• Jackson County Jail/Caged Heat (Roger Corman's Cult Classics)



    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: 3/22/2011
    Director: Michael Miller / Jonathan Demme
    Cast: Yvette Mimieux, Tommy Lee Jones / Erica Gavin, Barbara Steele, Juanita Brown
    Year: 1976 / 1974
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    The Movies:

    Shout! Factory continues its Roger Corman’s Cult Classics series with a double feature bursting at the seams with jailbirds, jailers, and jailbait. The DVD cover puts Jackson County Jail first, but the disc itself plays Caged Heat first, so we’ll start with that one.


    Caged Heat (1974)
    Russ Meyer girl Erica Gavin (Vixen, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls) stars in the directorial debut of Academy Award winner Jonathan Demme (he also wrote it). Gavin plays Jacqueline Wilson, a girl who got entangled with the wrong guys and gets arrested, then sent to a woman’s prison for a long time (all while never changing her clothes). Once there she gains a few friends but quickly gains a nemesis, Maggie (Juanita Brown, Foxy Brown), which eventually results in a fight and gains them both some serious punishment. In the meantime, Superintendent McQueen (Barbara Steele, Pit and the Pendulum, Piranha) tries her wheelchair-bound best to keep the prisoners in line using her unorthodox techniques, which include shock therapy, nude solitary confinement, lobotomies, and assembly-line showers.

    Some of the prisoners eventually reach their wit’s end with the joint, the warden, and the sleazy doctor (played by Warren Miller) so they decide to make a break for it. But that’s not the end of it. Their successful escape becomes overshadowed by their insane idea to go back to the prison to get their friends. Watch for fat guards with wild sideburns doing their damnedest to stop the escapees and fail miserably at it.

    Caged Heat has a few things going for it. First of all it’s full of some great genre movie actors, most of whom do a fine job with their chores. Aside from some mentioned above, look for such recognizable faces as the late Roberta Collins (Big Doll House, Death Race 2000, Eaten Alive), the late Cheryl "Rainbeaux" Smith (Massacre at Central High, Laserblast, Vice Squad), Mickey Fox (Big Bad Mama, Crazy Mama), John Aprea (The Seven-Ups, The Godfather II), and was the movie debut of porn goddess and human Betty Boop, Desiree Cousteau. Secondly, it was the launching ground for not only Demme, but also his cinematographer Tak Fujimoto, who went on to shoot such greats as Ferris Bueller's Day Off, The Silence of the Lambs, and Gladiator. Thirdly, it’s a Women In Prison flick, (well, mainly) and we all know what WIP movies mean: female nudity.

    One of the things missing that’s found in the typical, formulaic WIP films is the lack of a real sense of brutality. Some of the characters do get punished, and in real-life would be inhumane forms of punishment and torture, but the punishment isn’t anywhere near as graphic or disturbing as in the film’s European counterparts, like Ilsa Wicked Warden or Women’s Camp 119. The violence is homogenized by comparison and in effect has way less impact than it should. There’s also some moments of humor, too many really, which also lend themselves to dulling the edge a movie concerning this topic needs.


    Jackson County Jail (1976)
    Yvette Mimieux (The Black Hole) stars in this one as Dinah Hunter, a woman who has left her sexist boss’ employment and her womanizing husband (Howard Hesseman) and decides to ditch Los Angles to trek back to New York City to work for her sister. With her meager belongings she burns rubber across the USA in her luxurious AMC Pacer. Along the way she thwarts getting scammed out of five bucks from a waitress (actor-turned-director Betty Thomas who when on to helm Private Parts and Dr. Doolittle), picks up a teenaged hitchhiking couple who in turn steal her car (steal a Pacer? A Pacer???!) containing all her possessions (one of the hitchhikers is Robert Carradine of Revenge of the Nerds fame), nearly gets raped by a drunk bartender, and then she ends up in jail for no good reason.

    In jail, she finds herself in a cell next to a young Tommy Lee Jones, playing the part of Coley Blake, who’s a career criminal waiting to be transported to the a big facility. Jackson County’s finest aren’t exactly the brightest bulbs, and some lack the ability to control themselves with the attractive Ms. Hunter. Through a series of events, none of them good, the two escape and make way to freedom. The arm of the law is long indeed and the two fugitives are caught up to eventually, with an end result that neither wanted.

    The movie is a well-paced, well-crafted piece of 70s cinema that plays out more like a serious drama than it does drive-in fare. There’s not a whole lot here that falls into the typical exploitation formula: no smash ‘em ups car chases, no gratuitous nudity (although there is some), the violence is not for awe or shocks, there’s a serious lack of explosions, and there are no over-the-top characters. What is present is a very serious tone that addresses a number of points. One being the unfortunate dangers of being a woman traveling alone, made evident by the fact that the main character, an innocent soul, gets assaulted and taken advantage of by just about everyone she meets. Another being that even crooks have their codes of honor and their limits on what forms of crimes are acceptable.

    Mimieux does a great performance in this film and you really feel bad for her. Everyone seems to treat her terribly and there seems no reason for her to have such bad luck. And this is an early role for Tommy Lee Jones (according to the commentary it’s his first movie role) and he’s awesome as the anti-hero. Even though he’s a thug, his character is also likable and the two main players have a great groove going with each other. Their lives seem like parallels but on positive and negative plains.

    On the surface, this double feature seems like a it promises a night of debauchery and sleaze, but what it really provides is a couple of good movies with very different vibes.


    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Both films in this release have a new anamorphic widescreen transfer, in an aspect of 1.78:1. Both have noticeable dirt and debris, more so on Caged Heat, but neither to the point distraction. The transfers are great, with colors that look correct, decent black levels, and a very satisfying picture. There’s a nice amount of grain for those that dig it, and missing is any pixelation that these eyes picked up. The audio on both pictures is in 2.0 Dolby Digital and sounds as good as it can, one would imagine. There are no defects to note and the levels sound balanced. Neither movie was recorded in 5.1 so the 2-channel is appropriate. Shout! did a fine job with the transfers and collectors should not be disappointed.

    On to the extras. First of all it has a feature called “The Grindhouse Experience” which plays both movies back to back with trailers before the features and bumpers from the 70s throughout. You can watch the movies each their own of course, as well as watch the trailers whenever you want, which are for the following movies: Big Doll House, Big Bad Mama, Great Texas Dynamite Chase, and Piranha. In the extras you call also access trailers for the two feature films as well as the newer Corman crapfest Sharktopus. Also in the extras you’ll find a couple of interviews between Leonard Maltin and Roger Corman concerning the two movies on this double feature, and totaling about nine minutes. There’s also a photo gallery for each movie featuring some great lobby cards.

    And finally, each movie is accompanied by a commentary. Caged Heat features director Jonathan Demme, the DP Tak Fujimoto, Erica Gavin, and the producer Eveyln Purcell. It’s a great track, they all have lots to say, and it stays interesting throughout. You may find yourself walking away with a better appreciation for the film after giving this one a listen. Erica Gavin makes reference to a recent interview she gave for a movie website (hmmm….is it this? Yep) which is cool beans. The participants in Jackson County Jail are director Michael Miller, producer Jeff Begun, and DP Bruce Logan. This suffers long spaces of silence between the men and could have done well with a moderator. That said, when the men do talk they give some nice details and tidbits, but they aren’t real animated when they speak, so it drags along. The second half seems better though. At any rate the extras add great value to the release and are very much appreciated. Also a note to the packaging, which has a great photo on the inside and a little bit of liner notes from Mr. Corman. It’s these little things that make Shout releases that much more desirable.


    The Final Word:

    This Jackson County Jail/Caged Heat double feature is another awesome addition to the Roger Corman’s Cut Classics collection. Packed with 70s drive-in goodness, you’ll do well to pick it up and display it with pride.
    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Todd Jordan's Avatar
      Todd Jordan -
      Wednesday and Pippy did not rate this disc because they are too young to watch it.