The Big Doll House

The Big Doll House (1971) movie poster

(1971) director Jack Hill
viewed: 03/05/11

After re-watching Jack Hill’s Spider Baby (1964) last year, I decided it was high time that I catch up on more of his oeuvre.  Sadly, most of his films aren’t available on Netflix.  I actually got The Big Doll House from GreenCine, though I’ve now pared down to just Netflix as my rental source.  Not sure why Hill’s films aren’t available there, and maybe it’s just that they’ve gone out of print.

The Big Doll House is a “women in prison” film that Hill made for Roger Corman.  Corman wrangled a deal to get the film shot in the Phillipines, so it’s women in prison in an unnamed “banana republic” in which the abuse and weirdness are even more extreme since it’s setting is some faraway place with no connections to “civilization”.  Why there are so many Americans in jail there…well, this is an exploitation film.  Generally, you just go for the sex and violence and turn a blind eye to the gaps in logic.

The film’s most notable star is Pam Grier who would go on to other Women in Prison films and become one of the biggest stars of Blacksploitation, making several other films with Hill including The Big Bird Cage (1972), Coffy (1973), and Foxy Brown (1974).  Actually, the film also features Hill himself as the sympathetic physician at the hospital as well as Spider Baby alum Sid Haig as a horny food supplier to the strange prison.

The film opens with the introduction of the latest prisoner, Collier, to the cell.  The person who had held her bunk prior to her arrival had died from implied torture.  There is lesbian sex, a brutal butch prison guard, heroin addiction, moderate gratuitous nudity, and even mud wrestling.  Titillation 1970’s-style.  And the torture, when someone steps out of line, is overseen by a mysterious figure (assumed to be a man in military clothing) and involves electrocution and cobras, among other things.

I’m not sure that Women in Prison is a particular favorite genre of mine, which is probably why I never did see this before.  The film has its charms, but probably is most interesting from a Jack Hill perspective.  His films seemed to live in exploitation yet offered leading roles and narrative focus to women by and large.  I’d certainly need to see more of his work before being able to draw any major conclusions.  But with only a couple of his films available on DVD from Netflix, it will probably take a while to get around to all of them.

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