BIG DOLL HOUSE, THE
(director/writer: Jack Hill; screenwriter: Don Spencer; cinematographer: Fred Conde; editor: Cliff Fenneman; music: Hall Daniels; cast: Sid Haig (Harry), Judy Brown (Collier), Roberta Collins (Alcott), Pam Grier (Grear), Kathyrn Loder (Lucian), Brooke Mills (Harrad), Christiane Schmidtmer (Miss Dietrich), Gina Stuart (Ferina), Jack Davis (Dr. Phillips), Pat Woodell (Bodine), Jerry Franks (Fred), Letty Mirasol (Leyte); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: R; producers: John Ashley, Eddie Romero, Jane Schaffer, Roger Corman, Cirio H. Santiago; Concorde/New Horizons Home Video; 1991)
“It can tickle the funny bone as a guilty pleasure film.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A made on the cheap exploitation women’s prison picture that cares more about its prison cat fights and soap showering nude scenes than the bad acting or the absurdity of its jungle fever prison camp set-up.
Up-and-coming director Jack Hill (“Foxy Brown”/”Pit Stop”), in his first of many collaborations with star Pam Grier, helms it so it can tickle the funny bone as a guilty pleasure film. Hill co-writes it in a campy way with Don Spencer so nothing serious can be construed.
The B film’s rental box office success made it possible to popularize the female exploitation women in prison film genre, which this film is an early example of.
The plot has the mostly American female prisoners in a Philippine jail subjected to sadistic torture from the guards. The prisoners work in the sugar cane fields and are punished by being placed in hanging bamboo cages or locked in sauna isolation rooms while threatened with dangerous snakes. With the unwitting help of two goofy, horny and sleazy American men vendors, with access to the facility (Sid Haig & Jerry Franks), the ladies plan their escape.
The focus is on a cell block of diverse women inmates, that includes the newly arrived convicted murderer of her husband, sentenced to 99 years, the hottie redhead Collier (Judy Brown). The newbie shares a cell with the domineering lesbian Grear (Pam Grier), a tough cookie serving a long term for prostitution; the heroin addict Harrad (Brooke Mills), Grear’s girlfriend, who is dependent on her support to exist; the quiet cat lover Ferina (Gina Stuart) who joins the escape, whose cell wall by her bed has the slogan written on it “A dead bee makes no honey”; the killer of her own infant and later rapist of a man-the vendor Fred-is Alcott (Roberta Collins), and the tough gal no nonsense inmate leader Bodine (Pat Woodell), whose boyfriend is in the country’s hills leading a political rebellion.
The entertaining cat fight and mud fight between Grear and Collier may elicit a few cat calls from the male viewers.
Before you can say why don’t they escape rather than take the abuse from the sadistic guard Lucian (Kathryn Loder) or put up with the elegant but sicko enabler of the sadistic guards, the warden named Miss Dietrich (Christiane Schmidter), we find them scheming to do just that.
Before we get to the bloody escape, which seems to take forever planning it, we witness the following–a mysterious pervert, whose face is covered in a black cloak, sitting on a chair watching the guards torture the prisoners; the helpless to act for the prisoners but sympathetic prison doctor (Jack Davis), dining with the warden and naively asking her for prison reform; and your usual prisoner food fight in the mess hall. These are almost all the things you would expect to see in a WIP film.
Grier sings the opening soundtrack of the title song “Long Time Woman.” The madcap performance by Sid Haig steals the film with his cheesy sexual antics, while Grier’s gritty performance grounds the film in toughness, sex appeal and crowd approval.
REVIEWED ON 3/20/2020 GRADE: B