Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Big Doll House (1971) Review

The Big Doll House film poster
Director: Jack Hill
Stars: Pam Grier, Roberta Collins, Sid Haig
Genre: Exploitation, Women in Prison

The Big Doll House is a film which neatly falls into the exploitation sub-genre of Women in Prison, because it is indeed a film about women in prison. Directed by cult director Jack Hill, whom found his start in co-directing Roger Corman (who produced this film by the way) films such as The Wasp Woman and The Terror, but later went on to make his own classics such as Blood Bath, Spider Baby, and eventually Coffy, Foxy Brown, and Switchblade Sisters. Sitting at this film's actor's table we have the likes of cult stars such as Pam Grier (Coffy, Foxy Brown, Scream Blacula Scream, Bucktown, Friday Foster, Jackie Brown), Roberta Collins (Caged Heat, Death Race 2000) and Cult King Sid Haig whose been in just about every exploitation feature there is. A cult sub-genre + a cult director + a cult producer + a cult cast = a cult film indeed.

As far as plot is concerned it's about, as many Women in Prison films are, women trying to break out of prison. In this such case the prison of which they are trying to escape happens to be run by sadists.

Really all you need to know about the plot is this: there are attractive women whom throughout the film catfight, mud wrestle, shower together and indeed wash each other, food fight, nearly sweat to death, are tied down and whipped, and periodically groped. From attaining this knowledge you should now be able to aptly judge whether or not you wish to proceed in the viewing of the film.

Pam Grier plays Grear (I see what you did there screenwriter), a tough as nails lesbian; Judy Brown plays Collier, a husband murderer; Brooke Mills plays Harrad, a heroin addict and servant to Grear; Sid Haig and Jerry Franks play Harry and Fred, two horny men who deliver food to the prison; Christiane Schmidtmer plays a sadistic warden. It's quite the colorful set of characters.

Pam Grier and prisoners in The Big Doll House

The acting is, as one should expect, pretty mediocre, but it's a great enough cast that any fan of exploitation will be joyed to see the familiar faces. 

The soundtrack is very average throughout (and in fact very often absent) but of note is the song played at the beginning and end of the film, the song called "Long Time Woman" performed by Pam Grier herself. It's such a great song; give it a listen here. It was later used in Tarantino's Jackie Brown. Don't you just love when you find such beautiful songs in such dirty films? (Also see The Last House on the Left soundtrack).

Roberta Collins and Pam Grier showering in The Big Doll House

The film is notable for having greatly shaped the genre of Women in Prison in the 70s. It, in a sense, wrote the recipe (along with 99 Women and Love Camp 7 of course). It spawned countless imitators and even two spiritual successors in the form of Women in Cages which came out later that same year and once again starred Pam Grier and Roberta Collins and shared a very similar plot and then the 1972 film The Big Bird Cage which saw Jack Hill returning as producer, Roger Corman as producer, and Pam Grier and Sid Haig through the lenses.

Though an early Women in Prison film it's still not the best the genre has to offer (See the Female Convict series, House of Whipcord, Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS) nor is it even a particularly great film when compared to certain films in the immense genre of Sexploitation.

Dual wielding machine guns in The Big Doll House

The Big Doll House is a solid film that should be avoided by most but enjoyed by fans of exploitation and sleaze cinema. It's good, dirty fun. 

2.5/5 stars

Purchase The Big Doll House on Amazon: Blu-Ray - DVD - Stream - Women in Cages Collection
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