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Caged Heat


‘…Caged Heat is a seminal work in the WIP genre, and even if there are issues to be considered, it’s a strong, supple film…’

‘You’re in a house of desperate women here!’ says one of the characters in Jonathan Demme’s women-in prison (WIP) flick, and she’s not wrong. These are desperate women alright, but they’re also our heroes, gals in the slammer, fighting against the iron grip of a cruel, sadistic warden (Barbara Steele). Out this week for the first time on blu-ray in the UK, Caged Heat was taken on late-in-the-day circa 1974 by Demme, replacing a director fired by producer Roger Corman, but he did a bang-up job here; if you can ignore some of the traditional excesses of an exploitation film, there’s a lot here to enjoy if you can handle your action rough and ready.

‘I’m gonna knock your pretty little teeth so far into your throat you’re gonna get a picket fence around you’re a**hole,’ is a helpful piece of sample dialogue. This film is as linguistically abrasive as the locations are grimy to look at; fortunately Tak Fujimoto is on cinematography duties and comes up with some great shots. The heat that gets caged comprises of some lively talents, Junita Brown as Maggie, Erica Gavin as Jaqueline, and Roberta Collins as Belle; three women incarcerated amongst some of the healthiest looking inmates ever seen in a low-rent jail. Superintendent McQueen (Steele) has it in for them, and so once they’ve had enough of showers and yard exercise, the gals eventually bust out and head for the hills…

Much as one applauds the energy and dynamism of such low budget fare, it’s a shame that Caged Heat leans so heavily into finding reasons for the women to continually disrobe; the incessant nudity might have been what a largely male audience craved in 1974, but it’s somewhat problematic in terms of today’s viewing. There’s also a disturbing subplot about a predatory prison doctor (Warren Miller) which is handled in a casual manner that wouldn’t be on today; that’s exploitation cinema for you.

Demme went on to a storied career after his apprentice period working with Corman; The Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia for a start. But like Coppola and Scorsese, Demme cut his teeth on exploitation fodder, elevating these texts to something that’s still worth watching today. Caged Heat is a seminal work in the WIP genre, and even if there are issues to be considered, it’s a strong, supple film that’s keyed into issues about woman refusing to be exploited by a male-dominated system, or women who enable that system.

Caged Heat is out now for the first time in blu-ray in the UK, released alongside Demme’s Crazy Mama (1975). Thanks to 101 Films for access.

Special Features
2K scan from the Original Camera Negative
Commentary with writer/director Jonathan Demme, director of photography Tak
Fujimoto and actress Erica Gavin
Leonard Maltin interviews Roger Corman
Theatrical Trailer
Still Gallery


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    • Maybe I’m imposing a standard on this that wasn’t there at the time. I’m prepared to overlook some aspects of a film nearly 50 years old, and do find great merit in some exploitation films. But Crazy Mama manages to dodge the sex cliches better to the modern eye…

      • Possibly down to Leachman’s involvement. A lot of exploitation films were in the hands of young directors who later made a bigger impact just like some of the directors who cut their teeth on Corman horror a decade earlier.

  1. I’m sorry but “it’s a strong, supple film that’s keyed into issues about woman refusing to be exploited by a male-dominated system”, bullox. Is that the premise it’s being rereleased on? As you say in the first place the incescent (spelled wrong by moi probably) nudity and casual treatment of the predatory Doctor wouldn’t be got away with these days, and rightly so, so why re-release it and send us all 48years back when this sh** was the way incels (and probably outcels) got their jollies without going to the brown paper package video shops. FFS. Rant over have a nice day! XXX

    • I hear you, and yes, a film like this requires some warning. Nothing wrong with human bodies, but the way women were portrayed in exploitation movies wasn’t healthy at all. There were thousands of exploitation movies, but few have the consideration for women that Demme had. So your rant is justified, yet there is some merit in this film, but you have to ignore the constraints the director was put under. I’ve made it part of my beat to call out racism, sexism or any ism in reviews, and will continue to attempt to do so. Only by understanding the murky past can we make a better future…

  2. The only WiP flick I have any memory of is Reform School Girls, with the inimitable Wendy O. Williams and Sybil Danning. Few things date like sexploitation, and I never understood the attraction of films that are just playing with being porn.

    • Shhh…we don’t mention Sybil Danning in front of Captain Booky! He has Space valkerie flashbacks!

      I guess back in 1975, Corman felts there was a market for T and A, and gave his directors some free rein if they included enough. This is a progressive film, but it also digs into male fantasies in a rather tricky way…

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