|I'm sure this movie had a poster, but mostly existed as a worn out VHS|
Format: Amazon Watch Party
Director: Tom DeSimone
So, first: Apologies. It's probably best that I actually remember the movies we're going to watch more than a few key scenes. This movie turned out to be a bit much more than I recalled it being, and I find it insane I was watching this on cable when I was like, 13.
Ah, the 1980's.
I was a bit surprised that no one had seen this, and many never heard of it. It's a cult-classic of the 1980's, and a lot of what made it so has faded in the ensuing 37 years.
This is a movie that, as Jenifer put it, covers all the tropes of the "women in prison movie" and then cranks up the exploitation (this is New World Pictures, one of the Roger Corman brands). So, it's assuming an audience that has grown up on slew of "women in prison" pictures that started showing up post WWII as earnest socially conscious filmmaking paired with, you know, ladies kicking each other, which was a novelty. Plus a host of other sketchy activities, some explicit, many implied.
1983's Chained Heat - which stars Sybil Danning but as a prisoner - is a pretty good indicator of what was going on at this point. It has legit actors (Henry Silva, John Vernon) but is clearly an exploitation picture. Mostly I remember 1980's-me wandering the aisles of the video store and being acutely aware there was more than one movie about women in jail, and some vague promise of sexiness. But since my Mom was paying, I was not asking to see these films.
Reform School Girls is loosely based on the 1957 film Reform School Girl, which I have not seen. But also familiar if you've seen other pictures. It's mostly been forgotten, but 1980's hip young adults were very into reflecting back the absurdities of the 1950's American monoculture. If you go back and watch other 1980's movies, usually lower budget stuff, but you can see the Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, etc... But also much as folks like myself born in the 70's grew up with 4 or 5 channels, most of which was reruns of stuff from decades prior. So, yeah, I imagine replays of those old movies were part of all that.*
The movie itself follows a teen girl who gets in trouble with the law, which lands her in court and on to "reform school" (but good luck pointing out when anyone is in class in this movie). The movie hits all the notes of prison and women in prison films, starting with the "you don't know what you're in for" messaging to the lead and therefore us. And then cue the humiliations of entering prison, paired with the exploitation of a 1980's Corman flick. And that's when I realized "oh yeah. This is probably full of nudity", which is an awkward moment with a chat full of people.
The movie's stars are Sybil Danning (who many dudes of a certain age has a passing knowledge), Pat Ast (whom you should Google), and Wendy O. Williams of The Plasmatics, who is 37 and playing... 45? and 17? I dunno, but I've thought she was great since I was 13 or 14. And then actually stars a supposedly 16 year old Linda Carol (I am suspicious of her listed birth year) as our POV character hero.
I *do* think the movie is funnier than was taken by the group. Everything is at 11. It's all absurd, including the atrocities of the film, and that's kind of the point. But maybe that's just not where we're at these days. We kind of are more aware of actual exploitation in a way the 1980's was not. But the movie could have leaned into the absurdity more and had fun with it instead of saying "no, the joke is how woefully dark this is going to get, and we're going to refuse to take it seriously".
All in all, I wish I'd revisited it solo, but here we are.
*it's funny. Growing up in Austin, we really didn't have much in the way of TV on local channels after 10:30 PM except SNL. I read lot of references to latenight movies playing on local TV, but by the late 1980's, I was watching Reform School Girls on cable, not the movies that inspired it. I don't remember what would have been playing on our UHF channel, if, in fact, they hadn't signed off. I suspect the larger cities of the 1970s had more of this, but we just didn't.