Directors: Paul Nicholas, Robert Collector, Ernst R. von Theumer
Panik House Entertainment

Panik House Entertainment is back for a limited time with this remastered two-disc WOMEN IN PRISON triple featuring the Linda Blair WIP duo CAGED HEAT and RED HEAT, along with JUNGLE WARRIORS.

Regarded among fans as one of the top-tier “women in prison” films, CHAINED HEAT begins as “prison virgin” Carol Henderson (Blair) – sentenced to 18 months for hitting a man with her car – arrives at a downtown Los Angeles women’s penitentiary. She makes friends with repeat inmate Val (Sharon Hughes, THE LAST HORROR FILM). Upon their arrival in their cellblock, they witness black inmate Williamson (Nicola Dantine) a black prisoner attacked by the razor-wielding white Spider (Carol White, HELTER SKELTER). Carol catches the eye of tough girl Ericka (Sybil Danning, THE HOWLING II); cue nude shower scene. Ericka is the prison’s main dealer for cocaine with the help of prison doctor Lester (Henry Silva, THE BOSS) and Captain Taylor (Stella Stevens, THE MANITOU). Warden Bacman (John Vernon, ANIMAL HOUSE) is not pleased that someone is moving in on his own side action, and employs snitch inmate Debbie (Monique Gabrielle, HOT MOVES) – whom he also videotapes nude in his hot tub – to find out who is supplying the drugs. Ericka and her cohorts have decided to take out the snitch, but Duchess (Tamara Dobson, CLEOPATRA JONES AND THE CASINO OF GOLD) does not want them bringing the heat down on the other inmates (she also calls Ericka a “chalk-faced whore”). Duchess asks Carol who killed Williamson, but she already suspects Spider. Ericka arranges for Carol to accompany Val and some other girls outside the prison as entertainment to a party in the Hollywood hills arranged by Lester. She disappoints Lester when she resists the forceful attentions of Martin (Michael Callan, THE CAT AND THE CANARY). When Carol discovers Spider’s body, she goes to the warden and tells him all about Lester and his link to Ericka. Bacman fires Lester so Taylor decides to replace the warden and get Lester back. After the warden rapes Carol, Val plots to seduce him in order to get the videotape of the rape so they can turn it over to the police, but they are surprised by Taylor and guard Paula (Edy Williams, BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS) who drown Bacman and beat Val to death. Carol learns from a dying Val who beat her and turns bad-ass, attacking Paula and earning the respect of Duchess. Taylor is promoted to warden and frames Ericka for Val’s murder and she is sent to solitary. Carol, Duchess, and the other inmates plot a riot to bust Ericka out and get the tape (which now contains Bacman’s murder as well). Taylor, who has been away with Lester during the start of the riot, gets back inside to eliminate Christine.

CHAINED HEAT is an entertaining ninety-eight minute mix of serious performances (courtesy of Blair, Stevens, and Hughes) and campy ones (courtesy of Danning, Dobson, Vernon, and pretty much the rest of the cast). While the indignities suffered by Carol are affecting and there is some brutal violence, it is all nicely leavened by Danning and Dobson’s posturing and Vernon’s coke-addled antics. Blair is great as the innocent-turned-badass (when she pops up in other films, people should really be saying “Hey, it’s Linda Blair from CHAINED HEAT” rather than THE EXORCIST). Danning (in one of her early American productions) gives a commanding performance as Ericka and the camera loves her (the fight scene with Duchess is a highlight). Vernon chews up the scenery as the warden (“Mother of pearl!” he exclaims after trying some of the contraband cocaine) and he sure loves that hot tub. Silva is fun as the sleazy Lester, although he should have gotten more screen time. Dobson gives a dignified performance befitting her character’s name as the Vassar-grad inmate Duchess (after drowning a guard in a fish tank, she quips “I sure hope they can get the smell out of the fish”). Stevens also throws herself into her role and maintains her composure until the end where she has to get physical (“You pig shit!” she cries as she launches herself at Danning). Jennifer Ashley (INSEMINOID), Louisa Moritz (DEATH RACE 2000), and Vernon’s daughter Kate (MALCOLM X) plays one of the inmates. German director Paul Nicolas had already directed Danning in JULIE DARLING (as well as Nastassja Kinski in her debut BOARDING SCHOOL). TV composer Joseph Conlon (SIMON & SIMON) provides a pulsing electronic score and Mac Ahlberg (who also photographed Blair in the atmospheric HELL NIGHT, produced by CHAINED HEAT co-producer Mark Rosen) keeps his camera moving and the lighting clear, even during the night exteriors and tunnel scenes. Producer Billy Fine would start directing JUNGLE WARRIORS with Danning and Vernon (more on that below). Executive producers Monica Teuber and Ernst von Theumer would go on to produce JUNGLE WARRIORS and RED HEAT. CHAINED HEAT II (with Brigitte Nielson) and III were in-name-only sequels.

According to the back cover, Panik House’s edition of CHAINED HEAT marks the film’s first uncut DVD release in the states. The 98 minute running time seems to agree with cited times for the longest version. The cable version reportedly ran only 88 minutes. The anamorphic, progressive, dual-layer transfer is the best-looking of the three films in the set, thanks to the dual-layer encoding, Ahlberg’s cinematography (always a dependable name in low budget films), and a clean source (it may be the high definition master that has appeared on Showtime). Dialogue and music also come through strongly in the Dolby Digital mono mix.

Blair is back in RED HEAT, this time as Christine Carlson, who has come to West Germany to get married to army officer Mike (William Ostrander, CHRISTINE). When he tells her that he has re-enlisted, she storms off and witnesses the abduction of Hedda (Sue Kiel, REPO MAN), a research assistant who had escaped from East Germany with sensitive information. Suspected of being a CIA spy, Christine is abducted too and the two women are taken to an East German prison. Mike thinks Christine has left him until her passport is found in the parking lot of their hotel. After days of interrogation, a weakened Christine confesses just so they will stop (then again, would you believe her when she claims to be a college student). She is sentenced to three years and Hedda to fifty. In the prison, Christine quickly makes enemies with Sofia (Sylvia Kristel, EMMANUELLE), who is the manipulative lover of uptight lesbian warden Einbeck (Elizabeth Volkmann, VERONIKA VOSS). Einbeck says that Christine will have it easy if she gets close to Hedda and finds out information from her, and Einbeck orders Sofia to make sure Christine follows through. When Christine does not follow orders, she is raped. When another inmate hangs herself after Sofia’s torments, Christine attacks Sofia and sparks a mini-riot. She, Hedda, and some other inmates get an additional three years. This earns Christine respect among the inmates as well as Sofia’s jealousy. Sofia plots to kill Christine (“the first man I killed was my stepfather because he ate my pet snake”). Meanwhile, on the outside, Mike’s efforts to find Christine are continually frustrated by red tape before teaming up with some army buddies – as well as Hedda’s brother Ernst (Albert Fortell, LITTLE NIKITA) – to break her and Hedda out.

An American/German co-production shot in Germany, the production is slick with some picturesque views (other than the prison). While not as good as CHAINED HEAT, RED HEAT rises above much of its low budget, exploitation ilk with a glossy look, good production values, a Tangerine Dream score, and Blair’s lead performance (she really sells her fear throughout). It is also a grimmer picture compared to CHAINED HEAT, and this is to its detriment. Christine, Hedda, and Sofia are the only characters who stand out, but none of them are as entertaining as the characters in the Nicolas film. Blair gives a sympathetic performance that only gets better when she turns badass, but that’s sixty-five minutes into the film. Kristel is miscast as the tough girl. Her accent is too elegant despite her dialogue (and it seems that she is affecting a mock-German accent on top of her more pleasant Dutch accent), and seems a bit bored, and perhaps amused at what is required of her. Her performance does, however, improve late in the film as cracks appear in Sofia’s tough exterior. Reportedly a popular German TV comedian, the late Volkmann wanders about the film with a perma-frown. Ostrander, better known to US audiences as the lead bully in John Carpenter’s CHRISTINE, is fair as the concerned boyfriend, but these scenes outside the prison feel more obligatory and lack any real suspense. The shootout climax is a bunch of silhouettes running through various corridors and shooting at each other (it is often difficult to determine who got hit). The Tangerine Dream score is not much of a standout; in fact, it seems to be patterned after Joseph Conlon’s electronic score for CHAINED HEAT. Although produced and co-directed (uncredited) by JUNGLE WARRIOR’s Ernst von Theumer, RED HEAT is presented by – of all people – Arnold Kopelson (PLATOON, THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE).

RED HEAT was originally released in a 104 minute version, but the transfer presented here runs only 93 minutes. The BBFC website lists an 89 minute 52 second version (PAL speed) which is described as a re-edited version, which may be this version at NTSC speed. I am assuming that the bulk of this missing footage is expository in nature, but some sex and violence may have been clipped as well (including Christine’s rape, although the directors may have been attempting to leave something to the imagination). The source print for this transfer bears the title RED HEAT: UNSCHULD IN KETTEN but the credits are otherwise in English. It is the grainiest of the three films, but it is also the most darkly lit of the three

With Danning, Vernon, Paul Smith (PIECES), Alex Cord (THE DEAD ARE ALIVE), and Marjoe Gortner (BOBBIE JO AND THE OUTLAW) in JUNGLE WARRIORS, how can you go wrong? Well, let’s start off with a female vocalist croaking “I need your heat!” to some very Giorgio Moroder/Harold Faltermayer-type 198os type synth music! A rival drug cartel’s waterfall base is ambushed by men lead by Luther (Woody Strode, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST), the right hand man of local drug lord Cesar Santiago (Smith), who takes a personal interest in torturing informants. Five models and art director Larry (Gortner) head south of the border for a location fashion shoot. They are met by photographer Joanna (Nina Van Pallandt, THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER) and pilot Ben (Kai Wulff, ASSASSINS) who will fly the group into the jungle. At the airport, one of the models crosses paths with Nick Spilotro (Cord), the right hand man of American mobster Vito Mastranga (Vernon) who is supposed to meet up with Santiago. Lounge lizard Larry coaxes Marci (Mindi Iden, DREAMSCAPE) into accompanying him on the fashion shoot. When Larry spots a picturesque waterfall, he demands that Ben land there despite warnings of the local drug cartel. They are picked up on Santiago’s radar and shot down. The group flees into the jungle and seek shelter, but are captured by Santiago’s men. The thugs have their way with the models while Nick and Mastranga meet up with Santiago. Nick is apprehensive about the deal with Santiago, but Mastranga is just happy to get some reading done and get laid by random pool bunnies. Little do they know that Santiago and his sadistic lesbian sister Angel (Danning) have no intention of dealing with them and are only interested in the gold Mastranga has brought with him. Meanwhile, the models manage to get their hands on guns and plan their escape.

JUNGLE WARRIORS is pretty watered-down compared to the other two films in the set. The film's more scant nudity, hints of rape and torture, and action scenes are almost a parody of stronger films, but there are some startling – if unconvincing – bits of violence scattered throughout (including an unexpected decapitation). Out of the three films, this one was most likely tailored for an R-rated theatrical and video audience. Smith and Danning are more camp than cruel, and Vernon seems like he actually is merely enjoying a south-of-the-border vacation. Strode has little to do (and say). Gortner is set up as the action hero (he goes from smarmy guy who gets the models into this mess to feeling guilty and responsible for their safety quickly) before ending up on the receiving end of one of those rigged jungle traps. The somewhat thrown-together storylines of the Santiagos, the models, and Mastranga may have also suffered from the film’s rumored production problems (according to Imdb’s trivia section, CHAINED HEAT producer Billy Fine started the film as director but was fired and replaced with producer Ernst R. von Theumer, while Gortner was brought in to replace Dennis Hopper who had been arrested by Mexican police for walking around naked in a nearby village during the shooting). Angel’s sadism and perversion are limited to fondling some of the girls and a nude, backlit, soft-focus oil massage from her brother. It’s pretty lightweight exploitation – the rape scene with the models and Santiago’s men not as brutal as Danning’s ministrations that precede it – and the climactic gunfight is more monotonous than exciting. Dana Elcar (TV’s DARK SHADOWS) appears as stateside law enforcement tracking Mastranga (he appears in a chopper during the climactic shootout, but he is never seen in the same shots as any of the other actors during this sequence).

Panik House’s transfer of JUNGLE WARRIORS looks as good as the shooting conditions allow. The day scenes and interiors are clean-looking while the sometimes underlit night scenes and dungeon scenes have heavy grain. The general softness can be attributed to eighties cinematography. As with the other two films, the transfer is 16:9 enhanced with good mono audio, the better to make out the lyrics to Marina Arcangeli’s theme song. While CHAINED HEAT is uncut and the cut status of RED HEAT is up in the air, JUNGLE WARRIORS appears also to be presented in a longer version here: the 24 fps BBFC-submitted film length of this film before cuts was just over 92 minutes; the Panik House transfer runs just over 95 minutes. JUNGLE WARRIORS may not be worth the purchase on its own, but it is definitely worth the viewing when paired with the other two films in this set.

Panik House’s back cover points out that this DVD set is a “limited availability” release. After Panik House sat on top of these three titles for some time, internet celebrity nude site Mr. Skin got involved in producing this edition, which is set to go out of print at the end of 2011 when the rights expire. Mr. Skin’s involvement consists of minute-long introductions for the three films that highlights who gets nude (and spends just as much time promoting the website). All three films were released in the UK in 2006 by Anchor Bay Entertainment in a boxed set, but JUNGLE WARRIORS ran only 82 minutes (shorter than the BBFC-cut theatrical and earlier tape release) while CHAINED HEAT and RED HEAT were re-edited versions. New interviews with Sybil Danning and Stella Stevens are featured on the CHAINED HEAT. Stevens expresses fondness for the film and the cast, and gives a bit of insight into how she realized her character (one of the few non-lesbian wardens in a WIP film). Danning (looking great as usual) is also fond of the cast and film (one of her first American pictures) and talks about her nude shower scene with Blair. She also points out a gaffe in her fight scene with Stevens, and provides Paul Nicolas’ real name (although even the Austrian actress seems to have trouble pronouncing it). Although she starred in two of the films in the set, Blair is unfortunately not present in the extras. While CHAINED HEAT and its extras get a dual-layer disc to themselves, RED HEAT and JUNGLE WARRIORS share a dual-layered disc with only the Mr. Skin intros and the films’ respective theatrical trailers as extras, but the set is worth getting for the first disc alone. (Eric Cotenas)