’The Concrete Jungle,’ (1982) 22x31” Original Thai poster. Artist: Larry Salk
Like so many 1970s tots with a taste for lurid, inappropriate, forbidden thrills, in print and onscreen, I count as a key corruptive influence the most notorious Charlie’s Angels episode from its tawdry 10 pm-time-slot Farrah Fawcett first season, “Angels In Chains.” With its sweaty redneck county work-farm setting, menacing guest villain corrections officers—Anthony James, the terrifying hearse-drive from Burnt Offerings, and Mary Woronov as butch sadist Maxine, forcing the undercover Angels to openly shower before applying delousing spray to their naked bodies — and shocking sexual slavery twist, this sordid summer ’77 rerun minted legions of instant Women-In-Prison devotees. But since tween access to grindhouse gold like Barbed Wire Dolls, SS Experiment Love Camp, Escape From Hell & Wanda the Wicked Warden was sadly impossible, I had to wait over five long years to experience the dawn of the 1980s surprise American exploitation WIP resurgence with The Concrete Jungle. And it was so, so worth it.
Produced by Billy Fine, who followed up with the star-packed, much more infamous (and slapdash) Chained Heat in 1983, Concrete Jungle benefits hugely from the assured direction of underrated trash-film expert Tom DeSimone, whose resume not only comprised the zero-budget 3-D 1972 softcore bait & switcher Prison Girls, R-rated drive-in/cable megabits like Chatterbox (the talking-vagina comedy with adorable Candice Rialson), Linda Blair’s slasher Hell Night, and later, the rollicking Wendy O Williams/Pat Ast/Sybil Danning parody Reform School Girls, but a slew of all-male XXX movies, including Heavy Equipment, the first gay porn feature in 3-D.
In DeSimone’s professional hands, Jungle starts off like a slick network TV movie but quickly plunges into hard-bitten, gritty sleaze enacted by a glorious, well-cast, thoroughly committed ensemble led by Happy Birthday To Me and soon-to-be Young and the Restless star Tracey Bregman as “Cherry,” the new fish, a fresh-faced innocent ski-bunny turned unwitting cocaine smuggler; Jill St John, the imperious, glamorous, oh-so-crooked warden; classy dame TV-staple Nita Talbot as the crusading reformer who thinks Jill and her tactics stink to high heaven; and the deliciously diabolical Barbara Luna, another daytime diva, oozing silky malevolence as Cat, the evil queen bee of the cellblock who sashays around in designer jeans, pulling the other gals’ puppet-strings by supplying (and withholding) narcotics, pimping the hot ones (“You’ll fuck who I tell ya to fuck!”) to rapey muscle-daddy Officer Stone, and unleashing her twitchy, wild-eyed blonde henchwoman Icy whenever a wayward prisoner needs bashing or killing, which is often.
As played by the amazing June Barrett with such gleeful, star-quality, damaged ferocity, Icy manages to steal scenes from a memorable gallery of supporting skanks, including thuggish matron Kendal Kaldwell (best known as the ample bikinied lesbo producer coaxing hapless brilliant screenwriter Pia Zadora into a hot tub at the end of Lonely Lady); foul-mouthed shit-starter Aimee Eccles (as Spider), and even raunchy redhead Carole Ita White—who got fired from Laverne & Shirley when all the laughs she was getting as nemesis-nasty Rosie Greenbaum sent Penny Marshall whining to her showrunner brother Garry— but went on to become a grindhouse Bette Midler with other cherished appearances in Chained Heat, Hellhole, The Naked Cage and Savage Streets.
DeSimone keeps tension simmering right at the boiling point, always keeping us fearful for cutie-pie Cherry, while choosing inspired moments to whip things into a filthy froth, like when he intercuts between sexual assault and childbirth, the mother’s shrieks, the rapist’s groans and the wails of the victim (Camille Keaton, who got plenty of practice as the epically poked lead of I Spit On Your Grave) blending into an unforgettable aria of tastelessness. And when Cherry’s pushed too far — beaten, tormented, molested (off-camera) by Muscle Daddy, friends whacked — and, innocence broken forever, likewise snaps the teeth from her rattail comb, then squeezes her jagged new Clairol-shiv in one hand until blood starts to flow, it’s such s rapturous WIP movie-moment, the ensuing exercise yard riot, a rousing spectacle of mud-wrestling and electrocution, is but icing on a cine-slime cupcake discriminating trash fans may never tire of scarfing.
Not available on US home video since RCA/Columbia’s cruddy-looking VHS tape hit the streets 35 years ago, this essential bitches-behind-bars classic has now received a 2K restoration from the original interpositive with Code Red’s brand-new, sparkling all-region Blu-ray, exclusively available at RoninFlix.com. Aside from the enhanced resolution revealing some shockingly shoddy stunt-double wigging, the only thing wrong with this release (which includes great new interviews with Bregman, DeSimone and co-star Sondra Currie) is the intro with the label’s inexplicably ubiquitous “Banana Man” — an unfunny fixture in desperate need of recasting… or retirement.
Below, a selection of “women-in-prison” movie posters, now on sale for 30% off at Westgate Gallery. Use the code “BF30” at checkout.
’The Concrete Jungle,’ (1982) 27x39” Original Spanish poster. Artist: Larry Salk
’Barbed Wire Dolls,’ (1976) 39x55” Original Italian poster. Director: Jess Franco
Many more after the jump…