The original woman’s prison movie. We’ve got fat prison guards, some lesbian action, a wicked warden, and a prison doctor who likes to “experiment” on the women.
A relatively innocent girl named Jacqueline Wilson (Erica Gavin) is caught in a drug bust and sent to a Southern penitentiary, Connorville Women’s Prison.
The iron-handed wheelchair-bound warden McQueen (Barbara Steele) takes exception to a stand-up routine performed by the girls and takes punitive steps, aided by the sadistic doctor (Warren Miller) who is performing illegal electroshock experiments and raping drugged prisoners.
Despite their intense rivalry, Jackie and a hardened African American inmate named Maggie (Juanita Brown) escape in a transport truck. Teaming up with another gun-toting chick named Crazy Annie (Lynda Gold), they hold up a bank before busting back into the prison to rescue their other cellmates.
Leading lady Erica Gavin made her screen debut several years earlier in one of the first hardcore adult features, Russ Meyer’s Vixen! (1968), which was a gutsy career move in an era when many actors were arrested for performing sex acts on film.
Cheryl “Rainbeaux” Smith also enjoyed a busy career in exploitation films during the ’70s and early ’80s, before tragically dying of hepatitis in 2002.
But beautiful blue-eyed Roberta Collins, who had already appeared in two previous prison sexploitation movies (The Big Doll House and Women In Cages – both made in 1971), steals the show as the endearingly faithful Belle. The character takes a considerable personal risk to help her friend Pandora (Ella Reid) and ultimately suffers for her effort.
When we see her molested by the perverted doctor and learn that she’s scheduled to become his next lobotomy victim, the news is genuinely shocking and upsetting, which nicely sets up Jackie (Gavin) and Maggie (Juanita Brown) for a race against the clock to save her.
The acting is not great but, of course, we have ample screen time of women in group showers.
Jonathan Demme went on to bigger and better things, becoming one of the most successful directors of his generation, and winning a Best Director Academy Award in 1991 for Silence Of The Lambs, which also won the Best Picture Oscar.
All-in-all, Caged Heat is a fine piece of entertainment when you need to kill 83 minutes and have absolutely nothing else to do. The soundtrack is provided by former Velvet Underground member, John Cale.
Toby Carr Rafelson