The Incredibly Bad Film Show
Reform School Girls

Reform School Girls (Tom de Simone) - Sybil Danning, Wendy O. Williams, Pat Ast.

"Pridemore Juvenile Facility - a world of caged terror without windows, without the possibility of escape and without hope. Jenny Williams, a young first-time offender, learns hard and fast [??] that the rules of the outside world don't apply. Warden Sutter rules with a fist of iron, Edna dictates sadistic order and Charlie, the unofficial head of the cell-block preys on the weak - beatings and sexual abuse run rampant in the cell-blocks. Will any live long enough to tell the horrible truth of Pridemore's atrocities?"
           -- Video box blurb.

The women-in-prison film has had a long and dishonourable tradition, going all the way back to the 1950's when 'bad girl' (or indeed, 'bad boy') pics joined the beach party movie and the high school film as staples of the cinemagoer's diet. They're still with us today - Chained Heat, Caged Heat, Bad Girls Dormitory, etc, of varying quality and content. I'm not an especial fan, since I tend to find them depressingly unescapist and even a shade nasty - Reform School Girls is the exception, having absolutely no connection with reality whatsoever.

Our heroine, Jenny (Linda Carol), is sent to reform school after driving the getaway car in a robbery - no mucking about with setting up things, three minutes into the film, she's on her way to the slammer. In the van she meets up with Lisa (Sherri Stoner) and Nikki - the latter is the streetwise chick going back behind bars again while Lisa is a runaway in for her first time. She clutches a toy bunny rabbit and whimpers a lot.

On arrival, they are processed by the system, providing de Simone with his first chance for a shower scene which, needless to say, he grasps with both hands. We meet two major characters, Edna (Pat Ast), the horrendously evil matron and Dr. Norton (Charlotte McGinnis), the horrendously nice prison psychiatrist who isn't wearing a placard with 'Wooly Liberal' on it, but might as well be. Lisa has her bunny rabbit taken away by Edna.

The girls are taken to their dormitory. Here is one of the great moments in trash cinema history. The prison uniforms they have been given are brown, shapeless and dull. Oddly enough, when the doors open, the other inhabitants are wearing a fine selection or exotic lingerie; stockings, suspenders, basques, lacy nighties and assorted frilly things more suited to a Janet Reger fashion show than a corrective institution. No explanation as to WHY this is the case is ever given.

Jenny meets Charlie (Wendy O.Williams), Edna's "friend" ("I don't know what's going on between you two, but it's perverse!") and general hard-case. They do not get on with each other (cat-fight time!). Night falls. Lisa goes to try and get her bunny rabbit. Edna catches her. Bunny gets torched. Edna laughs evilly & Lisa is taken to the psychiatrist. The film nearly slips at this stage, as Sherri Stoner acts, describing how she used to get locked in an ice-box, and thus is now claustrophobic. However, she's up against Charlotte McGinnis, a monumentally appalling actress who seems to be having difficulty reading her cue cards. No contest. This was a clever move by the director - using such a bad actress makes the rest of the cast look excellent by comparison.

Most of the rest of the film deals with 'life in prison'. The incidents all have one of two things in common; they involve what American Football fans describe as 'unnecessary roughness', or take place in the washroom - these are without doubt the cleanest bad girls ever. An example which comes into both categories: Charlie has taken a shine to Lisa and wants her to be one of 'the gang'. She is initiated by being dragged into the toilets and branded with a hot wire (the video is cut at this point - at the cinema you see the burning take place, but as in Videodrome, the BBFC decided such things on tape might corrupt or deprave us).

Other highlights: Lisa befriends a kitten as a pet, Edna squashes it. Jenny tries to bribe a prison worker with her body, in order to escape. He quite happily accepts the bribe, then turns her in. Food fight in the mess hall, when Warden Sutter (Sybil Danning in full black gear, leather boots and a riding crop - Ms. Danning should be well up anyone's list of discipline queens, even if they, like me, have no interest in S&M!) tries to make a speech. Some shots featuring a boom microphone. Lisa leaping off a watch tower to her death, precipitating a mini-riot. As you can see, prison life is dull and humdrum stuff.

While all this is going on, Dr. Norton is trying to complain about Edna's 'methods'. Sutter fires her and she goes to the press with her story. An enquiry is set up, though naturally Jemmy is not permitted to testify (she's in the hospital following an especially unnecessary bit of roughness) and the other girls are all too scared. Heroically, however, Jenny climbs from her bed, overpowers the guard and leads a rebellion - not too difficult since there only seems to be four or five warders. Edna goes insane, climbs a watch tower while blasting away with a pump-action shotgun and is finally nailed by Charlie driving a bus into the tower, both of which then explode.

The film ends very suddenly, shortly afterwards, with Jenny being released. My guess is that the budget had given way under the pressure of buying fake silk underwear...

A mere synopsis isn't enough to give the true flavour of the film. It does sound highly dodgy, but the style from start to finish is pure pantomime. The acting is completely OTT (except for Sherri Stoner, who seems to be a refugee from a serious movie), the direction is lightning fast, with some superb shots and never a moment or change for nudity wasted, and the characters are such stereotypes that you've got to cheer or hiss them as appropriate. The dialogue is brilliant; some examples:
Warden Sutter: It's time you put on your Fuck You boots & started kicking!
Edna: You're just a shit-stain on the panties of life!!
Edna: The name of the game is control, ladies; complete control...
Charlie: She was a wanker! You're all wankers!!

Intelligent and subtle dialogue, isn't it? Virtually every sentence seems to end with an exclamation mark (much like Trash City, really!). Throughout the film, it's the little things hidden in the background that make it all work; a sign saying "Don't Throw Food" which has a large splat of something on it; Sybil Danning's heels which are severe; and a Goth prisoner called Andrea Eldritch...

There is a strong element of parody throughout. Other women-in-cages films have one shower scene and one cat-fight, Reform School Girls scatters them about with reckless abandon every three minutes. Casting Wendy O.Williams as a teenager was an inspired move - older readers may remember her as lead singer of punk group The Plasmatics, who had a minor hit in 1978 or so with Butcher Baby. She must be nearly thirty in this film; she's the only teenager with wrinkles I know...

If you read the video box blurb, you expect something one step above Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS, which is a shame, 'cos what you get is one of the purest examples of Bad Cinema I've seen. We are talking loud music. We are talking gratuitous nudity. We are talking gratuitous violence. We are talking Trash.


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