Carol Jeffries was just set up by her boyfriend, a drug dealer who makes her take the wrap for a massive drug deal he was involved in during an illegal cock fight. Carol, a vulnerable and innocent woman, has just found herself in a women’s pen in the middle of nowhere with vicious female criminals. And she has nowhere to go but down, baby. She’s forced to endure the tribulations of prison life involving psychotic roommates, horrible living conditions, and a violent matron named Alabama (Ms. Pam Grier, herself) who sleeps with all the prisoners, and punishes them with “The Playpen” when they refuse to abide by her sexual favors. Did I mention the drug dealers on the outside are trying to assassinate Carol to keep her mouth shut?
While there have been many great women in prison flicks in the seventies, “Women in Cages” (co-produced by Roger Corman) is simply one of the best I’ve seen with the story as simplistic and single minded as you’d expect while also managing to be a lot of fun. At only a little under ninety minutes, director Gerardo De Leon creates a disgusting and harrowing world inside concrete walls where basic human laws and decency is destroyed under the rule of sadistic wardens and guards. In the meanwhile, writers Osterhout and Watkins create their own sleazy version of “Cool Hand Luke” sans the drama and much more homoeroticism among the prisoners.
Following in line with the basic premise of the sub-genre, De Leon’s characters have all been wronged by disgusting devious men who played them for saps, and they’re intent on seeking payback. What inevitably ensues is a trip into the sadistic, as the prisoner’s team up to plan a break out and hope to avert the Phillipino head hunters who lurk in the woods to stop them. Pam Grier is in her usual over the top awe as Alabama, the woman whose own hatred for white women turns her into a ravenous monster who manipulates the women to fight and kill one another.
The last thirty minutes are very much in the vein of “The Great Escape” as a tense and violent assault takes place with all obstacles proving difficult to ensure a safe departure. But as we soon realize, the outside is just as unforgiving as the inside. De Leon’s direction is surprising in its efficiency in delivering atmosphere that’s often gritty and disgusting, and the prison invariably becomes a menacing character all in its own right, as the assassination attempts on Carol’s life add an unpredictability to the turmoil among the women. Will Carol make it out alive?
Will she be able to testify against the man she once trusted? Most importantly, will Alabama stay in power crushing the spirits of every woman who comes into her prison? “Women in Cages” thankfully lives up to its reputation providing pure unadulterated sleaze and sadisms with a genuinely entertaining story about conspiracy, crime, and what happens when you put your trust in to the wrong people. While I liked titles such as “Barbed Wire Dolls” and “Chained Heat,” I think there’s no movie out there that will be able to top Gerardo De Leon’s “Women in Cages,” an attack on the senses, and a truly gripping story with a final shot that’s tragic and yet indicative of the individual doomed to be a perpetual victim.