Director Barak Epstein had experienced an epiphany. Noticing a gap in the vast spectrum of motion picture genres, Epstein thought it would be a great idea to resurrect that old drive-in staple of yore: the Women In Prison movie.
The Texas filmmaker wasn’t content to merely rehash this all-too-familiar territory, however. Instead, he designed his goofy feature Prison-A-Go-Go to be an outrageously silly, sexy, and sometimes even dorky parody of those classic W.I.P. films gone by.
“I always thought Women-in-Prison movies were pretty funny,” Epstein admits, “but there hadn’t been any good ones made in quite awhile; at least not since the Roger Corman produced ones from the ‘70s. I decided that someone should make a new W.I.P movie in the vein of the old school ones, not the “Caged Heat 3000” type W.I.P. movies that were being made throughout the ‘90s.”
Uh, it’s kinda scary that someone gave this genre that much thought, but I suppose one must know his subject if he’s going to spoof it…and spoof if, he does!
Outrageous farce that it is, “Prison-A-Go-Go” serves as a veritable genre smorgasbord. Epstein and co-writer Mike Wiebe juxtapose such unexpected morsels as blood-soaked zombies, inept Ninja warriors, and even a little mad-scientist genetic mutation action for good measure on top of what would otherwise be a rather simplistic and (deliberately) ridiculous tale.
When the aforementioned mad scientist abducts her sister for use as the subject of his villainous genetic experiment, Janie (Laurie Walton) learns that her sibling is being held in a steamy maximum-security prison in the Philippines, run by a sneering sadistic warden (cult icon Mary Woronov). Seeing no other alternative, the less than Einsteinian Janie commits a vicious murder and soon conveniently finds herself locked up amongst the prison’s sexy inmates. Under the boisterous wing of “Jackpot” (former mistress of late night TV, Rhonda Shear), a luscious den mother of sorts, Janie must adjust to her bleak surroundings and life in captivity, while also fending off a pack of bumbling prison guards, not to mention the delusional but dangerous mad scientist who’s gradually changing her sister into, um, a porcupine.
I’m not making this up.
“Wasn’t it fun?” Shear chuckles over the phone about this so-silly-it’s-surreal film. “Those young filmmakers are so good!
“We were living in Dallas for just a short amount of time and I had a radio show on the air there for a little bit,” Shear recounts. “When we were on the air, I think they just knew I was in town and contacted me and said, ‘Hey, we’re doing this. Can I send you a script?’ And they emailed me, I think is what happened, and I said sure.”
It’s somehow appropriate that PAGOGO was filmed in Texas, home of perhaps the single most screwed up criminal “justice” system in the country, as Shear’s Jackpot character presides over a plethora of anarchic prison mayhem.
“It was a fun part for me, too,” she states. “Fun and crazy. I said, ‘Hey! I gotta have a martini in my hand. I’m a senior!’”
Through it all, the one thing Janie and her fellow non-senior inmates always seem to have time for, is a nice hot shower. Like in any good W.I.P. film, there are lots of shower scenes in PAGOGO. So many, in fact, that the filmmakers even adopt the amusing convention of including a Shower Countdown Clock in case the slavering viewer wants to skim past all the sight gags and witty banter and simply get to the skin.
“Well, the shower scenes were sorta weird to shoot,” Epstein admits a bit sheepishly. “None of us had shot anything with nudity before, but we knew we had to get it in there, or we would’ve had a legacy like Ted V. Mikels’s “10 Violent Women,” which is a women in prison movie known solely for the fact that the girls in the shower are wearing bikinis.”
Which, of course, just ain’t right.
And speaking of showers, Epstein’s experience on “Prison-A-Go-Go” calls to mind that old saying about being careful what one wishes for. On the plus side, you see, his decision to make a Women-In-Prison film like PAGOGO meant plenty of on-set, er, exposure to a host of nubile, naked young actresses.
The considerable downside to the endeavor, however, was suffering through the extensive research necessary to make an effective spoof.
“Well, me and my co-writer Mike Wiebe and Robert Johnson, (the) DP (of my first film) “Cornman: American Vegetable Hero”, decided we would watch all the women in prison movies that we could in an 18 hour timeframe. I had borrowed 22 W.I.P. movies from a video store,” Epstein sighs. “We watched some good ones like Run Run Shaw’s “Bamboo House Of Dolls” and Jack Hill’s “Big Doll House,” and some really crappy ones like “Chained Heat 3” and “Star Slammer.”
Actually, maybe “Star Slammer” wasn’t really as bad as I remembered it, but it was the eleventh movie of the day and I was going in and out of consciousness at that point.
“Notes were taken on how often a certain convention was used in these movies, and jokes were written based on these conventions. You know, like, ‘How often is someone shooting them with a hose?’ or ‘Do they really need to shower that often?’ Things like that”…
…Sorry. Still stuck trying to grasp the concept of a “good” women in prison movie.
In any event, Epstein, who cites “Female Convict Scorpion Jailhouse 41” as “…hands down the best. Sorta like the ‘Barry Lyndon’ of W.I.P. Movies,” turned all that research into a surprisingly entertaining comic romp, which doesn’t skimp on the cheesecake. Shot on 35mm over ten straight days with a handful of pick-up shots later, and limited to an amazing 4:1 shooting ratio, “Prison-A-Go-Go” has the slick look of a much bigger film. Epstein graciously credits his veteran B-movie starlets Woronov and Shear with giving the film its professional sheen.
“Both Mary and Rhonda were great to work with!” the director exclaims. “All that overwhelming SAG paperwork really pays off in the end when you get to have these B-Movie legends on your movie set. I’m really happy with both of their performances in the movie.”
For Shear, who also served as the film’s Executive Producer — “That was really kind of a technical thing for Screen Actors Guild,” she explains — life nonetheless imitated art to a degree, as she lent her considerable experience to the young filmmakers, becoming a den mother of sorts behind the camera as well as in front of it.
“I’ve actually done producer stuff where I actually produce,” she emphasizes. “But…it was fun too, just to kinda guide them a little bit in, you know, even treating extras and treating the other people on the set. Not that there was ever anything really wrong, but just to even say, ‘Hey, if you do this, you’re gonna get more out of your people.’ They were really cool and very mature.
“And you know, the fact that they were shooting on 35mm, in (short ends), so…you never knew when the film would roll out. In the middle of a word, and all of a sudden you’d have to stop. A little frustrating. But the fact that they didn’t (shoot) it on tape and they actually went the whole nine yards and went for it and gave blood and stole to get what they needed. I just think that’s great…That’s the background for being a great filmmaker.”
A filmmaker whose film is chock full of silliness, slap-stick gags, gratuitous gore and even several ever-popular, never-fail fart jokes – one inmate smuggles oversized contraband inside her butt — Epstein never loses sight of what really attracts viewers to a Women In Prison movie.
“Maybe it’s the hinted lesbianism. Maybe the shower scenes,” he ventures out on a (very short) limb. “You know, I think there’s a lot of women who also like W.I.P. movies, ‘cause the women always end up empowered and victorious at the end.
“My favorite W.I.P. movies are the ones that were sorta light hearted anyway,” the filmmaker concludes. Which goes a long way towards explaining the sexy zaniness that is “Prison-A-Go-Go.”
“Prison-A-Go-Go” broke out in July. For more information, check out the Shock-O-Rama website.