Female prisoners in a Phillippine jail are being subjected to sadistic torture. Five of the women--along with the help of two men--plot an escape.
Director Jack Hill, a protégé of the original schlockmeister, Roger Corman, knew his way around a low budget and a shocking subject. Women-in-prison films were nothing new in 1971, but The Big Doll House had it all--sex, violence, nudity, a sadistic guard, and a sexually frustrated warden--and served it up with an abundance of cheapjack energy and tongue-in-cheek humor. The beauty of Hill's movies lay in the way they could appeal not only to the hordes who would go see them at drive-ins but also to the true trash-cinema fans who could appreciate his offbeat sensibilities. The plot is rather hoary, with a new inmate discovering the corruption of the prison setup, complete with a drugged-out psycho, a cellmate informer, and a guard who delights in torturing the women with poisonous snakes. The girls put their heads together and begin to devise a way out of their tropical hellhole, but not before disrobing several times and having a knock-down, drag-out fight in the muddy rice paddy where they're forced to toil all day. The Big Doll House, like some of Hill's other movies, was shot in the Philippines, with the cast and crew making up plot elements and dialogue in near-guerrilla filmmaking. Though the islands were a cheap place to produce movies in the '70s, the working conditions were boot camp-like. Where The Big Doll House really succeeds is in its mix of titillation and action, a fast-paced combination that makes it one heck of a fun exploitation movie to watch. It's also worth noting that this movie gave the great Pam Grier her first real starring role; she would become a Jack Hill regular before moving on to more substantial roles. --Jerry Renshaw