In a world populated by nothing but sleazeball men, cherubic inmates and stern looking female wardens, a woman is doing a 5-10 stretch for an armed robbery that she maintains she never committed. Anne Carson (Joan Taylor) is arrested while a woman sings directly into the camera in a room adorned with penile balloons. She is forced to share a cell with Morgan Freeman’s evil, but slinky, female counterpart and two other crazy women hell bent on making prison life hard for our heroine. They are convinced she has hidden the money and coerce her into a jailbreak. All the while, a cartoon gangster holds Anne’s father hostage in an attempt to blackmail her into revealing where the money is hidden. Everything comes to a head when a natural disaster destroys the prison and then… Well, now we’re getting into spoiler territory.
Girls In Prison is dark as hell, way darker than I expected from an AIP production. For example, one character is in the big house after murdering her husband and son. The tagline (“The shocking story of one man against 1000 women!”) is totally misleading, as is the case with drive in fodder such as this, where posters are designed before scripts are written. There is no one man who apposes the inmates, their is barely even one man in the movie, save for the creepy priest who seems to have no awareness of personal space. I seriously can’t tell if he wants to save Anne or bang her.
There is plenty of girl on girl fights, purely for titilation and often in puddles. They come off fairly brutal and not at all sexy, but put together well. Women throw each other around, dodge shivs and take lengths of pipe to the face (no innuendo in a women’s prison), and one woman is even killed by a mob of angry prison wenches. The acting was some of the best I’ve seen from Arkoff’s exploitation stable, mostly from the inmates. Well actually, from everyone except the guy holding Anne’s dad hostage. Prison seems to be a fairly jolly place too, with birthday parties, dances, singalongs and needlepoint sessions. That last one is the kicker, lets give a bunch of bat shit crazy inmates who would shiv someone as soon as look at them some pointy objects and see what they do with them, yeah?
There are plenty of relationships that blosson throughout, none more surprising than the prison chaplain and the curmudgeonly old matron. Their scenes crackle with a bizarre kind of sexual chemistry that would make Harold and Maude blush. The burgeoning romance between Anne and the chaplain is never realised, and I thank god for that. In a movie so full of strong female characters that range from the sublimely evil to the fully insane, there is no room to say that any of these women need a man in their life. The best part, for me, was when Anne realises that she can break free from the male that has burdened her life up until that point, and still be happy. It is a strikingly proto-feminist point, whether intentional or not. The poster art, however, does it best to completely denigrate that point, as you will have seen. But hey, these were different times.
Sure there is plenty of your usual 50’s nonsense but this is a solid exploitation flick with plenty of cup on bar action. Obviously, it is directed in that static method that was all the rage back then, but director, Edward Cahn, really makes the most out of the story and its underlying themes. With moments of unabashed film noir cozying up with exploitative catfights and blaring social commentary, Girls In Prison not only functions as a well made exploiter, but as a precursor to Russ Meyer’s flicks chock full of strong, no nonsense female leads.The climax is exciting and tense is equal measure, even though you think you know exactly how it is going to turn out. For a not-too-subtle message movie from another era, Arkoff and Edward Cahn have carved out a solid gold classic.