01 March 2009

The Naked Cage

United States - 1986
Director – Paul Nicholas
Media Home Entertainment, 1987, VHS

You might think the movie hasn’t started yet and you’re watching a trailer for a Disney picture about animal husbandry when you spot the first scene coming over the horizon like a gilded unicorn. Buxom blonde Michelle (Shari Shattuck of Arena and later, director Jim Wynorski's Body Chemistry 3) lives the life of a perfect adorable princess well into her twenties, all soft focus, Slisbury Steak dinners, cooing mothers and underthings that smell like sunlight and Jesus. This is the kindof girl that prays every night for god to bless her horsies, c’mon, she actually enjoys her job as a bank teller. Like director Nicholas’ earlier women-in-prison film, Chained Heat, Naked Cage also centers around an innocent baby-fatted princess thrown into the grinder of prison only to come out all tits and gristle on the other side.

That’s the first exclamation of enthusiasm coming from the jutting rugged jaw of Willy (John Terlesky of the title role in Deathstalker 2 also directed by Jim Wynorski). Willy picks up a fashion-punk chick named Rita from the side of a lonely desert highway. Over lunch at a roadside diner, a cop takes an interest in Willy’s stolen Corvette, and Rita exposes her inner ex-con by airing out the cop’s brain. Later, after Willy snorts some victory cocaine off her titties, Rita convinces him to rob a bank, but he makes one last drug addled reconciliation plea to with his wife (? This is never clarified) the angelic untainted Michelle. Rebuffed, (and probably a few grams later) it turns out that they’re robbing the same bank that doe-eyed Michelle works at. (big surprise) Michelle tries to intervene in the whole blundering operation, to make Willy stop, to turn him back into the sunshine, but when she jumps in the getaway car to staunch the flow when he is shot, she is taken as an accomplice and is prison bound for all the usual visual vice and expected sin.

Inside she is forced to wear a demeaning little rag of a miniskirt and befriends the stringy-haired waifish drug addict inmate Amy who she counsels in positivity with sparkly sigh-heavy bragging about her pony. The Warden, with a rat’s nest of blond curls piled and sprayed to a rigid finish, gives Michelle the lesbian warden speech. Please me, and your life here will be easy etc. Hmmm, in case you were wondering just what that means, or maybe just wanted the warden to be a little more specific, hold on a sec…

In the Warden’s boudoir, bedecked with every tacky 80’s aesthetic convention short of a Lamborghini poster, she spanks and is spanked by a pillowy chested inmate in low-grade bondage gear and competing spray-hardened rats nest. If you aren’t too distracted, you’ll notice that the inmate is pocketing, er, pantying something, go back to being distracted it never gets explained. But do pay attention to the pug-nosed creep in the closet, he’ll be back in just a … WAIT There he is, raping one of the black inmates before hanging her.
Brought to task by the leader of the black prisoners, Brenda, the Warden upbraids “Smiley” the rapist, but as we know, in detail, she has her own prisonerette vice and there is an uneasy a live and let live, racist-rapist-homicide policy.

Suddenly Rita shows up in the mess hall and you know she’s pure poison because she’s already sporting a custom modified punk prison issue miniskirt and single dangling feather earring. That’s concentrated anarchy waiting to happen.
Good timing too, I was just starting to think Michelle wasn’t going to have a shower scene. But as if to punish me for being such a shallow slob, Rita emerges from the roiling steam to slash Michelle up with a knife, waking her up from her nightmare. This is where things start to get a little bit complicated and overly serious, blame it on director Nicholas who’s Chained Heat (1983) was equally brimming with bloodletting and boobs. He’d rather bite the tongue off than stick it in the cheek.

Here Michelle incurs the wrath of the Warden and her pal Smiley by refusing to rat on the other inmates, and by sticking up for Amy when her pimp comes around. Sent to solitary so Smiley can have his perverse revenge, Michelle shows him how quick a country girl can learn that testicles are sensitive to kicking.
Also like Heat, Cage follows an uplifting arc of revenge and renewal with the inmates rebelling and Michelle chucking Rita onto a giant open fusebox festooned with dangling wires where she fries ever so believably in a shower of sparks like a horsefly on a bug zapper. I don’t think anybody has died like that since 1988.
Having kicked down the rotting house from the inside, Michelle can return to innocence and her 70’s ranch-house all American lifestyle to make out with her stupid pony.

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