Written by: Carroll Jenkins on November 28th, 2011
Theatrical Release Date: USA, 1995
Director: Henri Charr
Writers: Henri Charr, Jess Mancilla, Robert Newcastle
Cast: Annie Wood, Gail Harris, Jenna Bodnar, Dean Howell, Ace Ross, Jamie Donahue, Dominique Konold, Christi Engel
DVD released: June 10th, 2003
Approximate running time: 92 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 4:3
Sound: Dolby Digital Stereo English
DVD Release: Madacy
Region Coding: Region 0 NTSC
Retail Price: OOP
Synopsis: Two sisters, April and May, are sold off by their mom’s boyfriend. The young blond one (May) to a wealthy couple in England, the older and darker (April) to a sex pervert in LA. Mom is subsequently and inadvertently killed when she realizes through her drugged haze that her children have been sold and goes berserk. Sixteen years later the sisters reunite in LA: May the proper English college girl, and April the wild momma of a glam punk motorcycle gang. April tracks down and kills mom’s boyfriend but May takes the fall and goes to prison for murder.
The Golden Age of the Women In Prison film was early to mid seventies (Big Doll House, Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion, Bamboo House of Dolls). There was a resurgence in the mid eighties (Chained Heat) and again in the mid nineties. Banished Behind Bars is the most interesting from that decade, easily making writer/director Henri Charr’s other WIP feature, Caged Hearts, it’s bitch.
The eighties cycle had a distinct soap opera vibe that is mirrored, obscured, and parodied here in the outrageous setup (as outlined in the synopsis). Despite unorthodox twists and turns, the film is totally saved by Annie Wood’s effortless and charismatic alpha female performance as April. The lead character May is written as a privileged and sheltered innocent, and Gail Harris’ acting is passable, but when she reveals those awful breast implants the illusion is shattered. The other standout performance is from Jamie Donahue as Flo, providing much needed support for Harris when Wood is not in the picture. Both Wood and Donahue also appear in minor parts in Caged Hearts.
The supporting cast is memorable as well, especially Christi Engel as the warden. She seems rather high strung, but caring and professional at the same time – too bad this was her only screen appearance. Her warden is genuinely concerned for the prisoners welfare, but proven as ineffective when the shit hits the fan.
The rudimentary and obviously cropped Madacy DVD is out of print.
Banished Behind Bars is far less deserving of corporeal punishment than many of it’s ilk. It features some likeable characters along with hissable villains. In addition to the cat fights, shower scenes, and lesbian assaults it paints a picture of pervasive systemic corruption that reaches far outside the penal system. Yes, there’s actually some social and political subtext here, and a considerable vein of black humor is mined throughout.