Thursday, January 20, 2011

Prison Prescription: CHAINED HEAT (1983)

Want me to blow your mind?  Back in May 1983, RETURN OF THE JEDI burst onto a thousand screens just in time for Memorial Day weekend and grossed $41 million in 5 days (a record back then).  No one in Hollywood would dare to go up against the LucasFilm Monster Money Machine (© George Lucas).  Well, except for Jensen Farley Pictures, a small distributor that specialized in horror and T&A films.  What did they unleash that fateful weekend in 404 theaters to combat the power of The Force?  Why a W.I.P. (Women in Prison) flick rife with nudity, sleaze and b-stars in CHAINED HEAT.  You won’t get that in today’s market at all.

HEAT centers on innocent Carol Henderson (Linda Blair) who is sentenced to 18 months in a women’s penitentiary for accidentally killing a man.  Carol realizes what a tough time it will be when some chicks in the holding cell get into a fist fight over their favorite soap operas.  She quickly learns the prison's segregated caste system where the blacks are led by Duchess (Tamara Dobson) and the whites by Erika (Sybil Danning).  Well, we assume there are black prisoners there as their wing is never really show and only two black girls are in the picture.  Carol soon finds herself in the middle of this when she witnesses the killing of a black inmate…on her first day in the joint…on her way to her cell.

Racial tensions are the least of Carol’s worries in her new home though as she also has to contend with a thoroughly corrupt staff. You have lascivious Warden Bachman (John Vernon) who seduces female inmates with drugs in his 70s porn style office (complete with a jacuzzi!) so he can make X-rated videotapes of them (“Don’t call me warden, call me Fellini,” he utters at one point).  Under his nose, head guard Captain Taylor (Stella Stevens) is in cahoots with sleazeball pimp Lester (Henry Silva) to traffic drugs and execute the ever popular prisoners-to-high-priced-escorts exchange program.  After one of Carol’s only friends is killed alongside the warden, the prisoners forget their differences and unite to find the secret video tape of the foul play.



As even that short synopsis will show, CHAINED HEAT has something for everyone.  There are sleazy movies and then there is this one.  German helmer Paul Nicholas crafts a film that is like a wayward child acting out in a dozen horrible ways in order to gain the love their parents.  Well, you had me at the scene ten minutes in where John Vernon admonishes one of his hot tub conquests about her needle drug habit by saying, “Why can’t you just snort it like the rest of us?”  Nary five minutes of screen time will go by without something seedy happening.  You have knifings, catfights, transvestite beatings, shower scenes, drug runs and everything else under the sun.  Hell, the film even leaves the confines of the prison about a hour in as Carol is one of several prisoners taken out of the jail by Lester so they can serve as pieces of meat at a party for elites (where one coked up guy goes nuts on Blair, attempts to rape her and holds a gun to her head).

Of course, the film also holds a special place in our heart here at Video Junkie because it features one of moviedom’s most iconic image montages ever.  Yeah, film scholars will talk about the editing of the stair sequence in Eisenstein’s BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN (1925) or Hitchcock’s shower scene in PSYCHO (1960).  But film history would be a total bust if it did not mention the topless shower encounter between Linda Blair and Sybil Danning.  King Kong vs. Godzilla?  You ain’t got nothing on this showdown of epic proportions.  Rather than drool, er, talk about it, I’ll let the images doing the speaking:





No doubt the allure of seeing young Regan from THE EXORCIST (1973) nekkid drew a lot of people to the film, but director Nicholas is a man who knew his exploitation and paired her up with Austrian ultravixen Danning.  This is truly one of cinema’s greatest back-to-back (front-to-front?) shots of all-time and probably sent Russ Meyer into convulsions.

It is truly mind blowing that this actually got released into theaters. Now the happy ending to this story would be that HEAT fought tooth-and-nail against the big budget blockbuster that weekend and won. Sadly, we can’t say that.  But it survive past the first round. CHAINED HEAT finished in 7th place in the top twenty and, after JEDI, sported the highest per screen average out of any film.  Just knowing that somewhere in America kids were lined up to see JEDI and got to glance at the HEAT poster brings a tear to my eye.  Think about that the next time you line up for a $200 million dollar blockbuster.  Try to imagine a poster in the lobby promising blood, babes and bars.  Hard, ain’t it? Amazingly, this still has not see a DVD release in the US.  It has shown up on Showtime within the last few years, but is sadly an edited version that omits a lot of the violence (including Blair being raped by Vernon). Lionsgate apparently now has the U.S. rights and chances are if they ever release it that it will be this cut down version.


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