As a young and still-idealistic person, I avoided Women-in-Prison movies, deeming them to be mean-spirited sexist junk. It turns out young and still-idealistic me was 100% right. Some have pointed to “empowering representations of females fighting the system,” but all I see are women are locked up while wearing tiny clothing and being assaulted. Ain’t nothin’ empowering about that no matter how metatextual you want to get! But that’s not to say I didn’t wind up getting a kick out of these movies. Talking about the Women-in-Prison genre in the context of political correctness misses the point entirely, because it comes from a creative place motivated by the dark bits of the Id. It’s this unrepentant luridness–there are no fantastical trappings or elegant production choices to soften the subject matter–that provides the joy of the Women-in-Prison genre. The Judgement Hat should be checked at the door and the Stained Raincoat should be donned before sitting down to watch one of these movies.
So where does that put “Caged Fury,” a very late Women-in-Prison entry made in 1990? By that point, the genre had morphed from the serious cautionary tales of the 30s and 40s into the “roughies” of the 60s, making way for kinky imports in the 70s, and the eventual trickling-out of borderline-fetish flicks in the 80s. Well, it turns out “Caged Fury” is a very stupid movie that uses its own stupidity like a judo move, using the viewer’s own cynicism against him by providing a twist ending that collapses all the conceits of the genre in on itself. It’s like going through a rabbit hole found in a Poison video and emerging in H.G. Lewis’ infinitely quotable girls-gone-bad flick “Scum of the Earth.” “Caged Fury” is fucking weird, and amazing in its weirdness.
|“What do you mean, I look like a tourist?”|
Sweet country girl Kat Collins heads to Los Angeles to make it as an actress. Before she even gets to the city, Kat has picked up a hitchiker named Rhonda who promises her a place to stay as well as a showbiz “in.” If this sounds entirely too good to be true, that’s because it is! Rhonda’s boyfriend Buck is a pornographer, but Kat comes from a planet that has never encountered pornography, so she hitches her star to his Hepatitis C train. While out celebrating with her new friends at an unconvincing biker bar, Kat is abandoned by Rhonda and Buck (who have a fully-clothed yet still very icky sex scene in a bar bathroom) only to get almost-raped by a gang. Fortunately, beefy Good Samaritans Victor (Erik Estrada, suffering from an alarming case of Tight-Pants-Itis) and Dirk (Richard Barathy) are there to save her, and they bring her back to what they wrongly assume is safety at Buck’s place. The next day, Kat goes to her first audition, which turns out to be for an adult film (escandalo!) and is arrested for assaulting the crew during her escape from the set. After the world’s most efficient trial, Kat is imprisoned–but not before telling her family that she’s on a super-secret movie shoot in Mexico.
|In a just world, this happens to everyone who wears Zoobas.|
Kat’s sister Tracy realizes something is amiss, though, and travels to L.A. to see what’s become of her sister. After being told by Detective Stoner (played by James Hong aka frikkin’ David Lo Pan–holy shit, movie; just when I thought I couldn’t love you more!) that he has no clue as to Kat’s whereabouts, Tracy decides to launch her own investigation. She teams up with Victor and Buck and, in the world’s most terrible plan, contrives to get herself imprisoned so she can bust out her sister.
Once the two women are behind bars, it becomes clear that this is no ordinary prison. Things are extremely rapey behind these walls, and Warden Sybil Thorn (f’reals) takes sadistic pleasure in doling out kinky punishments to her charges. As a matter of fact, not only is this not an ordinary prison–it isn’t a prison at all. Everything after the audition-gone-wrong is a fiendish ruse by a gang of white slavers to brainwash the girls before auctioning them off to wealthy clients.
So yes–everything that happened that made you think “gee, I’m pretty sure the American justice system doesn’t work this way” or “I’m pretty sure Frederick’s of Hollywood doesn’t provide prison uniforms” was done on purpose. Set your minds to “blown” because you just got pantsed by a sleazy genre movie.
|Sex Panther Cologne: 60% of the time, it works every time.|
There’s so much that goes into making “Caged Fury” a trash classic, from the gratuitous nudity to the only-semi-choreographed action scenes to the tone-shifting madness of the plot. If I was forced to pick a single factor that seals my love for this movie, it would have to be the acting. Performances run the gamut from “stilted” to “hammy” to “hot fuckin’ mess,” and they are never less than delicious to watch. Erik Estrada has put the better part of a decade between himself and “CHiPs” and it’s a little difficult to buy him as a roguish male lead, but that doesn’t stop him from continuing to rock Ponch’s cocky attitude. For my money, Richard Barathy’s Dirk is the more amazing hero–he’s a judo-chopping, high-kicking, brick-breaking force of vintage action movie manliness. With only four IMDb credits to his name (including a turn as “Karate Biker” in the Lorenzo Lamas vehicle “Snake Eater,” which I highly recommend if you love testosterone-fueled idiocy as much as I do), Barathy makes his sole leading-role appearance a memorable one. In a sequence that tells you most of what you need to know about “Caged Fury,” Dirk is in a pagoda, outfitted in a karate uniform, breaking bricks with his bare fists before hopping onto his motorcycle to go dole out some fist-flavored justice.
|A band composed entirely of Steve Stevenses.|
A relic of a time that worshiped a stretchy, bedazzled, synthetic brand of glamor, “Caged Fury” revels in the miserable aesthetics of the late 1980s. The scene in the biker bar reeks of that era’s awfulness, from the bleached-blonde go-go dancer to the teased-out heavy metal band to the bar’s patrons, attired in stretch pants and crotch-crushing high-rise jeans. It was an era that called out for two aging action heroes to kick it in the metaphorical nutsack. Perhaps Victor and Dirk are doing more than just fighting against human trafficking–maybe they’re doing their part to save America from its own hideousness.
It might be due to the unrepentant ugliness of the time, but “Caged Fury” is not a sexy movie in spite of it being crammed full of sex-occurrences. The leading ladies aren’t especially appealing, and there’s a meanness behind the various assaults, tortures, and rapes that contrasts with the goofiness of much of the movie. It’s an adolescent approach to sex that is, by turns, uncomfortable and hilarious. Also: Ron Jeremy has a cameo as a prison guard, and it’s been proven by science that nothing “The Hedgehog” appears in can be sexy.
And yet, none of this unsexy grossness gets in the way of my enjoyment of “Caged Fury”–in fact, it actually enhances my delight. It’s a perfect combination of adolescent-boy machismo and adolescent-boy glee at seeing boobs (any boobs, in any context). This movie takes one to a paradise of lunkheadery, and should be celebrated for its shamelessness.