Follow us on

Featured DVD Review: Roger Corman's Cult Classics: Jackson County Jail / Caged Heat!

March 20th, 2011

Roger Corman's Cult Classics: Jackson County Jail / Caged Heat! - Buy from Amazon

The latest Roger Corman Double-Feature to hit the home market. In this case the two films are in the "Women in Prison" exploitation genre. This is the first time I've reviewed the genre. Hopefully Shout! Factory choose two of the better examples of the genre, but even so, Jackson County Jail / Caged Heat! are saddled with the low expectations of their genre.

Caged Heat

First of all, Caged Heat was written and directed by Jonathan Demme. Yes, the same Jonathan Demme that went on to earn an Oscar for The Silence of the Lambs.

The film starts with a gang of three people being arrested by the cops, but in their attempt to get away, one of their members, and one of the cops, are killed. Jacqueline Wilson (Erica Gavin) is the lone woman in the group, and she's sentenced to a long prison term for being an accessory in the death of the detective.

She's sent to the Connerville, which is run by a sadistic warden, Superintendent McQueen (Barbara Steele). Although McQueen's confined to a wheelchair, that doesn't stop her from getting sadistic pleasure from abusing the power she has over her prisoners. The prison also has brutal guards and a doctor (Warren Miller) who makes Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs seem well-adjusted by comparison. Once inside, she has to deal with fellow inmates, some of which she becomes friends with, like Pandora (Ella Reid) and Lavelle (Rainbeaux Smith) but she also makes some enemies like Maggie (Juanita Brown).

What follows is a mostly campy send-up of the "Women In Prison" genre that has the usual elements required. Fortunately, the overall quality of the film is much, much higher that its contemporaries. Not only was it written and directed by Jonathan Demme, but it was filmed by Tak Fujimoto, who is the cinematographer for The Silence of the Lambs, The Sixth Sense, and even won an Emmy for John Adams, the mini-series. In front of the camera, there's also more talent than you would usually find in these movies, especially Barbara Steele.

There are some problems with the tone, which fluctuates from gratuitous shower scenes, to gratuitous fights, to gratuitous fights in shower scenes, etc. to the genuinely disturbing scenes involving the doctor. Also, while they are trying to poke fun at the genre and include some social commentary in the film, I get the impression that the filmmakers were trying to have their cake and eat it too.

Overall, it's still a good movie and one that rises far above the genre norms.

The Extras

There in an audio commentary with Jonathan Demme, Erica Gavin, and Tak Fujimoto, who discuss the making of the movie, working with Roger Corman on a low budget film, the cast, etc. There is also an interview with Leonard Maltin and Roger Corman.

Jackson County Jail

Yvette Mimieux stars as Dinah Hunter. She makes commercials, at least she did before she chewed out her sexist boss and quit. And then when she arrives home, she finds her husband with his latest mistress. (She also drives an AMC Pacer, so you know her life's crap.) With no job and no marriage, she decides to leave Los Angeles and head back to New York City. After almost getting ripped off at a diner, she agrees to pick up a young man and his girlfriend in need of a ride, but that ends poorly when they steal her car, her money, her identification. Worse yet, they leave her stranded out in the boondocks. She makes it to a bar that is just closing so she can at least call someone, but when she asks the bartender for a dime, he says he has a phone in the back she can use. This ends poorly as well, as he tries to attack her. She's able to hold him off till a cop shows up, but it's his word against hers, and without any I.D., she's arrested for vagrancy.

The sheriff says there's nothing to worry about and it will be all fixed by tomorrow morning. She still has to spend the night in a jail cell, right next to the one with an actual criminal, Coley Blake, but at least her really bad day appears to be coming to a close. Not quite. That night Hobie is left in charge, and Hobie is not a reliable sort. He decides, since she can't get away, he's going to rape her. After the attack, she beats Hobie to death with a stool. While she's dealing with the shock Coley grabs the keys and breaks out. At first he's just going to leave her, but instead takes Dinah with him and the pair become fugitives.

Jackson County Jail is a lot darker movie than Caged Heat is. Caged Heat is a tongue-in-check send-up of the Women in Prison exploitation genre, while Jackson County Jail is a lot more serious, and it's arguably the better movie as a result. It has real drama as opposed to pure exploitation, thanks to an impressive script. Plus the acting is several notches above the usual B-movie quality. Yvette Mimieux wasn't in many major hits (just the 1960 version of The Time Machine and The Black Hole) but she's excellent here. Meanwhile, I don't think Tommy Lee Jones has given a bad performance in his career. Even in bad movies, he's usually really good. It's such a good movie, that it's been remade, twice.

The dramatic change in tone makes the "Grindhouse Experience" a bit off-putting, but it's still one of Roger Corman's best dramatic efforts. Calling it a B-movie is not really fair.

Plus it has a cameo by Mary Woronov, so how can you not like it?

The Extras

This time the audio commentary track features the director, Michael Miller; the producer, Jeff Begun; and the D.P., Bruce Logan. The trio hit on a lot of the same subjects as in the audio commentary track on the first film, including working with a low budget (the film cost $445,000 to make back in 1976.) There is also a second interview clip with Leonard Maltin and Roger Corman.

The Verdict

The hit to miss ratio on the Roger Corman's Cult Classics line has been quite good, all things considered. Granted, there have been a few duds like Death Sport and The Terror Within, but there have also been some surprisingly good films like Not of This Earth. Jackson County Jail / Caged Heat! are two of the better films and the DVD is worth picking up. However, I would suggest not watching the two back-to-back.

- Submitted by:

Filed under: Video Review