If your sun-baked, sweaty legs–which have been haphazardly poured into a pair of red cowboy boots–are the first thing we see in the film's opening shot, does it not make sense to assume that said film is going to be about the person attached to those sweat-drenched, red cowboy-adorned legs? Oh, hi, I'm in the middle of a heated debate I'm having with myself over who's the lead in The Naked Cage, Paul Nicholas' second stab at the women in prison genre (his first being, of course, the amazing Chained Heat). Part of me says the tough as nails Christina Whitaker is the lead, while the other part says it's Shari Shattuck. Now, it should be noted that the part of me that thinks Shari Shattuck is the lead still wets the bed. Of course, I'm not saying that this embarrassing little nugget of information should negate their opinion, but it does give one pause (or I should say, urine-soaked pause). I think the reason there was such a tug of war going on inside my head over Shari Shattuck's Michelle and Christina Whitaker's Rita was because they represent the inner struggle that goes on within each and everyone of us on a daily basis. Weaned on a steady diet of Pat Benatar videos and Jack Daniels, Rita represents the dark side, or you could say, the fun side. And, you guessed it, Michelle represents the sunny side, as she was fed nothing but feel good platitudes by her flannel-wearing parents and has spent countless hours playing with her My Little Ponies.
Maybe it's because my moral compass is out of whack, but I agreed with everything Rita does in this movie. And, yes, even the part where she shoves a chunk of glass into the mouth of a fellow inmate. Sure, I recoiled in horror a bit, I might have even said, tsk tsk at one point, but I thought cramming shards of broken glass into the mouth of a former recovering junkie was the correct course of action.
In the spirit of transparency, it should be noted the reason I called the inmate with the mouth full of broken glass a "former" recovering junkie, as supposed to just a "recovering junkie," is because Rita got her hooked on heroin again by forcibly sticking a syringe full of the stuff in her arm in, where else, but the shower.
Whereas, I kept shaking my head in disbelief over what Michelle does in this movie. Take, for example, the scene where Diane (Angel Tompkins, the leggy teacher from The Teacher), the corrupt lesbian warden, makes a pass at Michelle in the infirmary by gently caressing her thigh. If this happened to most normal people, they would happily allow a gorgeous milf (one who likes to be dominated in the vicinity of tanks of tropical fish and neon lights) to grope them. But no, you had to rebuff her attempt to buff your... (If you say "muff," I'm not going to be pleased.) cun... vagin... puss.... No, man, I gotta say, "muff." (Fine. Go ahead.) But no, you had to rebuff her attempt to buff your muff.
And because you got all huffy just because the cuff of Diane's puffy blouse came close to buffing the rarely buffed tufts of the fluffy hair that pepper the surface area of your tuff to get at muff, you lost all your stoolie privileges.
Holy shit! I just realized that this film not only with opens with a shot of Christina Whitaker's sweety stems poured into a pair of red cowboy boots, it features "Tuff Enuff" by The Fabulous Thunderbirds blasting on the soundtrack. (So? That was a popular song in 1986.) Look at the way they spelled "tough" and "enough." (Oh my God!) Yeah, I know. And get this, I didn't plan it at all.
Anyway, the cool thing about "Tuff Enuff" is that it's a ZZ Top/Stevie Ray Vaughn-style chunk of '80s rock that boasts sequencer-based knob-twiddling as its foundation. I love it when boring ass blues-based rock music dabbles with electronic sounds. I mean, think about it, how much better would every rock song in existence be if it had synthesizers? It boggles the mind.
On top of wearing red cowboy boots, Rita (Christina Whitaker) is wearing cut-off jean shorts, a denim vest (a jean jacket with the sleeves cut off), and mirror shades. Pressing the stop button on her Walkman (which stops "Tuff Enuff" in its tracks), Rita sticks her short, spiky-haired head into the passenger-side window of the Red Corvette that "belongs" to Willy (John Teresky, Valet Girls).
Bumming a ride from him with relative ease, it's clear Rita always gets what she wants. Which is something I've noticed about people who wear tooth earrings, they seem to have a drive that most of us seem to lack.
Meanwhile, at a nearby horse ranch, we're introduced to Michelle (Shari Shattuck), a horse-loving blonde, who... Now, would you look at this, none of her denim has been cut, slashed or even ripped. How am I supposed to take a character seriously if none of her clothing has been distressed on purpose? It's 1986, not 1956, honey. In other words, get with it.
The dichotomy between Rita and Michelle's approach to fashion speaks volumes. No foolin'. Never, in all my years of watching stuff, have I seen such a huge clothing chasm between two characters.
Another thing that was off-putting about Michelle was... (Don't tell me, it was her obsession with flannel shirts.) I wouldn't say she was obsessed with flannel shirts, it's just what she likes to wear. But that's not what I'm talking about. Are you ready? She calls her father "daddy." (I thought you liked it when human females over the age of seventeen called their father's "daddy.") Yeah, when Michelle Johnson does it in Blame It on Rio, it's hot. But when Shari Shattuck does it, it's just pathetic, sad, and, not to mention, a whole lot of creepy.
It turns out, Rita is a wanted criminal, and ends up going on a crime spree with Willy (in addition to being driven, individuals with tooth earrings tend to have criminal records - oh, and don't bother looking that up, it's a known fact). To show Willy her gratitude for a crime well-executed, Rita allows him to snort cocaine off her tits.
As luck would have it, Willy's ex-wife works at a bank. Anyone care to guess who Willy's ex-wife is? That's right, it's Michelle. Of course, Rita and Willy's attempt to rob Michelle's branch goes terribly wrong, which leads to Rita and Michelle being arrested. I know, you're thinking to yourself: But Michelle had nothing to do with Rita and Willy's botched bank job. Yeah, but according to Rita's testimony, Michelle was in on it.
Meaning, someone better get Michelle a teal smock that's in her size, 'cause her skinny ass is totally going to prison.
The first thing I noticed when we're given a tour of the yard is that's there's no consistency when it came to women's prison attire at this particular facility. I know, I implied that the Michelle will be wearing a teal smock. But all the black inmates are wearing peach smocks. And some of the inmates are not even wearing smocks at all. Colour me confused... and intrigued. A women in prison flick without uniformity, this could be interesting.
Take the attractive redhead leaning by the fence in the yard, she's not wearing a smock at all. She's in a pair of cut-off jean shorts and a grey, belly-revealing top. Oh, and, of course, the attractive redhead is played by none other than Lisa London (Savage Beach, Guns and Black Moon Rising).
What I don't get is why are the inmates using money in this prison? Aren't cigarettes supposed to be the currency of choice in the prison system? Okay, let's say cash is the currency, where are they getting it from? Do they have jobs? Is there an ATM in the mess hall? Whatever, the attractive, and, as we'll soon find out, leggy (but let's not get ahead of ourselves), redhead needs cash to pay for her drugs, which are supplied by Sheila (Faith Minton), a tall drink of butchy water who runs all the prison's rackets.
After punching Lisa London in the stomach (the most common plenty for non-payment of drugs), we're shown Michelle being taken to her bunk by a guard named Martha (Suzy London). Five seconds later, she befriends Amy (Stacey Shaffer), a pixieish blonde/recovering drug addict. Ten seconds after this meeting occurs, Sheila, with her skanky henchwomen in tow (she goes nowhere without them), is introduced to Michelle. The hulking, 6' 1" Sheila surprisingly takes a liking to Michelle, and allows her be in her gang.
Legs! We have legs. Oh, I'm sorry. It's just that Lisa London is climbing down from her bunk in a aggressively leggy manner. Where is she going, you ask? She's going to provide late night lesbian and sadomasochistic satisfaction for the warden. Boasting neon wall art, super-long armwear, stockings, chains, lace, mild face slapping and off the shoulder resplendence, this scene is just what the doctor ordered.
To give the film a more well-rounded sense of brutality, we're introduced to a scumbag guard named Smiley (Nick Benedict), a Robert Z'Dar wannabe in aviator shades. He rapes and kills a black inmate, Ruby (Valerie McIntosh), on the same night the Angel Tompkins and Lisa London had their fling. This news upsets not only the warden, but Brenda (Aude Charles), the leader of the cage's black prison population; plus, she doesn't buy the whole suicide cover-up the warden cooked up.
Blaming Amy of all people for Ruby's death, Brenda confronts her (she thinks Amy supplied Ruby with the cocaine found in her system). This confrontation leads to one of Brenda's henchwomen beating the shit out of Amy. Luckily for her, Michelle steps in, but not before taking quite the beating herself. What's funny about the next scene is that Michelle can be seen in the infirmary covered in bruises, while Amy (who comes to visit her) doesn't have a single mark on her.
Bad bruise continuity aside, I think what this film needs is a little Christina Whitaker. And wouldn't you know it, look who just walked into the mess hall. Transferred from another prison, Rita quickly gets reacquainted with Michelle by stabbing her in the hand with a shank. As Sheila's goons pull the hysterical Rita off Michelle, you'll notice that her pink get-up is teeming with creative flourishes. Which got me a thinking: When did Rita find the time to work on her prison ensembles? I mean, the amount of effort that went into the shoulders alone is extraordinary (the craftsmanship is first-rate).
(Wait, did you say, "ensembles"?) Yeah, Rita has a pink look (seriously, the shoulder work on this garment is stunning), a teal look (the girl definitely knows how to use a pair of scissors), and a Pat Benetar-inspired "Love Is A Battlefield" look (a pink sweatshirt and a blue headband). The fact that Michelle's teal outfit has not been altered in anyway should be a clear indicator that she has no personality. Hell, even Lisa London found the time to add some personal touches to her outfits, and she's a leggy redhead who's addicted to drugs. Meaning, she doesn't have much time for fashion; being leggy, redheaded and addicted to drugs is a full-time job.
While not as inventive as Rita or Lisa London, one should not discount the warden's commitment to silky, age-appropriate blouses.
My favourite blouse out of the many blouses she wears is the one she dons while groping Michelle's thigh. Sure, the red one she wore with the black tie was great because it made look like a member of Kraftwerk. But she doesn't try to grope anyone while wearing it.
Not adding any personal touches to your outfit is one thing, not letting Angel Tompkins grope you is inexcusable. I despise everything you represent, Michelle. You are a conformist bore. I bet the first thing you're going to do when you get out of prison is vote for Ronald Reagan. (I think the election was two years ago.) Whatever, man, she sucks.
As you might expect, being on Team Rita means you'll probably lose out in the end (you just know miss goody two-shoes is going to win). However, I must say, I enjoyed the ride along the way, as The Naked Cage is hands down one of the best women in prison movies ever made. In fact, I would put it up there with the likes of Women's Prison Massacre, Barbed Wire Dolls, Bad Girls Dormitory and Bare Behind Bars in terms of greatness.