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The Big Doll House
Women's Penitentiary / Bamboo Dolls House

USA/Philippines 1971
produced by
Eddie Romero, John Ashley, Roger Corman (executive) for New World
directed by Jack Hill
starring Judy Brown, Roberta Collins, Pam Grier, Brooke Mills, Pat Woodell, Sid Haig, Christiane Schmidtmer, Katheryn Loder, Jerry Frank, Gina Stuart, Jack Davis, Letty Mirasol, Shirley De La Alas
written by Don Spencer, music by Hal Daniels, title song sung by Pam Grier

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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Marnie Collier (Judy Brown) is the new fish in a women's penitentiary in some banana repuclic. her cellmates are hardened but good-natured Alcott (Roberta Collins), ex prostitute turned dyke Grear (Pam Grier), junkie Harrad (Brooke Mills), political prisoner & tough bitch Bodine (Pat Woodell), & Ferina (Gina Stuart), who pretty much just stands around.

Being the lover of some revolutionary, Bodine becomes the prime target of warden Lucian's (Katheryn Loder) torture devices, & her interrogations are always watched by a mysterious cloaked & hooded figure, but when Alcott makes a complaint to the understanding head warden Miss Dietrich (Christiane Schmidtmer), she refuses to believe her without prove, & the sympathetic prison doctor Philips (Jack Davis), while believing her, just hasn't got it in his power to make a change - instead, for some reason he decides to fix a date with Miss Dietrich (?).

Collier meanwhile has become the slave of Grear, much to her dismay, but when Bodine & Alcott make an escape plan, they decide they would need Collier on board & so Alcott fights with Grear over her ... & after some spontaneous mud-wrestling thrown in whe wins out.

Weirdly enough, in the next scene, Alcott & Bodine persuade Grear, Harrad & Ferina to join them in the escape. The plan is of course as silly as it is foolproof, & it involves a foodfight that has Alcott, Bodine, Collier & Ferina thrown into the hothouse (which is the nasty version of a sauna) & warden Lucian once again preparing for torture, & it has Grear sending them a wire using Ferina's cat so the girls can strangle Lucian & ghet her keys ... & they can even unmask the hooded & cloaked figure who always inspects Lucian's torture sessions as sympathetic Miss Dietrich herself, & take her & doctor Philips hostage ... from which point on it goes a little haywire as Harrad, suffering from cold turkey, has killed Grear, & when she runs after the others, she is shot down by the guards whose attention is then drawn to the survivors, Bodine, Alcott, Collier & Ferina, who take over the truck of good-natured food delivery boys Harry (Sid Haig) & Fred (Jerry Frank) to make a getaway - & they succeed too, except for Ferina, who, amidst gunfire, decides to run after her kitty which has just escaped (some women ...).

Being in a safe distance from the pen (or so they think), the girls present Harry & Fred with their gift for letting them take their truck: Miss Dietrich all tied up & ready for a rape ... but of course Harry has

hardly begun as the guards of the prison supported by the military, close in & in a big finale Bodine & Alcott are shot, Miss Dietrich is blown up, only Collier, our innocent new fish, makes good her escape.

 

This second film of Roger Corman's then new New World Pictures was filmed in the Philippines after Corman was invited there by actor/friend John Ashley (who had just shot the Blood Island-movies there), & was impressed by the cheapness & effectiveness of filmmaking there as well as the exotic scenerey the islands provided quite naturally - Ashley & Blood Island-co-conspirator Eddie Romero would become producers of Big Doll House as a thank-you.

The film would be charmingly trashy & pulpy on one hand, however at the same time it would stay firmly in the confines of the genre (as opposed to e.g. Jess Franco's later Women in Prison-movies) & somewhat miss the personal touch & general over-the-top-feeling the best (or worst) movies of the genre would have. A pre-stardom Pamela Grier (in her first bigger role after a small art in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls) would come across completely wooden here (which wouldn't keep Corman from using her again & again in his Women in Prison-movies, & in the long run, he was proven right), however she does a good job singing the titlesong. Sid Haig on the other hand turns in another great, sleazy & funny performance.

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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Your Bones to

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Tales to Chill
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Tales to Chill
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Out now from
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On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide
WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
starring
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD