Director: Barak Epstein
Shock-O-Rama/E.I. Independent

Fans looking for modern-day exploitation have to wade through a glut of shot-on-video trash to find anything worth watching. Any schmuck with a video camera can now hire girls to simulate sex in his badly lit make-a-quick-buck efforts, or drench the screen with non-stop grue to give Hollywood a run for its money. But are there any worthwhile independent exploitation films being made today? DVD Drive-In is putting the spotlight on a group of films, all made within the past few years, that deliver the goods and hark back to the good old days of drive-in cinema.

Almost 20 years after the women-in-prison subgenre spawned two half-successful spoofs (REFORM SCHOOL GIRLS and SLAMMER GIRLS), the (very young!) director Barak Epstein wrote and directed this loving tribute to all the hallmarks of the genre. Shot in Texas, PRISON A GO GO is one of the funniest, most entertaining spoofs ever made, with its very low budget working in its favor.

Innocent veterinarian Janie’s sister Callista is abducted by a couple of goons working for the mad Dr. Hurtrider, whose headquarters are based in a notorious women’s prison in the Philippines. After killing her bum friend with a crowbar, she is able to infiltrate the prison, run by putzy new warden Wilbur and populated by a group of sadistic guards. With the help of her friends, blonde bombshell Jackpot, crazed Cross Eye, Freon addict Boom Boom, and adventurous Breezy, a rescue and escape plan goes into effect, resulting in lots of whacky misadventures and comic situations.

Think “The Zucker Brothers Go WIP” and that’s a fraction of how funny and smart PRISON A GO GO is. Epstein has obviously done his homework, including nods to all the best genre flicks, including CAGED HEAT!, THE BIG DOLL HOUSE, SWEET SUGAR, THE BIG BIRD CAGE, WOMEN IN CAGES, and in an unusual move, pretty much ignoring the 80s renaissance of caged women epics. Inmates are tortured by being forced to watch a Robin Williams marathon (“You watch it, bitch!”), Marilyn Manson rip-off artist Mamie Bundy (get it?) performs with his band in the cafeteria, Callista is transformed into a porcupine woman, Breezy smuggles multiple objects, including bowling balls and pants, in her ass, product placement for Coke is blurred out and replaced with new endorsers Jolt (!), a gang of ninjas invades the prison for a food fight brawl, Jackpot rapes the gay guards as they scream for mercy and puts a Vaseline lens over the camera herself for her sex scene with a ninja, a giant killer serpent gorily dispatches of a runaway convict, plus there’s vomit, spraying blood, Borscht, Bettie Page and Spice Girls posters, go-go dancing, a slow-mo mud-wrestling scene with a huge black woman, attempted child homicide, awesome opening credits, a great rock score, and a ninja training sequence. Best of all is the shower countdown clock fixed into the lower right hand corner of the film that switches the action to multiple shower scenes at random intervals, including a peek at the guards’ shower and a fight scene changing locations from outdoors to the shower! All of the nude ladies are extras with tattoos! Just about the only thing wrong with PRISON A GO GO is the pretty awful rap song that plays over the end credits; other than that, everything else is surprising, witty, and right on-target. Fans of WIP films and those who have never taken the plunge will both find a lot to like here, and it definitely deserves a wider audience. Check it out pronto!

Top-billed Rhonda Shear also executive produced this film, and is quite funny as the Brooklyn princess Jackpot, with incredible eye makeup and delivering sarcastic dialogue. Mary Woronov, second-billed in what amounts to an extended cameo, gives a great performance akin to the infamous ‘Ms. Togar’, and ‘Diane “She-Bitch” Slutface’ is probably one of the best roles she’s had in years. Strange, considering she only appears in the opening scenes and in flashbacks, but she is obviously having more fun here than her wasted cameo in THE DEVIL’S REJECTS. Troma president Lloyd Kaufman also cameos as a perverted guard in three scenes. But the real stars are the no-name personalities who are game for just about anything: Co-writer Mike Wiebe steals every scene he’s in as the incredibly stupid warden Wilbur Thorn (and he also is pretty damn hilarious as Mamie Bundy!). He’s the typical community college dropout thrown into the job of prison warden, and basically sits around at his desk improvising dialogue and runs the prison like a summer camp. He even has to deal with bawling guards complaining about Jackpot’s “bad touching”! Laurie Walton, resembling a bustier, funnier Michelle Bauer, plays the dim-bulbed heroine to a T, and must have studied Jennifer Gan’s similar role in WOMEN IN CAGES for months. The most memorable of the supporting actresses playing the off-the-wall inmates is Louise Lawless as the deranged Cross Eye, whose dialogue mainly consists of “You’re gonna learn to like it, bitch!” She has a highlighted scene trying to teach the warden the fine art of delivering her infamous line. Tina Parker is a little too over-the-top as Breezy, but her encounter with a giant serpent is priceless.

Shock-O-Rama’s disc of PRISON A GO GO looks great! Letterboxed at 1.85:1, the colors are sharp, the image bright and watchable, and blacks deep and true. Fleshtones are accurate, everything looks great. The audio is a little weak, probably due to the production values of the film, but is still clear.

On a disc packed with extras, the best is the feature-length audio commentary with director/co-writer Barak Epstein, art director/actress Lauren Graham, editor Michael Fleetwood, camera operator Clay Liford, and band member Sharon Wright. The entire group has a great time discussing the film, talking about casting, the various locations, special effects, the placement of certain gags and pointing out things the audience may have missed, and the many obstacles low-budget filmmakers have to overcome to get their movie made. One of the best revelations is that Mary Woronov wasn’t the easiest actress to work with, and Epstein acknowledges certain scenes being influenced by varied sources as GREMLINS 2 and EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX! It’s too bad co-writer/actor Mike Wiebe doesn’t appear with the group.

A video interview with Epstein, recorded at the Shock a Go Go Film Festival in Los Angeles, briefly discusses his influences on the making of the movie, casting the film, and creating the Shower Clock. Brief behind-the-scenes footage shows the primitive shooting conditions and focuses on the killer snake, Mamie Bundy, and food fight scenes; a disclaimer before the footage says more was shot, but couldn’t be included…? Perhaps in a future Special Edition! A selection of deleted scenes is mostly made up of interesting alternate takes and extended scenes, including some good improv by the actors, and an auditions reel unfortunately only shows two (Robbin Simmons as the Australian female guard and Travis Willingham, who ended up playing Dr. Hurtrider, auditioning as Lipschitz the head guard).

The mini-documentary, “Prison a Go Go at Shock a Go Go”, is great, as it promotes the enticing Los Angeles film festival Shock a Go Go and covers the showing of PRISON A GO GO. Guests at the festival included Roger Corman, Mary Woronov, and David Friedman, and as a special bonus, festival Q&A’s with all three legends are included separately! Woronov is, as always, full of good stories, including the fact that she found her recent big-budget appearance in LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION suffocating and her hatred of SUGAR COOKIES. Watching Friedman, now battling with his sight and hearing, is sort of depressing, but he is the ultimate living legend of exploitation, and though one may wonder if he has any new stories that haven’t been told, hearing them all over again is never boring. Corman is just as engaging a speaker, and he tells more fascinating stories of his lengthy career. Audience members ask some great questions!

A trailer vault includes previews for PRISON A GO GO, FEEDING THE MASSES (highly recommended zombie mayhem), SUBURBAN NIGHTMARE (very dark comedy/horror), BITE ME! (strippers against giant bugs), THE SCREAMING DEAD (remake of BLOODY PIT OF HORROR), BLOOD SISTERS: VAMPS 2 (intriguing low budget horror), SINFUL WIVES (Misty Mundae kills pregnant woman because she can’t have a child), and CHANTAL (Misty Mundae comes to Hollywood and is corrupted). All of them seem to be worth looking into! (Casey Scott )