Dave takes a quick look at Henri Charr’s mid-’90s slice of penitentiary pulp.
Sharing a lot in common with Roger Corman’s beloved women-in-prison movies of the ’70s, like The Big Doll House (1971) and Caged Heat (1974), Iranian-born director Henri Charr laced his trilogy of sultry slammer stories (the other two being Caged Hearts (1995) and Under Lock and Key (1995)) with enough showmanship and Shakespearean melodrama to ensure that they stand tall over the more salacious genre entries that graced the ‘90s.
CELLBLOCK SISTERS lies at the peak of this unconnected trilogy, and it finds us in the company of Sam Connor (Red Horton): a belligerent little man who’s intent on selling his two young daughters to any degenerate willing to buy them. As we catch up with the girls sixteen years later, the straight-laced May (Gail Thackray) is heading for a long-awaited reunion with the out-of-control April (Annie Wood), who subsequently kills their father in cold blood. However, it’s May who finds herself in the clink, fighting for survival, and determined to prove her innocence.
A rare foray outside the sheltered security of alpha-action for Richard Pepin and Joseph Merhi, Charr’s film is best described as exploitation-lite. True, there’s a biker gang, a sour-faced warden (played with relish by debutant Anita Linn) as well as the ubiquitous strip search and shower sequences, but, it never feels like an exercise in fetishization, nor is it luridly voyeuristic. There’s a narrative of substance here, and both Wood and Thackray fill their characters with a perfect combination of credibility, compassion and camp.
USA ● 1995 ● Thriller, Drama ● 93mins
Annie Wood, Gail Thackray, Red Horton ● Dir. Henri Charr ● Wri. Henri Charr, Jess Mancilla (story), Robert Newcastle (screenplay)