rubbing alcohol to the area of the buttocks he's about to fake inject). In terms of unpleasantness, this is the film's second most unpleasant scene.
Which leads me to the film's most unpleasant, which, of course, is the parlour room rape scene. It doesn't start off that bad, as we get our first glimpse of the gorgeous Suzanne Lund in the light of day (the boys hit pay dirt when they found her). Sure, her hair is a mess (you try looking easy, breezy, beautiful, confined to a mirrorless fruit cellar for two weeks), but her legs look amazing in a non-cellar-like environment (the lack of sunlight of caused them to look extra creamy).
Anyway, during a moment of post-rape serenity, Frank tells Ginger all about the unorthodox relationship he has with his mother. In terms of drama, the film's most effective scene is one where we flashback to the time when Frank introduces Jane (Mady Maguire), the woman he plans to marry, to his mother in her garden (mom is chain smoking while wearing a pink dress). Poisoning their relationship almost immediately, Greta Gaylord, who seems to be channeling Susan Tyrrell (Forbidden Zone) and Audra Lindley (Mrs. Roper from TV's Three's Company), plants multiple seeds of doubt in Jane's head; most involving incest. If you stop looking at Jane's head for a second, and scan down her lithesome frame, you'll notice she's wearing a pleated skirt. Why are you telling me this? No reason, I just thought you'd like to know that her skirt was pleated. 
According to mom, "All pretty girls are evil. They should be caged. And shouldn't be allowed to come between a boy and his mother." A still leggy Ginger tries to convince Frank that she isn't evil, but it would seem that her mother's anti-hot chick philosophy is holding firm.
The need to provide Johnny with a new playmate is what dominates the film's final third, as Johnny enlists the help of his brother to abduct Bonnie. However, they have no idea what a pickle of a diaper they're about to get themselves into, as Bonnie isn't your average cellar dweller. Now, I don't want to call Bonnie a "bad ass" or even a "master strategist," for that matter (after all, how hard is it to outwit a half-wit?), but she is one tough monkey. It's true, her psychology professor boyfriend does eventually come to the rescue, but Bonnie does most of the heavy lifting.
As their weird world begins to crumble around them, it dawned on me that Schoolgirls in Chains is actually a pretty effective thriller. Yeah, it's grimy and obscene in places. But I was surprised by the level of artistry at work here, as not only is the directing top-notch (the director throws a number of unexpected camera tricks at us), the acting is solid as well. Meaning, if you're fan of exploitation films that contain elements that don't make you feel guilty for having watched them, than you can't do better than Schoolgirls in Chains. Well, actually, that's not entirely true, as there a hundreds of films better than Schoolgirls in Chains. What I think I'm trying to say is, if you like exploitation films, but aren't that big on excessive violence and gore, you should give this flick a look-see.

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  1. Goddamn! That was a long review for such a pointless and unsatisfying movie! Nice job!!

  2. Haha! Mr. Xploit's comment is hysterical... and true!

    Great review though, seriously.

  3. This one has been languishing low in my Netflix queue for months now. Time to take my medicine, I guess, so moving it to the top. :-)

  4. @Mr. Xploit, Esquire and Kev D.: Thanks, guys.

    This review is actually an abridged version. ;)

    @Darius Whiteplume: Languishing, eh? That's pretty ironic, don't you think? You know, because the characters spend so much time languishing in that damned cellar.

  5. Netflix has this as just "Girls in Chains."

    Not that I look for films like this or anything . . . of course . . . I mean what good girl looks at THESES kind of films? Cough Cough

  6. Entertaining as always. The plot sounds a lot like the demented Mother's Day (1980). You might want to check that one out. I think one of the retard sons even wears bib overalls as well.