Caged Heat1974.

Directed by Jonathan Demme.
With Juanita Brown, Erica Gavin, Roberta Collins, Cheryl Smith, Barbara Steele, Warren Smith.


Inmates at a women’s prison rebel when the prison doctor begins experimenting with electroshock therapy to control their behavior.

It’s often interesting to look back on the career of a big-name director and see where it began, especially when said director was part of B-series legend Roger Corman’s rich stable of talents in the 1970s, because we often know what sort of film that will entail.

And while Jonathan Demme is perhaps best known these days as the director behind big names in Hollywood such as Thesilenceofthelambs And philadelphia cream, it was with the much maligned film about women in prison that Demme, following in the footsteps of Jack Hill who was also under Corman’s tutelage, got his first directorial credit. So looking back to 1974 Caged Heat now is it obvious that this is the filmmaker who gave us Anthony Hopkins in his most iconic role a quarter of a century later?

Not really, but don’t be discouraged because Caged Heat – with all its genre trappings – is a slightly more nuanced experience than Jack Hill’s more sordid films such as The big dollhouse And The big birdcage for a few years ago. While Hill’s films were more direct action featuring female prisoners whose clothes seemed to fall off for no real reason other than titillation, Demme – who had previously written The hot box And black mom, white momso he had experience in the genre – takes a more light-hearted approach, knowing that audiences likely to go to the cinema to watch his film will expect certain things, but not just want to watch the same thing over and over again (because movie fandom can be like that sometimes).

Demme achieves this by adding a few healthy doses of humor amongst the exploitative violence, which may not seem like much but it does give the actors some leeway when delivering their dialogue, which is less progressive in some areas but ultimately , it’s a film about women in prison from the 1970s, so what do you expect?

Despite Demme’s injection of humor, Caged Heat ticks all the boxes for what you’d want to see, including totally gratuitous nudity, foul language, sleazy guards, and gory violence, not to mention a silly plot about women being treated like cattle by a sadistic guard (in this case, a sexually repressed, wheelchair-bound governess named McQueen, played by the wonderful Barbara Steele), but the director can also toy with an eerie dream sequence for the first 15 minutes that feels a bit out of place given the location. where we are heading.

However, at the very least, it shows a bit of ambition on Demme’s part, even though Roger Corman has probably put his foot down on such matters (which he alludes to in the Special Features interview). But aside from Jonathan Demme’s forays into arty dream sequences and a few lighthearted comedies (often made up of upbeat bits of music that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Continue… movie), Caged Heat can proudly sit among the connoisseur’s collection of women in prison as one of the top films of the genre.

The presence of Barbara Steele adds tremendous weight to the production, even if the generic plot of the women being bitchy to each other and then teaming up on an escape doesn’t, and the main plot device on the prison doctor – who might as well be played by Leslie Phillips, given he’s obviously trying to look dashing with his neatly trimmed mustache and his dialogue is mostly innuendo, or just plain wrong (“Look, I don’t like this ritual any more than you do. Now what we what I’m going to do now is calisthenics…” he tells new inmates he just asked to undressing) – electroshock therapy to make inmates more docile is treated with all the care and attention that such an act thankfully deserves.

Accompanied by archival audio commentary with writer/director Jonathan Demme (sadly passed away in 2017), cinematographer Tak Fujimoto and actress Erica Gavin, plus a short interview with Roger Corman on how Jonathan Demme came to direct the film, Caged Heat probably looks as good as it ever will thanks to a 2K scan which doesn’t do much to improve the dark prison setting, but once the prisoners escape the scenes outside look nice and bright, with far less grain and more detail than you would not see on previous versions.

But whatever Caged Heat whether a movie you want to buy is a matter entirely of your own conscience, because watching it as a family is not. Given the amount of full-frontal female nudity – which happens roughly every two minutes – it would be wise to choose your times to watch it if other people around you aren’t as open to its charms, but seen what it looks a little neater and slightly – only slightly, wit – more polished than other films of this ilk, you can always use “It’s from the director of Thesilenceofthelambs so I thought I’d check’ as an excuse if you get caught. Could work…

Scintillating Myth Rating – Movie ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★ ★

Neighborhood Chris