REFORM SCHOOL GIRLS — CLASSIC FILM PICK
Although critically scorned and criminally overlooked, co-writer/director Tom Desimone’s punk rock-inspired indie sexploitation flick has it all.
Revved up new wave music and ‘80s hairstyles accompany the snotty anti-authoritarian attitude of a group of all female inmates at “Pridemore” jail. Resident lesbian badass inmate Charlie Chambliss (unforgettably played by Plasmatics singer Wendy O. Williams) rules the roost in conjunction with her ostensible lover, warden Edna (Pat Ast). Charlie brands the butt of the girls in her (not so) secret clan with a red-hot coat hanger. Such fleshy details give the movie its palpable sense of danger and bondage.
Famous for wearing only black strips of electrical tape over her nipples while taking a chainsaw to electric guitars when performing with her notorious ‘80s era punk band, Williams elevates the film’s transgressive nature into something sublime. Wendy O. Williams’s Plasmatics persona could easily have been the inspiration for Charlize Theron’s character Imperator Furiosa in Geroge Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road.”
The film’s predominantly female cast is rarely clad in anything more than belted gray shirts that pass for prison uniforms, when they aren’t completely nude or wearing only panties and bras. Obligatory shower sequences and catfights attend the narrative about Jenny (Linda Carol), one of the jail’s latest arrivals.
The storyline involves some keen editorializing about the sinister nature of privatized corporate culture. The prison’s visiting psychiatrist Dr. Norton (Charlotte McGinnis) shows genuine concern for the girls she treats, while Charlie, Edna, and warden Sutter (Sybil Danning) ruthlessly abuse the prisoners with things like fire hoses turned on full blast. Danning’s warden Sutter is an impenitent knock-off of the buxom Nazi dominatrix character that Dyanne Thorne created for the Ilsa sexploitation war franchise that includes “Ilsa: The Tigress of Siberia.”
The filmmakers gleefully prove warden Pat’s cruelty in a hilariously pitched sequence in which she chases and stomps a kitten smuggled into the jail by Lisa, a victim of paternal abuse.
Punctuated by racy dialogue, some truly impressive stunt work, and appropriately campy outbursts of violence, “Reform School Girls” sustains its female-centric dramatic tension with gutty performances that offset the film’s humorous intent. The contrast between its tongue-in-cheek action and the powerful emotional commitment from Charlotte McGinnis and Sherri Stoner in their performances contribute to this film’s unique quality.
We have Roger Corman’s New World Pictures to thank for creating the low-budget format that gave audiences a long list of cool exploitation movies (like “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School”). Although Corman sold the company in 1983, it continued to put out a plethora of genre films throughout the ‘80s that gave fun-loving audiences a steady staple of titillating cinema. While it’s sadly true that “they don’t make ‘em like that anymore,” you can always return “Reform School Girls” for your down-and-dirty cinematic kicks.
Rated R. 94 mins. (A-) (Four Stars - out of five/no halves)