Starring Missy Crider, Anne Heche, Ione Skye, Bahni Turpin, Miguel Sandoval, Nicolette Scorsese, Jon Polito, Nestor Serrano, Richmond Arquette
Directed by John McNaughton
On the general scale:
On the B-movie scale:
Girls in Prison immediately announces itself as a schlocky, camp-driven film, and on that front it definitely delivers. It is a pastiche of the pantheon of prison films made over the years, perhaps most obviously the popular B-Movie “Women in Prison” films. I honestly haven’t seen any of those, so I can’t say for sure, but it’s pretty obvious, right? It’s gotta be. Anyway, as long as you’re OK with a lighthearted, B-Movie visit to the Big House, Girls in Prison is fine entertainment.
Our story begins like a fairy tale as the words, “Once upon a Time” come on-screen. We are sequentially introduced to three girls who do something to land them in the slammer. The whole tone is satirical, though, so even though people are getting literally stabbed in the back or beaten to death with a hammer, it brings a smile to your face because of the ridiculous nature of the acts. The film heightens reality in such a way that the fairy tale allusion makes total sense, too. This is clearly not meant to be our everyday world; it is a fantasy set in the realm of the B-movie.
But one of these three girls, Aggie (Missy Crider), actually didn’t do anything to warrant her place in the cell block! Nope, she was framed! She was just minding her own, trying to get her demo tape heard by a record exec, and next thing you know she’s been framed for murder and her song has been stolen and attributed to someone else! Thankfully, she get assigned to bunk in the same cell with exactly the person who can help her prove her innocence! It’s satirical and comedic because if you tried to do any of this stuff seriously the audience would laugh in the film’s face (although that hasn’t stopped all the other prison movies, so I don’t know). Judging from the reviews on the Netflix page, though, most people somehow missed that this wasn’t supposed to be serious!
Director John McNaughton had previously made well-known films like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and Mad Dog and Glory, and would later go on to direct one of the most infamous Hollywood B-Movies of the ’90s, Wild Things. In Girls in Prison, McNaughton does a great job at making what could be a drab prison movie burst at the seams with personality and color to heighten the reality even further. The use of colored lights are strong choices reminiscent of the ’60s, where usually in the ’90s you’d see something much more subdued. This had the effect of making Girls in Prison seem like an older film, and coupled with the straight-up film noir script by Sam Fuller and his wife Christa Lang, I feel like this one could have easily been made in the B&W era as a serious “Women in Prison” film. This also made the film feel like a remake in a way, but although the film shares its title with a 1956 American International Film, it is an original work.
I don’t have much else to say about this one, it’s just one of those movies you’re either going enjoy or not. The whole thing culminates in a potato sack race, so that should give you an idea of where you’ll fall. For me, it was a hilarious cap on top of a funny, entertaining prison movie. Girls in Prison is definitely not a film for everyone, but if you dig B-Movies give it a shot.
And with that, Phase 2 of my lengthy Sam Fuller project is complete! Yay! On to the third and final phase, where I explore Fuller’s TV work!