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The Big Doll House (1971)

Ah yes. One of the most infamous Exploitation genres: Women in Prison, often just called WIP. An extremely controversial sub-genre due to it’s main focus being the torture of beautiful young woman, often naked. The plot would tend to concern a young girl who was wrongfully incarcerated and now has to deal with the cruel life of a prisoner. There would also usually be a torturous warden, most often a woman. The final climax would be the woman attempting to break out. These films became a huge hit with exploitation nuts everywhere. There were American made ones, Italian, and even Asia took a crack at the sub-genre. Some of the most prolific films being Big Doll House, its sequel Big Bird Cage, Women in Cages, 99 Women, and of course the Ilsa films. The ironic thing is how much the nazisploitation films like Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS spill over into the WIP films. The difference is obviously a heavy reliance on the Nazi culture, as well as ghastly experiments there were actually performed during WWII. So what was the allure behind these films? Well probably the biggest thing is beautiful, young, naked women. What can I say? Men are pigs. I myself am a newcomer to the genre, having only seen the first Ilsa film before I sat down to watch Big Doll House. I had little idea what I was in for.

Big Doll House follows a group of imprisoned girls. The main focus being on the new girl: Collier. The cast also includes the great Pam Grier in her second role after Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Her character in this is actually a lesbian caring for her crackhead girlfriend. It is actually an interesting sub-plot that really adds some substance to what would otherwise be a routine WIP film. I could be wrong but I believe this may be one of the first Women In Prison films. It was directed by Jack Hill who Grier would go on to work with for a few more films including the Blaxploitation Classic, Coffy. In addition, the famed Roger Corman produced it. The film follows Collier as she adjusts to her new life as a prisoner of a Jail located in the Philippine’s jungle. Collier befriends her cell mates as well as two produce salesmen and together they plot their escape. Along the way she has to deal with the cruel and sadistic warden as well as the corrupt prison psychologist. Furthermore there is a new prison doctor who feels there is something fishy going on.

While the film does have a decent amount of torture scenes the focus really is on the girls. It is a much more character-driven WIP film and that probably lead to me liking it as much as I did. I found myself really engaged with the story and got a kick out of Grear, as well as Bodine. Bodine is the bad ass chick that “Even Grear wouldn’t fuck with.” She is played by Pat Woodell, who unfortunately didn’t do much else besides this film and the TV show Petticoat Junction. Sid Haig also has a role in this as one of the salesmen that helps break the girls out. He is also a bit of a pig demanding Grear pay him for a pack of smokes with a touch of her breasts. Scenes like this show why Grier has turned to women. The love story between Grear and the drug addict also has a tragic twist ending that really made my jaw drop. I think what really makes this film work is like I said it focuses much more on the characters than the actual torture. This was my second WIP film and I look forward to its sequel as well as more of the genre. I can only hope out of the 15 or so I own a few will be as good as this one.

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