Monday, November 26, 2012

Big Doll House(1971)

Directed by Jack Hill
Starring Pam Grier, Judy Brown, Sid Haig, Brooke Mills, Pat Woodell
Rated R

"You don't look like a hardened criminal to me"

 The funniest part of this whole movie came right at the beginning for me. Not that that this is a funny movie in any way, or that it's low budget automatically creates funny scenes, or even that it's directed by Jack Hill. No, the funniest part for me was seeing the Metro Goldwyn Mayer intro. I mean somehow Roger Corman secured major distribution though this major studio! How is that even possible? You've got to give it to the man, selling a movie about women in prison to MGM. So yeah, that cracked me up a bit, especially after watching the last MAG movie which was also a Roger Corman production. And like Ken said about the man, he's been using this formula for fifty years now, and it still works.

Big Doll House and indeed Attack of the 50ft Cheerleader are perfect examples of that Roger Coman Formula. Forty two years apart, different directors and producers, and yet it's so obvious that they're related. Both offer nothing more than what you think you're going to get. And both deliver. Whalla! Perfecto. What a formula!

The plot of Big Doll House is pretty simple. A bunch of American babes are in some sort of Banana Republic prison for no detectable reason. They get tortured every once in a while by the sadistic guards and fight amongst themselves for power. And unlike the misleading tag line in the otherwise wonderful poster art, these women are less than pleased by men. They're only real desire is to get the fuck out of there. Still, they make due by having cockroach races, engaging in various dominant and submissive lesbian trysts and dancing around on heroin.

 The only males in the film are a pair of horny fruit and vegetable delivery men(Jerry Franks and Sid Haig) and a hapless prison doctor who's flat performance throughout the movie provide a lot of chuckles.

Pam Grier made her debut in Big Doll House and it's easy to see she's the real star of the film. She lights up every scene she's in and her future as a box office draw is pretty clear. Jack Hill is often credited for discovering her but in his own words she just showed up for a casting call and the rest was history. Her performance alone makes this film worth watching and her brief scenes with Jack Hill staple, Sid Haig are golden.

Grear(Grier) lets Harry(Haig) feel her up and molest her now and then in exchange for cigarettes and heroin for her junkie slave. Fair enough. But life in this women's prison, as sexy as it is, isn't always a bowl of cherries. The main guard is a total pervo and uses some strange combination of military styled BDSM to torture the ladies. Everything from electricity to poisonous snake torture shows up in her sessions, all as a masked figure watches from the distance.

At this point the girls have had it and they get to work planning their escape. Personally I would have liked a little more implied lesbian bonding at this point. They've been cat fighting for the whole film so far and now they're friends and it would have been hot, but whatever.

From this point on it's guns and murder as the girls fight their way out. They trick the boys into helping them, there's another snake scene(only in the Philippines, man)and even a cat who delivers a key securing their escape. Unfortunately all this goodness leads us to the films one major flaw; the unnecessary rape scene.

Eww. Sure she's the bad guy and she had some sort of comeuppance due, but...gross. This scene would have played out way better with some light to maybe heavy lesbian torture by one of the former prisoners. It would have made more sense and ended up a lot hotter. All the men fail at this point in the film. Harry, once at least an understandable character, becomes intolerable. Fred, the other fruit guy does nothing and the hapless doctor becomes pathetic as he looks away. Oh well.

But even before you can process any of this, all hell breaks lose as a bunch of prison guards show up and start shooting. Craziness ensues and in true Jack Hill form, nothing good happens in the end.

Big Doll House is often cited as the first of the women in prison films, and that claim is often disputed by weird Internet people citing earlier examples. I can see their point is some cases, but give me a break. Are these weak-ass examples distributed through Metro Goldwyn Mayer? No. They are not. So yes, it's safe to say that we owe Roger Corman a big pat on the back for introducing the concept to the world, and therefore creating the genre.

So for that, and for introducing us to Pam Grier, and even despite the unfortunate rape scene, I have to give Big Doll House a huge Rumspringa Woo.


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