Sleazy Slammers & Wicked Wardens – Rediscovering ‘Chained Heat’ (US/West Germany 1983 – 95 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - June 16, 2014
Sleazy Slammers & Wicked Wardens – Rediscovering ‘Chained Heat’ (US/West Germany 1983 – 95 mins)

Cult casts do not come much better than ‘Chained Heat’, a sordid entry in the whole Women-in-Prison genre. A grubby, sleaze-filled actioner, featuring a ‘should-have-known-better’ cast of talented actors, that were too good for this trashy, yet entertaining material.

Carol Henderson (Linda Blair), a naive and vulnerable teenager, is sentenced to 18 months in a women’s prison for a hit and run conviction. Among the authorities and inmates that Carol has to endure, is the sleazy Warden; Bacman (John Vernon), and kingpin prisoner Ericka (Sybil Danning). On top of this, there is also the warden’s assistant, the corrupt Captain Taylor (Stella Stevens), and her scummy boyfriend Lester (Henry Silva), who are both operating a drug and prostitution racket on the side. After a while, corruption and racial tensions eventually spill over with the inmates banding together against the immoral prison officers.

Former teenage star Linda Blair hated the whole experience and has apparently never sat through this movie. Blair will forever be remembered for her early, Oscar-nominated role as Regan McNeill in William Friedkin’s ‘The Exorcist’ (’73). Linda followed that controversial movie with a couple of good television dramas (1974’s ‘Born Innocent’ especially memorable). After a small part in the starry ‘Airport 75’ (’74), and the poor sequel ‘Exorcist II: The Heretic’ (‘77), Blair rapidly slipped into exploitation territory, with starring roles in such fare as ‘Hell Night’ (‘81) and the vigilante classic ‘Savage Streets’ (’84). Controversial on its release, ‘Savage Streets’ is one movie that Linda is actually fairly proud of, and I think it’s a very good rape and revenge film, featuring a great performance from Linnea Quigley as Linda’s deaf-mute younger sister. A run of poor material followed however, with 1988’s ‘Grotesque’ particularly bad. Blair attempted a comeback in 1990 with the mostly unfunny ‘Exorcist’ spoof ‘Repossessed’, with Leslie Nielsen. Not much else of note followed, with only a fun cameo as a reporter in Wes Craven’s ‘Scream’ (’96) standing out. Blair now spends her time involved with, and running, many animal and children’s charities.

As the cruel warden, Stella Stevens turns on the nasty fairly well here. Stella was a Sixties screen beauty, co-starring with Elvis in ‘Girls! Girls! Girls!’ (’62) and Jerry Lewis in ‘The Nutty Professor’ (’63), before taking on more adult roles. Stella later co-starred with Jason Robards in Sam Peckinpah’s gentle ‘The Ballad of Cable Hogue’ (’70), and had a flesh-baring role in the Jim Brown thriller ‘Slaughter’ (’73). A professional and likable actress, Stevens’ best-known movie remains ‘The Poseidon Adventure’ (’72), as Ernest Borgnine’s doomed wife. Canadian actor John Vernon is suitably sleazy as the hot- tub loving warden, with a taste for making his own sex movies. Vernon was a good, tough actor who appeared in several cult pictures, such as ‘Dirty Harry’ (’71) and the fantastic ‘Charley Varrick’ (’73), both directed by Don Siegel. Vernon would come up against Linda Blair again, when he played the lecherous principal in ‘Savage Streets’.

Henry Silva almost made a second career of appearing prolifically in Italian crime flicks in the Seventies, although his best known movies remain the two he did with Frank Sinatra; ‘Ocean’s 11’ (’61), and ‘The Manchurian Candidate’ (’62), where he had a memorable fight scene with Sinatra’s brainwashed commander. Austrian born beauty Sybil Danning had early sexploitations roles in German productions; ‘The Long Swift Sword of Siegfried’ (’71) and ‘Naughty Nymphs’ (’72) before more mainstream B-movies; ‘Jungle Warriors’ (’84) and ‘Reform School Girls’ (’86). As Sybil’s sidekick Duchess, model and actress Tamara Dobson is best known for her title role in the cult Blaxploitation picture ‘Cleopatra Jones’ (’73). Russ Meyer siren Edy Williams, and scream queen Monique Gabrielle also pop up.

Writer-Director Paul Nicholas does a standard job here, even employing some fashionable slow-mo action scenes. Nicholas also made the pretty good Canadian thriller ‘Julie Darling’ the same year, again with Sybil Danning. His next film would be another women’s penitentiary flick, the enjoyable ‘The Naked Cage’ (’86), with Angel Tompkins and Shari Shattuck.

‘Chained Heat’ may not be as entertaining as Jack Hill’s ‘The Big Doll House’ (’71), or as trashy as Michel Levesque’s ‘Sweet Sugar’ (’72) with Phyllis Davis, but I still think it’s one of the better ‘Women-in-Prison’ pictures, due mainly to the excellent cast, clearly slumming it in their career doldrums. With plenty of sex and violence, and the obligatory shower scenes, it’s an enjoyable sleaze-fest and (although she regrets making it) one of Linda Blair’s most memorable movies.

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