DVD Review: JACKSON COUNTY JAIL/CAGED HEAT

Charlie Hobbs, Contributing Writer
Fresh off pimping out upcoming Shout! Factory releases, here's my review of one of their recent releases.  This DVD rocks!

I'm going to go in reverse order on this one, because I can.  Caged Heat is a fantastically entertaining American Women in Prison film.  It isn't as exploitative as some of the nastier European stuff, but it is really, really fun to watch.  The film stars Erica Gavin of Russ Meyer's Vixen, has a supporting role for an uncharacteristically unattractive Barbara Steele, and was directed by a very young Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia), and is a master class in how to make a movie move.

The plot is an excuse to stage car chases, show women in showers, and have elaborate emotionally wrenching gun battles.  Every minute is action packed.  I'm not going to go too deep, just know that this film rocks!  Girls go into prison, girls bust out of prison, girls go back to prison to bust out their buddies, rinse, lather, repeat.  None of the actors are particularly competent, even Steele comes off pretty stiff, but the direction shows touches of genius. 

The film also features a commentary with Demme, DP Tak Fujimoto (The Sixth Sense, Gladiator), and Gavin which is open, candid and entertaining.  The transfer isn't perfect, but it is pretty good, and most importantly it is anamorphic.  It actually looks better than I've ever seen it.  The audio track is in similar shape, not perfect, but clear and sharp enough.  There is some scratchiness and hissing, but if it bothers you, just imagine you're in a theater, because it wouldn't sound any better than this there.

Jackson County Jail, on the other hand, is a gritty backwoods on-the-lam flick starring a very young Tommy Lee Jones as a hood, dragging Yvette Mimieux across the country on the run from cops after she kills a cop who'd raped her while she was in custody on some bullshit charge.  This is a far more serious film.

One thing that Jackson County Jail shows us is that Tommy Lee Jones has played his typical hard-nosed rough, tough bastard role for a long time, and played it well.  This is, objectively, the better of the two films.  The acting is better, the writing is better, and the direction is more assured, however, it isn't nearly as much fun as Caged Heat.  Despite that, I really liked it.  Jackson County Jail makes for an odd double feature with Caged Heat, as the tones of the films are VERY different, but I liked playing it that way as well.  If you do play them in "The Grindhouse Experience" mode, you also get bonus trailers.  Those are secret...

The transfer on Jackson County Jail is more solid, it is missing the scratches and marks that are all throughout Caged Heat. The audio, while still pretty hollow sounding, has fewer distracting scratches and hisses than Caged Heat as well.  The commentary with the director, DP, and producer is more academic and less jocular than that of Caged Heat, but worth listening to if you're a commentary fan.

Highly recommended!  I sincerely hope I stay on Shout! Factory's review list, because this packages are golden!
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