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Joe Dante’s Fleapit Flashbacks – The Big Doll House & A Farewell to Mike Vraney

by Joe Dante Jan 07, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 6.23.30 PMBefore we get to today’s Fleapit Flashback, we wanted to mention the passing of Mike Vraney of Something Weird Video who died on January 2, 2014 at the age of 56. Mike played an essential part in the preservation of film history, in particular those bizarre outliers of the movie world, the outrageous,  the preposterous and the indefensible films of those little heralded directors and producers who kept the great American grindhouse hopping for so many years.

So we think it’s fitting to use our Fleapit Flashback column as a comfortable perch from which to salute Mike by presenting David DeCoteau’s commentary on one of Something Weird’s most popular titles, The Bloody Pit of Horror. Our condolences to Mike’s friends and family and in particular, his wife, artist Lisa PetrucciR.I.P. Mr. Vraney.

And now, here’s another installment featuring Joe Dante’s reviews from his stint as a critic for Film Bulletin circa 1969-1974. Our thanks to Video Watchdog and Tim Lucas for his editorial embellishments!

 

Fast‑paced girls‑in‑prison melodrama rings in some lurid changes on the old theme. Plenty of violence, nudity and inexplicit sex angles to bring good returns in exploitation and drive in situations. Rating: R.

5470__x400_big_doll_house_poster_02In THE BIG DOLL HOUSE, the old women’s prison formula is given an added fillip via four‑letter dialogue, raunchy plot twists and graphic violence, as various horny, voluptuous lifers sweat and suffer out their terms in a remote tropical prison whose staff and methods are right out of the Inquisition. Produced in the Philippines by one of Roger Corman’s former secretaries under the title THE PLAYPEN, the New World Pictures release is fast-moving hokum with plenty of lurid exploitation value for ballyhoo markets and drive‑ins, situations where it should pull in plenty of moola. Though lesbianism is a key plot element, nothing so much as an untoward caress is actually depicted. Instead, the accent is on bare breasts and cheerful sadism. Shapely Judy Brown (THREESOME) arrives at the jungle prison to serve 99 years for shooting her husband, and is thoroughly searched by numerous butch‑looking guards, one of whom even probes her… well, it happens offscreen, at least.

Incarcerated with such stir-crazy, lesbian, dope‑addicted, nymphomaniacal types as Pam Grier, Roberta Collins, Brooke Mills and Pat Woodell, Miss Brown spends a sleepless first night—her roommates drop lighted matches on her and try to drown her in the toilet, but by morning she seems to be one of the gang. Director Jack Hill (SPIDER BABY, PIT STOP) evidences his early apprenticeship with Roger Corman by leaning heavily on the grade‑B horror aspects of Don Spencer’s one‑syllable screenplay. Prison malcontents are hoisted up in a bamboo cage to bake in the sun, or else stripped and whipped to death in an underground torture chamber as a hooded uniformed figure watches. The girls fight over each other in mud pools, in the cafeteria and in their cells, while trying to get their hands on the only men available, truckers Sid Haig and Jerry Franks. Sex‑starved inmate Roberta Collins eventually corners Franks and demands he make love at knifepoint: “Get it up or I’ll cut it off.” Later, one of the girls clamps Haig’s hand (offscreen) in a vaginal hammerlock to get him to cooperate in an escape try.

Roberta Collins and Pam Grier showering in Teh Big Doll HouseOn the night of the Big Break, Miss Brown finds herself strapped nude to an operating table with a hungry cobra being slowly lowered toward her. The other girls rescue her and smash out in Haig’s truck, machine‑gunning guards left and right, kidnapping progressive doctor Jack Davis and German prison supervisor Christiane Schmidtmer. She, it seems, is the hooded sadist behind all the tortures, considering women “an infection that must be wiped out.” Miss Schmidtmer herself is wiped out in the ensuing battle, which sees the girls decimated by what looks to be the Filipino Army. Judy, however, escapes and hitches a ride nearby, hopefully on her way to better parts. Fred Conde’s Deluxe Color photography is competent and the music, credited to Hall Daniels in credits but to Les Baxter in advertising, is fair. A title song is sung off‑key.

1972. New World Pictures. DeLuxe Color. 93 minutes. Judy Brown, Roberta Collins. Pam Grier. Produced by Jane Schaffer. Directed by Jack Hill.

THE BIG DOLL HOUSE was first released on VHS as a Warner Home Video title in the early 1980s. It is currently available from New Concorde on VHS and on DVD, the latter with extras.

About Joe Dante

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