Sunday 23 February 2014

Chained Heat (Paul Nicolas, 1983) DVD Review

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“Where hot desire melts cold prison steel!” The 'women in prison' genre enjoyed it's heyday during the 1970s and 1980s, shifting from Nazi camps, sweaty foreign locales, and South East Asian revolutions, to down-town Los Angeles, criminal conspiracies, and the abused inmates rioting against an inherently abusive system. Regardless of the framing – be it the concrete jungle or the actual jungle – copious nudity, savage gal-on-gal fights, torture, domination, humiliation, drugs, guns, and lead-fuelled vengeance (or any combination thereof) was the order of the day. Naturally, with such an influx of 'WIP' films, the quality varied immensely, but some of the greatest entries included Jack Hill's iconic double-whammy of The Big Doll House (1971) and The Big Bird Cage (1972), as well as Paul Nicolas' (real-name Lutz Schaarwachter) 1983 festival of flesh & action Chained Heat.

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“I'll never understand why scum like you make such a big deal out of a little fuck.” Menacing the audience from the get-go with jangling cell keys, poised shotguns, and 80s synth (courtesy of Joseph Conlan), this prison is quickly established as a corrupt hell hole where abuse is rife. Susie (Jonna Lee) is about to be ravaged by total bastard and prison guard Stone (Robert Miano), but she's having none of it and stages a short-lived escape attempt – only to be gunned down. This certainly isn't going to be a smooth ride for the fresh meat.

“I'd rather die than be caged in this hole!” Soft-hearted prison virgin Carol (Linda Blair, The Exorcist, Red Heat) has been sent down for 18 months on a charge of vehicular manslaughter, and her induction to L.A. prison life is cruel – a punch-up with a transvestite over a dropped cigarette being one such rude awakening for her widening eyes. Joining her are Val (Sharon Hughes), Bubbles (Louisa Moritz, Death Race 2000), Twinks (Marcia Karr, Killer Workout), and other pretty young things – some of whom are returning guests of the state.

“It'll be hotter than hell is she snitches.” In this concrete fortress there are no rules beyond whatever the crooked guards and warden bend to suit their sleazy desires. Warden Bacman (John Vernon, Animal House) is intent on pushing his own supply of drugs upon his imprisoned 'customers' while turning beautiful inmates into snitches (and his own personal play things) from the comfort of his own hot tub. It's not all going his way though, as well-connected Lester (Henry Silva, Almost Human) and Captain Taylor (Stella Stevens, The Poseidon Adventure) are running their own scheme with Queen bitch Ericka (Sybil Danning, Jungle Warriors, Reform School Girls).

“In here it's not a matter of what you know, but who you know, and how you know her.” Ericka is the brutal leader of a drug-running gang who are in a fierce race war with drug-resistant Duchess (Tamara Dobson) – orchestrated in secret for Taylor's entertainment – and she's quick to start sniffing around the new flesh in the showers, slithering her mits all over Carol.

“Maybe she wanted out of here so bad she just let herself die.” However, when the Warden's pet snitch Debbie is viciously slain, he sets his sights on Carol and convinces her to play his game whether she likes it or not. To say he's a scumbag would be putting it lightly, and he's in grand company as seemingly the entire institution is bound and determined to abuse every jailbird to their heart's content. Prostitution, narcotics, cover-ups, and various forms of boundary-crossing are all on the cards in this down-town death trap – but will Carol, driven from shrinking violent to feral avenger, unite her fellow convicts to take on the perverted justice system?

“Don't you walk away from me you chalk-faced whore.” Living up to the WIP film reputation in grand fashion, Nicolas' film is stuffed-to-the-rafters with sex and violence – particularly the former – with lesbianism, assault, seduction, full-frontal shower scenes, and more to feed the eyes until they're ladened. In all regards Chained Heat is a poster girl for exploitation cinema.

“I've always wanted to be part of a riot.” With a large cast of key players and background support, and a prison riot for a climax (replete with tear gas, prison-on-guard battles, and a chopper touring the exterior at night) this is an epic of the WIP genre. The script, co-written by Paul Nicolas and Aaron Butler (credited as Vincent Mongol), is thick with double-dealings, trickery, opposing forces, and redemption – it's a teeth-gnashing, chicks-in-charge jolt of adrenaline. Furthermore, the prison – Lincoln Heights Jail in Los Angeles – is a superb location that pushes the production value up several notches. The corridors echo to the intrusive sound of slammed cell doors, and with it's roof top prison yard set against the 'L.A. river' storm drains and intertwined pylons, the film is decidedly impressive in the visuals department. From the gloomy 'tombs' to paint-peeling, graffiti-marked cell blocks, Nicolas skilfully exploits the setting for all it's worth and then some.

“You ever see what a .38 slug can do to a human head? Splat! Like an over-ripe melon.” With a strong selection of arse-kicking femmes on one side of the bars, and seedy manipulators on the other, Chained Heat fills its 98 minutes with more than enough to keep viewers shocked, stunned, and titillated. Steamed-up with frequent nudity, and positively ferocious in its violence, if you're new to the 'Women In Prison' genre, this is an excellent place to start – and it plays just as well to established fans.

“I may be a shit, but I'm a bright one.” The quality of the print (shot on 35mm) is impressive throughout – although some darker scenes display increased grain – and the audio is clear for the majority of the run-time (a few scenes feature dialogue subdued by the sound effects). The film is shown in its intended theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, although it was originally shot 'open matte' with the 4:3 ratio VHS market in-mind. What this means is, like other films of the time that were smart enough to not butcher their visuals with 'Pan & Scan', when viewed on VHS you actually get more of the picture. In certain instances this means that moments of below-the-frame nudity are revealed, but frankly there's so much on-show in the intended widescreen format that only the most pernickety of flesh freaks would dare complain. The widescreen presentation looks great and is filled with ocular delights.

“You slimy pig shit!” Heavily censored on cable TV in America (where it was hacked back to 88 minutes), and similarly affected on the Third-Strike release, it's good to say that Panik House Entertainment's DVD presentation is the longest version out there, restoring all of the sex and violence … except two minor moments. Boasting “totally uncut” on the DVD box is just a touch inaccurate as – researched via and – two shots are clearly missing. A gunshot to Susie's back in the opening scene, and a glimpse of a drug injection (which is replaced with alternative footage). However, apart from that, the film is untouched, and if you didn't know about those two brief moments you wouldn't even notice.

“Killing's too good for her!” The DVD includes a trailer as well as two 10-minute interviews with stars Sybil Danning and Stella Stevens in which they discuss working on the movie. This film is reviewed as part of the Panik House Entertainment triple feature double disc DVD, accompanied by Red Heat (1985) and Jungle Warriors (1984).

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