Movies From the Black Lagoon: Nightmare in Badham County
Movies From the Black Lagoon
Nightmare in Badham County
By Tom Doty
Weekly Contributing Writer
Two big city co-eds wind up in a rural jail before sweating out their days on a prison farm in this exploitation thriller from the swinging seventies.
'Women in Prison,' or WIP, films are typically awful. Roger Corman had fun with the genre while shooting cheapies in the Philippines but he soon tired of it. In those days Television movies often aped the genre trends found in the drive-ins. This effort marries the genre styling of WIP films with the southern corruption themes of popular flicks like 'Macon County Line" and "Jackson County Jail."
The problem here is that they can't really use too many of the hooks that drew audiences to these types of films in theaters. The violence has to be toned down and the shower scenes simply have to go. That means you still get all the tired WIP cliches, like guards who rock tight shorts and tube tops and wardens who molest the inmates, but with none of the titillation. The main difference is that they cut away from the action just when a theatrical release would move in for a close up.
It's obvious that the bad guys rule here, as they are cast with TV veterans. Tina Louise (Ginger from "Gilligan's Island") gets to sport a whip and a sneer as a guard who can't resist marring the flesh of her charges. Robert Reed (patriarch of "The Brady Bunch") breaks bad as the wayward warden who lusts after the prisoners.
The heroines are our co-eds. The film begins with them tooling around country roads to kill time before the next semester starts in two weeks. A flat tire stops them dead in Badham. A Good Samaritan offers to change their tire but that is the last bit of good that befalls them. Pretty soon they are being eye balled by the sheriff (Chuck Connors who has a good time here as a lawman with a mad on for college kids). They make the mistake of rejecting the lawman and that translates to a night in jail with a side order of assault.
The judge turns out to be our sheriff's cousin so the ladies get no sympathy and are sent to a prison farm for thirty days - now the film really gets creative. Since they can't show you anything too exploitative they play on your frustration by making the farmer a villain. You soon learn that it is the chief income factory for the area. The prisoners do everything from picking crops to serving as cocktail waitresses to doing the local's laundry.
Eventually you get an escape scene that adds a car chase to the proceedings but this all ends with a simple phone call that brings one of the girl's father to town and he is in a righteous mood after rescuing his daughter. The added bonus, of course, is a catfight where Della Reese (Didn't she play an angel on TV?) beats on Louise like she burned her breakfast.
This is all well orchestrated by director John Llewellyn Moxey who started directing the British scare flick "Horror Hotel" so he knows what he's doing. He went on to direct many great TV flicks but really excelled at genre shows like "The Night Stalker", "Mannix", and "Kung-Fu". Deborah Raffin stars as the co-ed with an angry dad. She actually parlayed her role here into International fame when the film took off big in China. She wound up becoming an unofficial ambassador to the film and aided in getting American films a wide release in the east.
The film is also super affordable. It's one of eight TV flicks sold as a set called "8 Movies For the Man Cave". The perfect treat for guys who want to drop five bucks at Wal-Mart and come home with 12 hours of cheap thrills that goes only so far as the censors would allow.
Best Line: "You got to get out of this town to get out of this prison."
Tom Doty occasionally emerges from the Lagoon to check his e-mail. If you'd like to get a message to him, write to: email@example.com.