Services like Netflix and YouTube have made the most recent films readily available to anyone. Can we find anything of value in the muck of b-movies, ambitious failures and exploitative crap-fests? We’re going to find out in Dispatches from Instant View Purgatory.
What’re we watching: “Caged Heat,” director Jonathan Demme’s first movie and an example of the once famous “women in prison” sub-genre.
What does it look like: It has all of the cinematography of mid-‘70s porn but with hippies in shorts shooting revolvers and a lot of ladies in what could really loosely be described as prison attire. So, pretty much exactly like mid-‘70s porn
What’s going on: Jacquelyn is sent to an all female prison after she helps her boyfriend kill a cop. After finding out about the doctors performing electroshock therapy on prisoners and sexually assaulting them when drugged, she pals up with several other bad-ass gals to break out of the joint.
Why haven’t we heard of this: If you’re a hardcore film historian, you know it solely because of Jonathan Demme and Robert Carmack. Other than that, it’s at best a footnote.
What works: Demme has always been a master of using music in his films and although it’s not as great here as in “Silence of the Lambs,” his use of found sound and simple string arrangements matches the content perfectly. Most of the dream sequences are also creative and very in the style of the rest of the movie. It helps take the scenes of electroshock therapy go from disturbing to graphically difficult to watch.
What doesn’t: Demme was clearly trying to make a “women-in-prison” film that wasn’t as lurid as many others but there’s still lots of girl fighting and nudity. It doesn’t mesh well with the feminist and violent content that comes up and it makes the nudity feel even more exploitative and uncomfortable then it was probably intended.
Skip to: The warden’s “Clockwork Orange” inspired sexual nightmare is hilarious and one of the post-shower fight scenes is just awesomely brutal. Keep going for one of the girls’ bathroom break out.
The Verdict: “Caged Heat” shows that Demme has something of a vision of what film could be, even if he isn’t allowed to show it off much here. It’s certainly not essential viewing but watchable for completionists.
What’s coming up next: We try to find out how magnets work in the film debut of Insane Clown Posse’s Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope in “Big Money Hustlas.”