THE BIG DOLL HOUSE
*** ½ Out of 5
Tagline- Soft Young Girls Behind Hard Prison Bars
Release Date- April 30th, 1971
Running Time- 94-Minutes
Screenplay- Don Spencer
Director- Jack Hill
Starring- Judy Brown, Roberta Collins, Pam Grier, Brooke Mills, Pat Woodell and Sid Haig as Harry
Released in 1971 The Big Doll House by many is considered the film that started the new wave of Women in Prison films that were highly successful in the 1970s before fading by the end of the decade, but like always filmmakers will try and squeeze every last dollar out of something and a few were made in the 80s, but most weren’t very successful and the WIP film became a thing of the past. The Big Doll House wasn’t the first WIP film nor was it the first to feature the things these films would be known for. In 1969 99 Women was released, which was directed by Jess Franco and in someways that’s the film that started many of the cliches, but despite coming first it was the Roger Corman produced WIP films that kick started the genre and the Big Doll House is pretty much the film that got this genre going.
The Corman produced WIP films feature some violence as well as nudity, but they aren’t very sleazy with perhaps Women in Cages being a slight exception. That may have been a little sleazier than the others, but nowhere near the level these films would later reach. Filmmakers such Jesùs Franco & Oswaldo de Oliveira would very much up the ante on the sleaze factor, but while the Corman WIP films may be a little tame when compared to such films as Franco’s Sadomania or Oliveira’s Bare Behind Bars, they still very much deliver what fans of the WIP films expect to see and even if they lack the graphic nudity on sex they are in my opinion the best the WIP genre has to offer. The Big Doll House was a solid if not flawed film and my personal favorite film of this genre would be the sequel of sorts the Big Bird Cage (released the following year in 1972), but the Big Doll House is still a highly entertaining film.
Unhappy with the harsh conditions where torture is frequent and wanting freedom several women hatch an escape plan from the prison they’re being held in.
The screenplay was written by Don Spencer and its light on plot as the escape plan doesn’t enter to about the midway mark. The beauty of the WIP film is plot isn’t really required, but in someways it does hinder the script as it has no real identity or point for that matter. However the Big Doll House is still fairly well written as it features fun and highly entertaining characters (the excellent cast helps that) and the script is just a lot of fun even if it does feel like random scenes were written. Despite the flaws I have no issues with Spencer’s script that keeps me from enjoying it as again despite the lack of plot its made up for in the fun factor.
Director Jack Hill crafts a fun film that at 94-minutes does feel a little overly long due to the lack of plot, but to Hill’s credit he manages to always keep the film fun despite the pacing issues. While the film features all the aspects the WIP film is known for it also is a little restrained in content, which is why the Corman productions are my favorite of this genre. As much as I enjoy the WIP film and love the exploitation film as a whole too many filmmakers tried to up the ante by adding graphic nature, which I have zero problems with, but at times it did feel a little forced. That’s not to say the Big Doll House was tame, but Hill never takes the film too far to where it even becomes absurd like Franco’s Sadomania (which however was a blast). The Big Doll House very much earns its R-rating and again the film isn’t tame, but Jack Hill is a good enough filmmaker that he doesn’t need to resort to shock value for the sake of it. Overall Jack Hill delivers an excellent and fun film and while I did have issues with the pacing at times as I mentioned I was never bored though. This was Hill’s first WIP film and in my opinion he would master it with the Big Bird Cage, but when all is said and done flaws and all, Jack Hill delivers an exploitation classic.
The Big Doll House features a terrific cast and fans of 70s exploitation films should recognize most of the cast. Judy Brown also appeared in Women in Cages and her last credit was in 1986 with an episode of Falcon Crest. Roberta Collins also appeared in Women in Cages and appeared in another Corman WIP film Caged Heat and was also in Death Race 2000. Of course Pam Grier and Sid Haig need no introduction. The Big Doll House was Pam Grier’s first starring role. The previous year in 1970 she had a role in Beyond Valley of the Dolls, which was written by Roger Ebert. Grier would work with Jack Hill several times on such films as Coffy and Foxy Brown and the Big Bird Cage all of those, which also starred Sid Haig and they would later both appear together in the Tarantino classic Jackie Brown. Sid Haig also starred in Spider Baby, which was Jack Hill’s directorial debut.
Roberta Collins sadly passed away on August 16th, 2008 at the age of 63 from an accidental overdose from alcohol and drugs. After the suicide of her son she fell into a deep depression.
Overall the Big Doll is a highly entertaining film with an excellent cast and while the lack of plot in someways does hinder the film it is made up for in the fun factor. The following year with the Big Bird Cage, which is a sequel of sorts (though no connection between the films) is for me the better of the two, but the Big Doll House still isn’t to be missed for fans of the WIP film.
The song in the opening Long Time Woman is sung by Pam Grier. Not only incredibly beautiful and a great actress, but a very good singer as well.