Color, 1971, 93 mins.

Directed by Jack Hill

Starring Judy Brown, Roberta Collins, Pam Grier, Brooke Mills, Pat Woodell, Sid Haig, Christiane Schmidtmer, Katheryn Loder, Jerry Frank / Music by Les Baxter & Hall Daniels / Written by Don Spencer / Cinematography by Fred Conde

Shout Factory (Blu-Ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), New Horizons (US R1 NTSC)

The first and one of the best. If you've ever suffered through those cruddy women in prison movies Cinemax used to show in the middle of the night on the weekends, here's a rare example of how it should be done (Jonathan Demme's Caged Heat is another).

The plot couldn't be more simple: a group of women in prison, led by the resourceful Collier (top-billed Judy Brown), plan an escape. Inside snitch Grear (Pam Grier in her first speaking film role) slips information back and forth to the guards and the evil warden, Ms. Dietrich (a hilarious Christiane Schmidtmer, best remembered for The Giant Spider Invasion), in order to get smack for her lesbian lover cellmate. Guards torment and molest prisoners. Prisoners get naked (though not as much as you'd expect for this genre). One evil head guard, Lucian (Kathryn Lodern, the quasi-Bette Davis villainess from Foxy Brown) tortures bad girls by tying them to tables and hanging snakes over them. With the aid of guard Sid Haig, the girls eventually the girls stage a big, violent breakout which claims a few lives and leads to a riotous, over the top sequence in the middle of the jungle.

Fast paced and surprisingly well acted, The Big Doll House takes itself more seriously than its semi-sequel, The Big Bird Cage, and delivers all the usual thrills you would expect, though a few witty lines and some hysterical monologues (the one about the husband and the poolboy is priceless) indicate the filmmakers already knew how to keep their tongues firmly in cheek. As if that weren't enough, you also get a theme song, "Long Time Woman," performed by Pam Grier herself (and later reused in Jackie Brown).

The New Horizons DVD follows several other video incarnations, including with a passable release from Embassy and a miserable one under the title Women's Penitentiary (which spawned a slew of other retitled women in prison films). The New Horizons version is presented open matte, giving characters way too much headroom in many shots but otherwise a nice presentation. Big Doll House was shot on less than optimum materials in the Philippines, thanks to the producer wishes of Filipino scholock experts Eddie Romero and John Ashley (Mad Doctor of Blood Island), so this edition is about as good as it's going to look. Sound quality is fine if a bit ragged in spots due to the recording techniques, and the disc is well compressed and contains no noticeable artifacts. This print contains the irritating dubbed-in final line used on reissue prints and all other video versions. Also includes the original trailer and the usual New Horizons coming attractions assortment (Big Bad Mama, Eat My Dust,, etc.), as well as the usual PR materials about how Roger Corman is such a great guy (but why does his picture have to be on the spine label of every title?).

Color, 1974, 91 mins.

Directed by Jack Hill
Starring Jo Johnston, Rainbeaux Smith, Colleen Camp, Rosanne Katon, Jack Denton, Ron Hajek
Anchor Bay (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.66:1)

Not as exploitive as its title would suggest but neither quite as groundbreakingly feminist as its champions claim, Swinging Cheerleaders is director Jack Hill's above average entry in the '70s cycle of liberated girls who use their jobs (well, okay, cheerleading isn't exactly a job) as a means of obtaining personal fulfillmenet and sexual pleasure. After successfully tackling the horror and women in prison genres, Hill brings his usual directorial strengths to this one: fast pacing, bizarre supporting characters, ridiculous action, and funky dialogue. Drive-in fans should be plenty amused.

Kate (Johnston), a reporter for an underground student newspaper at Mesa University, joins the cheerleading squad to expose... well, something about exploitation of women, though she never really makes her goals all that clear. Her radical editor boyfriend disapproves when she moves into the dorm to get closer to her story, and he really gets ticked when she winds up sleeping with Buck (Hajek), the star quaterback. Unfortunately, he reveals some nasty traits of his own when he humiliates fellow cheerleader Andrea (Caged Heat's Smith, playing a naive virgin -- 'scuse me while I collapse with laughter for a moment). Buck's fiance, rich blonde cheerleader Mary Ann (Camp, who has way too little screen time and, oddly enough, does no nudity), doesn't believe Kate's claims that the coach, a local store owner, and a math teacher are rigging all of the football games in the season to make themselves rich. Kate decides to expose the story, even though the married math teacher is sleeping with yet another cheerleader, Lisa (Katon, one of the first black Playmates). Got all that? After many double crosses and over-the-top dramatic moments, it all ends with a big nonsensical brawl in a warehouse before the strangely abrupt final scene.

Anchor Bay's transfer once again is far better than you would ever expect from a low budget drive-in teen flick; in fact, the print is so clean and sharp that the stock footage inserted during the football sequences is even more obvious now. The vivid '70s colors look rich and distortion-free, while the audio is... well, as clear as it will ever sound. Incidentally, composer Loose also wrote the music for most of Russ Meyer's late '60s and '70s films. If you ever caught some of those cheesy cheerleader movies on Cinemax late at night and wondered whether anyone ever bothered to make a good one, check this out. Incidentally, one earlier video version of this film was released under the title H.O.T.S. 2, though the original H.O.T.S. (a really lousy movie, by the way) came out several years later. The DVD also includes two TV spots and running commentary with Hill and "film historian" Johnny Legend in which Hill warmly recalls his guerilla filmmaking techniques from the period. Until the long-awaited Miramax DVD of Hill's Switchblade Sisters comes out, this will do just fine.

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