The title embodies grindhouse ambiance, and eulogizes an epoch by reproducing the freedom of '70s tawdriness in a Reagan context. A very dry comedy, essayed in the style of Jack Hill, or possibly Verhoeven; the subject is gals-behind-bars exposÚs, the pre-credits sequence launches the penal hellhole with a plucky inmate, a scummy guard, a small army of shotguns and synthesizers, basically a Michael Mann short. From there, on to newly arrived Linda Blair, in for an 18-month stretch for running over some guy: tough vet Sharon Hughes is her only pal, tranny-stomping, lesbo groping, and ritualistic vendettas are flaunted before they're even booked. Meanwhile, warden John Vernon invites comely prisoners to his office, equipped with jacuzzi and homemade porno library -- "Call me Fellini," he roars, and director Paul Nicholas enriches the gag by deliberately foregrounding the seams, winking out of the boom mike continually entering the screen. Still, Nicholas saves his most lyrical camera moves for the soapy-cooch shower passage, where Edy Williams is opulently regarded and the contrast between Blair and Sybil Danning is disarmingly noted; Danning runs half of the joint, Tamara Dobson is her rival, Aryan and Nubian gangs hang on to a shaky truce. The amazons square off in the prison yard, a snitch is dispatched in a nod to Each Dawn I Die (or The Criminal Code), it all ends merrily in insurrection ("I've always wanted to be part of a riot," somebody gushes). Nicholas can't match Demme's portrait of sisterhood and casual surrealism in Caged Heat, so he takes it easy and lays out the jokes for his redoubtable comedians -- Stella Stevens plays the corrupt butch matron with deadpan zest, Henry Silva flashes the knack for caricature from Alligator, Louisa Mortiz incarnates Jayne Mansfield for a scene or two. All "sleaze" to the reviewers, who anyway went on to prefer Persuasion to Showgirls. With Kendall Kaldwell, Dee Biederbeck, and Nita Talbot.
--- Fernando F. Croce