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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

VHS Vednesday: The Naked Cage

THE NAKED CAGE (1986). Directed by Paul Nicholas. Starring Shari Shattuck, Christina Whitaker, and Angel Tompkins.

For no good reason other than the fact that she turned up in quite a few of the tapes I picked up during Versatile Video's liquidation sale, I hereby declare February to be Shari Shattuck Month on VHS Vednesday. And we'll start with her first leading role, in the 1986 women-in-prison movie The Naked Cage.
The Naked Cage follows the standard women-in-prison formula of a naive young woman (either wholly innocent or jailed for a minor infraction) thrown in with an assortment of hardened criminals and corrupt authority figures. That's pretty much all the plot you need; the rest is just details. All the standard characters are there: The psycho killer (Christina Whitaker), the evil lesbian warden (Angel Tompkins), the sympathetic junkie (Stacey Shaffer), the amazonian Queen Bee (Faith Minton), the weak-willed snitch (Lisa London), the rapist guard (Nick Benedict), the One Good Cop (Lucinda Crosby), and of course, the innocent heroine (Shari Shattuck). This list of stereotypes is not meant as a condemnation; the movie acknowledges its cliched nature and downright revels in it. This gleeful attitude, combined with the more outrageous elements (the warden's neon-lit love nest, and, of course, all the '80s hair), makes it difficult to take the movie seriously, muting its offensiveness (well, at least muffling it a little--it is still an '80s women-in-prison movie, after all) and making it an amusing romp, verging on parody without quite actually being one.
Who's Leaving This Off Their Resume?
Shari Shattuck delivers a believable characterization as the wrongly-imprisoned good girl, showing both vulnerability and strength depending on the requirements of the scene. However, the most memorable performance is Christina Whitaker's over-the-top turn as the ruthless killer Rita, taking great pleasure in her scenery-chewing evil deeds. Angel Tompkins tries to match her in the histrionic villainy category, but fails to pull it off quite as enjoyably.

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