Women in Cages (1971)
Director: Gerrardo De Leon
Writers: David Osterhout and James H. Watkins
Starring: Jennifer Gan, Judy Brown and Pam Grier

The Plot: When young Carol Jeffries (Jennifer Gan), known as Jeff, is manipulated by her Filipino boyfriend Rudy into holding a large stash of heroine, she is set up for a very hard fall. She ends up sentenced to ten years hard time in a Filipino prison. Once inside she is accosted by the brash and conniving guards who are lead by the nefarious Chief Matron: Alabama (Pam Grier). She ends up making friends with some of the friendlier girls, but she still has much to contend with. She has the threat of being molested by Alabama but she also has her former flame, Rudy, on the outside trying to have her assassinated by some junkies that are currently locked up with her. Will innocent Carol ever make it out of this concrete hell or will she become just another statistic?

The Review
For those who have seen the most recent outing from Mark Hartley (the director of Not Quite Hollywood), Machete Maidens Unleashed, you’re probably well aware of the popularity of shooting films in the Philippines during the glory days of Grindhouse. For those of you who haven’t seen that documentary, but still wonder just why such movies were shot overseas so often, the answer might already seem obvious knowing that this is a Roger Corman production. It all comes down to the same thing that it always does with Corman: prices! Shooting in the Philippines during the seventies guaranteed filmmakers twice as large of a production for the same amount of money. When Jack Hill’s The Big Doll House hit it big back home in the states, it didn’t take Corman long to start flooding the market with a litany of “women in prison” titles. So now we have the Women in Cages collection from Shout! Factory celebrating this very special series of Philippines-based women in prison shockers. Although not the first one ever made, Women in Cages is certainly one of the more popular titles within the genre and features many game performances amidst all of the sleaziness.

The movie certainly follows in the same formula as any other title within the genre, but ultimately what makes this film, and indeed all films of this genre, so special is the exotic locale and the simple twists that differentiate it amongst the many. For instance, the one thing that will draw your immediate attention to Women in Cages has to be Pam Grier’s performance. Although she played a villain of sorts in The Big Doll House, here she is as sadistic as Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS. Grier gets to let her star power shine as she stretches in order to become an intimidating and powerful force of evil, something she would have to do few times throughout her career. As generally the world’s favorite super-powered woman of action, few could picture her as the conniving and purely evil Alabama that she plays so perfectly here. Believable she is though and few times do you question her authenticity once she gathers up some hapless victim inside of her “play room”.

With any film of this type you’re guaranteed a few staples that help define the genre. The first of those is of course the nudity. Women in Cages does not disappoint in that regard either, as a wide variety of beautiful women end up shedding their clothes throughout the duration of the movie. Does it make for the most respectable of cinema or atmosphere for other women? Probably not, but it certainly puts the “adult” in a title like this. Secondly you can expect a decent amount of low-grade action. Whether we’re talking about cat fights in the shower or the inevitable “big action” sequence that always seems to be brewing for the finale. Third we have the characters. These women in prison titles are almost always chock full of stereotypical and gimmicky characters, but that is perhaps what makes them as fun as they are.

Even though it has already been mentioned at this point, I have to give it up for Pam Grier. Watching her strut as the intensely evil Alabama is both a delight, and slightly frightening. She unquestionably steals the show and even manages to make this heartless villain seem slightly likable. That doesn’t mean we don’t have other memorable characters of course. Jennifer Gan, who leads the cast, is a bit on the vanilla side for this type of movie but she plays the sheepish leading lady well enough. Judy Brown is a bit more over the top however and turns out as the most outgoing amidst the main foursome who comprise the story. Fellow Corman regular Roberta Collins gets to play the most chaotic of the main cast, as she gets to delve into the skin of a junkie with ulterior motives. She is likely one of the most entertaining aspects of the main cast as she regularly spazzes out over her need for drugs, but also continually does her best to murder Jennifer Gan’s character. Throughout the movie you will lose count of how many times she inexplicably goes between “fiend-ing” for drugs and seemingly being “okay”.

The torture of the inmates in the prison certainly comprises many of the most memorable moments in the film. As we watch, I can’t help but be reminded of the previously mentioned Ilsa series. The large and dominating figure of Pam Grier is sadistic in her nightly torture sessions where things almost reach the kinky and perverted heights of that aforementioned series about the worlds most buxom and sadistic nazi leader. There’s very little in the way of gore, but plenty of electric shock therapy to go around. Expect to see plenty of beaten, bloody and bruised women whose clothes always wind up in tatters and are splashed with blood that deeply resembles red paint. In that regard, Women in Cages definitely provides some slightly disturbing moments along the way but for the most part I have to say this is a lot more camp than it is horror.

The Conclusion
Overall, you’ve got to give it up for Women in Cages. It attempts so many things and for the most part it is very successful. The action, the characters, the dialogue… it all points toward fun. Freshened up by director Gerrardo De Leon who actually tries to infuse some style along the way by providing silent action scenes that bring to mind films such as Thriller or other arthouse genre titles from the seventies. I give the movie a surprising four out of five. I think if you’re looking for a Women in Prison title, you can’t go wrong with this one. And if you’ve picked up the Shout! Factory Women in Cages collection, then you’ve got two more classic titles to run through!