Thursday, January 5, 2012

Chained Heat (Paul Nicholas, 1983)

My fragile grip on reality suffers another blow, as I find myself yet again under the drably attired spell of a women in prison film. It's gotten so bad, that every time the WiP movie I'm watching decides to leave the walls of the prison, the sebaceous cysts that litter my back feel like they're going to simultaneously explode. Of course, you could avert this pus-laden calamity by steering clear of the genre altogether. You have got to be kidding, right? And miss the opportunity to watch Linda Blair (Hell Night) and Sybil Danning (They're Playing with Fire) play inmates at a prison where John Vernon (Savage Streets) plays a hot-tubbing warden who likes to dabble in amateur pornography and Henry Silva (Megaforce) is a drug dealing pimp with a thing for fortysomething women who like to wear grey slacks? I don't think so. If you catch me watching Chained Heat II, then you'll definitely know I have a problem. Hell, I'll even check myself into rehab. But until then, let me enjoy my sleazy movies, I'm not hurting anyone. Spoken like a true addict. These films are not only rotting your brain, they're ruining your outlook on life. Remember that attractive woman you were telling me about? Yeah, the one you saw in the bookstore the other day. Well, do you recall what you told me the first thing that sprang to mind when you saw her coquettishly standing in the cookbook section? If memory serves me correctly, and it usually always does, the image of her fighting a group of unruly lesbians in the shower of a poorly run correctional facility was the first thing that popped into my head. You see, that right there, that's not even close to being normal. In fact, it's totally fucked up if you ask me. You used to be so well-adjusted, but now you're just creepy and sad. Really, you haven't imagined what total strangers might look like if they were to take part in a prison shower fight? Of course, I have. But that's not the point. My thoughts, unlike yours, aren't limited to shower fights. I think about wind surfing, crochet, antique furniture, cycling, and misappropriated anilingus. What you need to do is expand your horizons. Run a marathon, take kayaking lessons, read The Help, buy an electric toothbrush. In other words, branch out and embrace the non-prison shower fighting beauty of this world.

Is it okay if I write an obsessively wordy tangent about this particular movie? Like I said, it's got Linda Blair in it. Since you have already started, you might as well finish it. And besides, I'm dying to know what you thought about Marcia Karr's legs; word on the street is that they're killer in this flick.

You know how the sound of church bells ringing beckon the faithful, and how the laughter coming from a child's chocolate-stained laugh hole makes the elderly smile? (Ugh, just typing that gave me a yeast infection.) Well, the sound of keys jingling, prison bars slamming, women screaming, and nightsticks being purposely knocked against metal are what cheer me up when I'm down in the dumps. On a related note, do you know how some people like to sleep with those noise machine thingies by their bed? Yeah, well, if I was in charge of designing those "thingies," I would add "women's prison" to the list of available sounds. In fact, I'd slap that puppy right between "rainforest" and "white noise."

Informing us right from the get-go that the unnamed women's prison located on the banks of the L.A. River is no afternoon picnic with bass player from Fashion, Chained Heat opens on a blonde prisoner who seems to be at the end of her tether. How do I know this? Well, for one thing, she's sitting in the foetal position, and you don't have to be a body language expert to figure out that people who sit like that aren't exactly the happiest of campers. Tired of being raped by a guard named Stone (Robert Miano), Susie (Jonna Lee) decides to put a stop to his raping ways by pulling a gun on him. Unfortunately, she doesn't get very far, as she is blown away by a series of shotgun blasts.

The sole purpose of this little vignette is to show what kind of hell Carol Henderson (Linda Blair) is getting herself into. A so-called "prison virgin," Carol is on her way to serve an eighteen month sentence for vehicular manslaughter. Luckily, Carol happens to be sitting next to Val (Sharon Hughes) during the van ride over. A veteran of the California penal system, Val decides to look out for Carol, whose innocent demenour is no match for the hardened criminals who populate this supposedly overcrowded prison (overcrowded my ass, there are never more than twelve inmates onscreen at any given moment). As Carol, Val, and two others, Blue Eyes (Jody Medford) and a "TV freak" named Bubbles (Louisa Moritz) wait to be processed, we're introduced to some of these hardened criminals. Chiefly, a chain-smoking blonde named Ericka (Sybil Danning), who, judging by way she gave non-verbal instructions to her equally blonde underlings, the statuesque Lulu (Greta Blackburn) and the rough and tumble Bobbi (Dee Biederbeck), is in charge of the prison's drug trade. Whoa, you mean to tell me Sybil Danning is a prisoner in this dump? Even if Val is protecting her, Linda Blair doesn't stand a chance against Sybil Danning. I mean, look at Linda, she's so soft and innocent, and Sybil is, well, she's none of those of things.

If there's anyone who can keep Sybil Danning's luscious thighs in check it's Tamara Dobson's the Duchess, the leader of the prison's black population. This power struggle is on display early on as Ericka, who, as usual is flanked by Lulu and Bobbi, asks the Duchess for permission to kill Debbie (Monique Gabrielle), a shapely snitch who's in the warden's pocket, or, in this film's case, naked in his hot tub. While there was some mild racial tension between Albina and Emanuelle in Women's Prison Massacre, Chained Heat is the first WiP I've seen to examine race relations to the extent where it becomes part of the film's plot. At any rate, the Duchess sanctions the murder, just as long as her people don't experience any of "the heat" her death may produce.

It's hard to believe that while all this going on, that Carol, Val, Blue Eyes, and Bubbles haven't been processed yet. Still waiting in the holding cell, Linda Blair gets to try out her transvestite empathy face. What's a "transvestite empathy face," you ask? Well, it's the face mildly chubby actresses make when they see transvestites being picked on by curly-haired lesbians. Powerless to do anything to help the transvestite in peril, all the mildly chubby actress can do is weakly protest by saying something along the lines of "leave him alone." Even though there isn't much of a chance that her objection will cause the curly-haired lesbian to stop picking on the transvestite, Val tells Carol not to get involved. It's an excellent piece of advice, as even a harmless discussion about daytime soaps can lead to chaos.

An inordinately leggy inmate named Twinks (Marcia Karr) finds this out the hard way when the Gina Gershon look-alike agrees with Bubbles' opinion regarding The Young and the Restless. When she's not fighting transvestites over the ownership of cigarette butts, the curly-haired lesbian is getting in Twinks' grill over soap operas. Don't worry about Twinks, though. You know how Val looks out for Carol? Well, Twinks has a beanpole named Paula (Edy Williams) to protect her.

As you can tell, I could watch what transpires in this holding cell all day long. But Carol, Val and the others eventually do get processed and make their way to the dorm. Of course, not before witnessing the stabbing of a black inmate (the Duchess is gonna be none too pleased). Mere moments after they have settled in, Carol and Val are confronted by Ericka and Bobbi. This particular sequence gives us our first real look at the outfits the ladies will be wearing throughout the film. While not the sexiest duds I've seen in a movie like this, the grey, oversize, one-hundred percent cotton number with buttons in the front is probably the most comfortable. This scene is also famous in that it features a kiss between Linda and Sybil. Unfortunately, it's one of those forced, sitcom-quality same-sex kisses. In other words, it's super lame. If you want titillation, check out Sharon Hughes' big hair, or better yet, feast your eyes on Dee Biederbeck's knees. If you're like me, and you love misshapen knees, check out what Dee's got going on at the joint located between the thigh and the lower leg, it's knobby heaven down there.

It should go without saying, but everyone who works at this dump is corrupt. The prison's warden, Mr. Bachmann (John Vernon), sells drugs and shoots homemade erotica in his lavishly decorated office, the co-warden, Captain Taylor (Stella Stevens) sells drugs and has no qualms about murdering anyone who stands in her way, Dr. Lester (Henry Silva), at least I think he was a doctor, sells drugs and pimps out the inmates on weekends, and the guards are all rapists and sadists.

The fight to secure Carol's loyalty begins as Ericka, the warden, Lester and the Duchess all make their plays to bring her into their respective folds. The warden wants to Carol to replace the deceased Debbie as his go-to snitch, Ericka has her sights on her to be a member of her gang and as her possible lover, Lester is thinking about utilizing her generous curves at the swanky coke parties he throws out in Beverly Hills, and the Duchess wants her to reveal the name of the inmate who killed one of her black sisters.

All this pressure to satisfy so many opposing viewpoints leads Carol to become somewhat dejected. And who better to convey this glum temperament than Linda Blair, the queen of rosy-cheeked grumpiness. One of the few inmates to show any signs that they're unhappy over the fact that they're in prison, Linda employs her mopey face like it were a broadsword. Undermining the goodwill of everyone around her, Miss Blair saps her co-stars and audience of their will to live. If you thought she looked morose while taking a shower, folding laundry, and playing checkers, you should see her when she wears a blue, cocaine-inspired disco pantsuit; it's like someone had just killed her goldfish. Either way, Linda Evans circa Dynasty would definitely approve of Linda's chic getup.

Shepherded out of the prison via a sewer pipe and placed into the back of a limousine, Lester takes Carol and Val to an upscale party. Judging by the easy-going nature of Val's staircase striptease, it's obvious she's done this before. Reduced to a pair of black fishnet stockings, black pumps, one black opera glove and a white bustier, Val hurls her dainty frame back and forth in a veiled attempt to appease the pent-up desires lurking inside the hearts and minds of the party's drug-addled clientele. On the other hand, Carol knows nothing about the subtle art of seduction, and finds herself woefully unprepared for the untoward solicitation that is about to come her way. ("Get on all fours. I wanna see your ample hindquarters ripple as a result of my purposeful thrusts." is an example of what someone might to say to her.)

Severely lacking when it comes to furnishing the over-the-top theatrics of its peers, Chained Heat desperately needs someone to step up and employ some affected mannerisms in a prison setting in order to remain relevant in today's camp-based world. Challenging Sybil Danning's character to a fight, Tamara Dobson (Cleopatra Jones) contributes to the cause when she calls her a "chalk-faced whore." Which is, hands down, the film's greatest line. Sadly, though, Tamara is too self-righteous to be taken seriously as a camp icon. Wearing grey slacks with an inexcusable amount of poise and dignity, Stella Stevens comes close to providing the campy goods. But other than her proclivity for dark eye makeup and the tirade she throws while in the midst of railroading an inmate for a crime she didn't commit, Stella's Captain Taylor is ultimately a bit of a disappointment, camp-wise.

While not even close to being a factor when it came to rescuing the film from its camp-free shortfall, Marcia Karr (Killer Workout) gives the film's best stealth performance. You may not always notice her, but Marcia is never far from the action as Twinks, a shy brunette who likes to draw and show off her tantalizing stems. Present during the holding cell sequence, there when Ericka and Bobbi do some of their best bullying (she's ushered to the prison's primary "rape room"), and you can see her sitting on the floor (her beautiful legs stretched out for the perverted world to see) while Carol rallies the troops, Marcia quietly rules over the proceedings with a leggy grace (I was gonna say "leggy sang-froid," but I don't want to come across as a pompous prat). Anyway, I'm glad someone did–you know, be leggy and junk, because I need more than an expertly coiffed she-mullet and sparsely attended prison riot to satisfy my frightfully specific WiP kink.

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