Thursday, August 16, 2012


The women-in-prison genre is an interesting phenomenon in that it created a surprising number of distinctive and original stories while operating within a very narrow set of parameters. Look no further than this entry which was conceived and co-written by stuntman Emil Farkas. It spins the familiar concept of the avenging enforcer who gets locked up in the big house to get revenge, but it veers in some interesting directions. 

For starters, our protagonist is a Hollywood stuntperson. Laurie Collins (Karen Chase) is working on the set of a feature film when her younger sister is murdered in prison where she is being held after murdering her own rapist. The nature of how these early stunt scenes are presented shows an authenticity that clearly comes from the filmmakers being experienced within that particular world. You see a similar level of accuracy in many biker films of the same period, most of which were being helmed by or at least crewed by stuntpeople. The real advantage to this set-up is that once Laurie lands herself  behind bars you can easily believe that she is physically and mentally capable of the badassery she unleashes. You've already seen evidence of her skills. 

Laurie's chief rival in the big house is the swine-like Kay Butler (Sandy Martin), a perpetually sweaty sociopath with an appetite for chaos. In one of the films more questionable sections, Kay arranges offsite conjugal visits for herself to be ravaged by a man to alleviate the stress of being the queen of the cell block. Kay is responsible for the death of Laurie's sister, which should be enough to get the audience against her. Thankfully, the film never misses an opportunity to have her do something despicable or gross, making the blood-soaked resolution to the revenge plot that much more satisfying. 

Another interesting aspect of VENDETTA is its willingness to slip away on bizarre tangents. One of the highlights involves a talent show performance in the prison mess hall in which a female Prince impersonator executes a full musical number/striptease that is both arousing and sort of hilarious. There is a level of commitment to her performance coupled with the total leftfield nature of the sequence itself that makes your brain contort into brand new and pleasurable shapes. There is ambition here but it never undermines the commercial need to deliver salacious content every 10 min or so. Like the best of the WIP movies, it sneaks clever moments into the proceedings while keeping its brow uncompromisingly low.

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