Wednesday, January 11, 2006

It Came from Netflix! Prison-A-Go-Go

There seems to be a rush of small movies lately made by fans of genre films for fans of genre films, generally spoofs (Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, Destination Mars) or pastiches(Frankenstein vs. the Creature of Blood Cove).

On the whole, these have proved more entertaining than similar fare of the past
often have, and that’s because they are made by people who actually know the films they are parodying/recreating. When it comes to spoofs, I think there’s one rule by which you can’t go wrong: Know what it is that audiences like about that genre; don’t fail to provide the same in your movie (i.e., don’t make a slasher movie parody without gobs of onscreen violence), and have some fun with those very elements.

Prison-a-Go-Go, a recent very low budget parody of WIP—‘Women in Prison’—films, knows the above formula, and follows it to the letter. Thus we have lots of (goofy) violence and lots more (even goofier) nudity. The latter is mostly provided via several reiterations of the genre’s hallmark element, the Shower Scene.

However, the success of the film transcends just providing what the fans want (although many films oddly fail to accomplish this). What sets the film apart is the sly sense of humor which they do it with. Throughout the film, there’s a Shower Scene Clock that lets the viewer know how long it is until the next shower scene. That’s funny, but they also manage to wring a lot of variations out of the gag, making it work a lot longer than you’d think.

However, while that gag is hilarious, it’s also kind of obvious, the sort of thing that non-WIP fans will get. For the aficionado, much funnier is the way the shower scenes are handled. Each time, the same small group of (thankfully attractive and non-siliconed) woman flash their talents, while the film’s stars remain shot from the, er, collarbone up. That’s entirely true to the WIP genre (except in the Corman heyday of the ‘70s, when the stars provided as much or more of the nudity quota), and something that you have to be a fan to appreciate. That’s the mark of a good spoof, too. Entertain viewers who aren’t hardcore fans, but also serve up extra gags for the devotees. A cameo by Mary Woronov certainly doesn’t hurt.

Otherwise, the film is wacky, in a good, Airplane! sort of way. Characters don’t even try to make sense, such as the slacker warden who seemingly can barely rouse himself from his desk. Meanwhile, several cross-genre elements are introduced, including a mad scientist, ninjas, a killer snake and zombies. It’s hard not to laugh at the way the latter are handled, penned inside the mad scientist’s lab in a chicken wire cage with an unsecured swinging doggie door. Whenever someone in the lab is distracted, they always seem to enter the cage without thinking, only to have a Wyle E. Coyote ‘Oops, I’m-Standing-on-Air’ moment right before their doom.

Following tradition, a hot woman’s hot sister goes missing (usually they end up in prison, and are sometimes killed there—here the sister becomes a comically laid-back subject of the mad scientist’s latest experiment), and the sister determines to get herself thrown in prison to learn her sibling’s fate. There she meets the usual characters, including the Bull Dyke Guard, the sexually voracious Queen Bee prisoner (star Rhonda Shear), the prisoner driven mad by prison life, etc. One character, who smuggles an unlikely assortment of goods into the joint up her, er, behind, was a bit crass for my tastes, but mileage various.

The director, Barak Epstein, knows the genre well and there are specific homages to several of the classic WIP pics. Also, as noted above, there are more general jokes, such as a scene where women are tortured by…well, why blow the gag? I laughed out loud, though. The budget is appalling low, but this is the sort of film that proves that money really doesn’t matter much one way or the other, as long as you know what to put up on the screen.

I think I know what to give the Warden for his birthday this year.

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