Chained Heat II (1993) Review by RevTerry

I like how they snuck the women in prison genre back into the mainstream--it was slick as fuck. I hardly even noticed when it was really trending a few years ago. I can't really say I know what to call that approach, but getting housewives and college kids to be down with it was a nifty trick. Orange is the New Black isn't quite Franco's 99 Women, but if you made a pretty detailed WIP checklist, I'm sure it would have no issue hitting a majority of the boxes. Plus, from what I have seen, it borrows pretty liberally from the classics. There's just as much trash to it as there is drama and it serves many of the same functions as most of the favorite girls-behind-bars flicks. Female penitentiaries sit along a well-worn path in entertainment, with sidewalks and a bike lane. The ideas and drama involved come standard in some of the (damper) parts of cinema. A posh girl’s harsh “reality” checks, the rampant inevitable extreme abuse of power in the hands of cruel individuals, and a tendency to pause abruptly for steamy sex in unbelievable fucked up places (like a prison) are hardly fresh concepts. That newfangled shit is very much a part of a time-honored tradition dating back to the 1960s (and before), just repackaged (again) and with a great selling strategy.  It's not a bad thing, actually the opposite. In fact, I feel bad for pointing it out. I wouldn't want to be responsible for ruining someone's trashy entertainment, even if they fooled themselves into thinking they were watching something else, something more respectable. Who knows? -- this could lead to much better, grander things. One day they could be roaming the backstreets of Amazon video or Netflix and run into to one of Orange is the New Black’s ancestors and, on some level, make a connection. Say they click that shit, and still high on the mainstream shlock, they allow themselves to enjoy the sleaze that unfolds before their nearly virgin eyes. Weirder shit has happened, and a person can dream of a better reality. I like to think a few binge watchers have uncovered previously unknown worlds in the last few years; worlds stocked with all the drama and explicable prison relations they could ever want. Before you know it, you’ll have soccer moms and straight-A students making a run for the bargain bins, looking for forgotten cinema sleaze like today's subject, Chained Heat II (1993).
The film opens with a credit spliced mad dash around a prison, from the eyes of (what I think is) a large cat of some sort, while female prisoners run in front of the camera screaming. Afterward, a very respectable voice-over tells us the story of Reznik in Prague, a historic former Soviet-run prison that has been locking up beautiful girls on bogus drug charges at an increasing rate lately. Some of which have turned up dead soon after (yeah, it just kind of says all this in voiceover). We also learn at this time that the powers in control of Reznik had seen opportunity in the shrinking of the socialist dictatorship and had begun to prosper under the new capitalist system. They had achieved such an easy economic transition by using the captives behind the walls of the prison for slave labor. This meant sometimes pimping the girls out to people who regularly killed them, which in turn led to prison officials actively seeking prospective prisoners (again, yeah, I'm paraphrasing, but it just kind of lays this stuff out in words less than 10 minutes in). After we are given what seems like the whole plot of a film, we meet Alex Morrison (Kimberley Kates), who is about to reunite with her sister Suzanne (Kari Whitman) in the lobby of a Czech train station. Unfortunately, just when the two are in eyeshot of each other, the local authorities pull Alex to the side and plant a hefty amount of drugs on her. Unceremoniously, she is quickly swept away to court where the judge finds her guilty of drug smuggling and sentences her to ten years of hard labor, without the possibility of parole. Soon Alex is at Reznik, where a sped up and bare-bones version of the obligatory WIP induction ceremony plays out with little flare. Right off the bus, she is put into a line with other new prisoners, where they are introduced to Magda Kassar (Brigitte Nielsen) the hard-ass prison warden that immediately makes some off-the-cuff comments about how soft people's skin is to lighten the mood. They also meet Rosa (Jana Svandov√°), the wardens grumpy, spiteful right hand. When clothes have been handed out, Alex is separated from the rest of the new girls and dropped off to a large cell filled with jeering ladies, all wearing the same blue and white outfit in separate and creative ways. There she meets her rugged bunkmates: the mostly friendly Tina (Lucie Benesov√°), and the helpful “Bobo”(David Buonantony). While Alex is getting acclimated, Suzanne wastes no time in trying to get her out and has already enlisted a lawyer by the name of Mr.Goff (Paul Koslo) for help, but proper channels were looking unsympathetic, to say the least. Unsurprisingly, the government connected, evil corporation, that we were warned about in great detail at the beginning, is protective of its cash cow prison industry, and they want pretty girls like Alex for sex slaves. However, Suzanne remains diligent, as her sister fights her way through oddly structured prison politics and shower scenes.  Will Alex be able to endure the brutal work/sex camp long enough to make some kind of escape? Or will the 90s sometimes Russian-sounding Brigitte Nielsen finally break her with her mind fuckery and sharp lady suits?
The film has no canonical relation to it predecessor Chained Heat (1983), the only obvious links being the bare bones of the subject matter (and maybe some character influence). It could easily be a follow up to several other related flicks (in some cases just by exchanging out the word “Heat” or “Chained”” in the title), and it would fit just as well, possibly more naturally. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the writers had accidentally rented Prison Heat (from that same year) by mistake in preparation, as the plot’s closer. The first Chained Heat (1983) which starred Linda Blair, Sybil Danning and John Vernon (oh shit, and Henry Silva) is a classic of the WIP genre. Mostly this is due to its cult star power, but for what it's worth, it's one of the more developed entries from that era (and a favorite of mine). Chained Heat II (1993) holds only faintly to the spirit of the original, and the type of focus the first one put to the evil corrupt bureaucratic system that kept the main character enslaved is left behind to make a more fill-in-the-blanks style antagonist. Here the protagonist faces persecution from a more classic fictionalized foreign authority figure, the hard-nosed relics of the cold war. The feeling is removed from the distrust of men in suits that was common in the 80s and is more in line with what you get from one of the Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS (1975) clones of the era before. In fact, in a lot of ways, it feels like an older film than the first and often relies on tropes that feel out of place for the 90s, masked with a hint of early Cinemax late night original feature. You never get the loud angry vibes the Blair/Danning vehicle gave us, however, there is plenty to tie the two films together, like healthy amounts of showering, for example.  As a follow up to my favorite 80s WIP flick, it doesn't hold much weight, but it's a decent introductory use of common genre set pieces.
The film is fluffy trash throughout. A nice brand of easy to swallow sleaze, if you know what you're getting into. It's pretty light fare for the genre, geared towards the straight to VHS market, relying on the straightforward T & A, instead of shock factor, to sell itself (for worse or for better). Although it's written with a serious face on, it is low on the genre-patented mean spirit, possibly in part to widening its scope of viewership. It’s more a low-ball pulp thriller than a twisted drama. The terrible acts of the antagonists are relegated to the background for the most part, like some kind of classic spy-adventure flick. I mean, there is the obvious stuff, but ultimately we know they are bad people because they look villainous and talk about the horrible things they do. Those looking only for some of the normal gut-wrenching will probably be disappointed, and nothing will likely pull at a heartstring. Stakes never reach a level that can be felt in real any way, the threat is all surface level and hollow. The Plot keeps a quick fun pace while not really going anywhere, and keeps it entertaining, at the very least. Despite a barely foreshadowed twist, its story is too simple and well paved to trip upon in any way. It mostly serves to tie together scenes of classic behind-bars shenanigans and Brigitte Nielsen getting coked out in a David Bowie costume. In case any of the watered down WIP madness gets boring, there's a splash of slasher thrown in to make up for the lack of torture that its influences had. Some of the characters feel torn from another flick, dialog and all. Several conversations seem as though they are happening between two people of completely different eras. Some of this was probably intentional, in an attempt to portray the Czech Republic as alien or backward to our protagonist. The majority of the mismatching is likely the side effect of its heavy use of cliche genre archetypes that come from (at the time) forty-plus years of international cinema. It can't compete with some of the classics of the type, but it's a lively run through some of the tried and true themes the genre perfected. 
On a technical level, it feels close to a short-lived action show on Fox and less like the softcore cable flicks that normally carry this kind of nudity and hairstyling. The background walls look as though they could be wheeled out and exchanged when necessary. Entered by way of dirt roads and dungeon-like hallways made of stone, the actual prison cells look like a cross between a Fema camp and a plantation. The whole thing is well lit and, while it's not flushed out or soft, it has none of the grimy feel that drives home some of its peer's more fucked up aspects. Women always look extremely made up and groomed for prisoners, with the possible explanation in this case, being their expected duties. The soundtrack is a blast but is definitely not “good”. More just hilariously out of place at all times. It's all over the spectrum and gives not a single fuck about what's happening on the screen. One memorable scene tries to pull off some kind of S & M vibe (not a crazy idea for this type of shit), but the accompanying score had me sure I was waiting for someone to reveal witch powers or turn into a werewolf at any moment. Out of what I have seen from the director, it's one of his more solid works, although the bulk of his work goes much further over into the realm of softcore porn (including the cable TV spiritual sequels Chained Heat 2001: Slave Lovers in 2001 and Girl Camp 2004: Lesbian Fleshpots in 2003 ). On a basic level, it is adequate filmmaking, but his light-hearted style blends with the lack of on-screen violence to make something much less gripping and complicated than a movie about a fucked prison/slavery ring should be. On the bright side, it makes it an easy pill to swallow and maybe a good entry point for the uninitiated (or the rare Brigitte Nielsen fan, if you find one).
I hate to keep comparing the movie to its namesake, since I really shouldn't bother, but the cult cinema power duo of Sybil Danning and Linda Blair is a fucked up act to follow. Brigitte Nielsen is a legend in her own right, and in the right kind of film she can kick a lot of ass. I feel blessed that I was born early enough to remember her as part of the golden age Stallone crew, as opposed to being introduced to her during the awkward grasps for relevance of the 2000s. Bridget's “bad guys” are larger than life and full of bright comic book gusto. The style doesn't quite mesh perfectly in this particular case, but it's always fun to watch her stomp around scowling at people. Another familiar face in cult cinema, Paul Koslo lends his deep-fried glare. Koslo gave us great roles in flicks like Robot Jox (1989) and (another all-time favorite) Vanishing Point (1971) (etc..). He brings a little extra ham in this case, mostly to match the rest of the flicks motif, I think. Kimberley Kates plays the incarcerated focus of the film. Chances are, you have seen Kates at some point in something (Seinfeld maybe). I felt like she was well cast. For whatever reason, her take feels like the most appropriate for writing out of the main leads. Actually, in some other time period, I could see her playing a lead for Jess Franco or Cirio H. Santiago in a WIP flick at an earlier point in history. That's not to say her acting here is what's normally called “good”, but she brings the right kind of energy to the corny-ass table.
Chained Heat II is less a worthy sequel to one of the best “behind bars” flicks of the 80s and more a mostly safe 90s tribute to the entire Women In Prison genre in general. Quick paced and padded with late night cable-like skin, it can make a pretty entertaining watch, but you aren't going to find any of the dastardly content or shock that made the genre memorable in the previous eras. I myself can enjoy the off-kilter attempts at steamy drama and straight-faced corn it has to offer. In the end, I guess time proved this movie failed to widen the WIP audience in any significant way with its tamer, more easily digested approach; something Netflix would seem to perfect twenty years later. Maybe the shopping mall crowd won't be lurking the yards sales for VHS tapes any time soon, but I’ll be looking forward to seeing how that fad filters through the mainstream. And just to be clear, I'm not saying that you should start sharing your favorite 90s near-porn with your mom just because she watches Orange is the New Black or anything like that... I'm also not speaking out against that type of information flow or like judging you if you do. I just don't think I am prepared to take credit for those kinds of relationship dynamics.
1h 39min | 1993
 Director: Lloyd A. Simandl
Writer: Chris Hyde 

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Review by:
RevTerry


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