Prison-a-Go-Go! (2003)

Rating: C-

Dir: Barak Epstein
Star: Laurie Walton, Rhonda Shear, Travis Willingham, Lauren Graham

The line between parody and smug self-awareness is a thin one, and going over it is always a risk for those who aim to pay homage, especially in regard to a genre known more for its “badness” than any cinematic qualities. Unfortunately, this deliberate effort to construct a cult classic in the women-in-prison field stumbles more than its soars, and ultimately is less entertaining than many of the films it seeks to parody. It does, at least, get right the nonsensical nature of their plots, with animal hospital assistant Callista (Graham) abducted by the minions of the evil Dr. Hurtrider (Willingham), albeit conveniently dropping a business-card clue to be found by the victim’s sister, Janie (Walton) [the card reads: “Dr. Hurtrider, Scientist & Torturer. PO Box The Biggest Prison in the Philippines. Walk Ins Welcome”]

Janie gets herself sent to the same prison, in search of Callista, where she has to deal with everything from lascivious inmates to ninjas, while trying to find Callista before the evil doctor can turn her into a human/porcupine hybrid through his hideous experiments. That’s actually one of the better jokes, not just because of its sheer pointlessness, also because one of the inmates just happens to have a pet porcupine that can be… er, porcupinapped. This kind of deadpan lunacy, that everyone takes for granted, works a lot better than nonsense like the “shower clock” counting down the time to the next shower scene.

It’s a joke which would be slightly amusing once, but is ground into the dirt here, well beyond the point of any productive return. Many of the performances also need to be more OTT: of the main cast, only Willingham chews scenery at the requisite level, though we do get a welcome cameo from Mary Woronov, showing how it should be done (and a not-so welcome one from Lloyd Kaufman, serving absolutely no purpose). Epstein apparently seems largely content to point out the cliches of the genre, without going the necessary mile to exaggerate them for effect, and despite some occasional moments of amusement, the result is more forgettable than its targets.