One of the inmates in this women's prison is about to meet her doom. She has been taken to a solitary cell to be raped by one of the male guards, but he doesn't realise that she is about to turn on him as she pulls a gun. He backs away, making excuses but the girl has been spotted by another guard and is gunned down with a few shotgun blasts. Such is life in this establishment, where the authorities are corrupt and the inmates are little better, so heaven help Carol (Linda Blair) who is arriving for an eighteen-month stretch for killing a man in her car, of which she says she is innocent...
Although women in prison movies had been around for decades, they really became popular with the exploitation crowd in the seventies, but come the eighties a dose of camp was what was deemed suitable for the genre. In fact, Chained Heat has a reputation of being one of the campest of them all, yet actually it's played with a very straight face, which is perhaps the best way to present such material, but it does mean that while there are plenty of cheap laughs to be gained from its attempts to be outrageous, it's a little too dour to be truly enjoyable on that artificial level - maybe it's the fact that nobody wants to turn any lights on? Not that this has stopped its fans appreciating it over the years.
Much of that is down to that once in a lifetime trash movie cast, headed by Linda Blair as she had been wading on the waters of such sensationalism for a few years; for some reason after she'd starred in The Exorcist as a teen nobody could take her as a serious actress. In fact Carol is the least interesting character there, something the film appears to acknowledge by cutting away from her at every opportunity to concentrate on the more badly behaved cast members. But we did need a nice girl to contrast with all the nastiness going on around her, and if nothing else Blair could do the whole "decent soul who has to toughen up" role with some dependability.
But look at those around her for the true trash aesthetic, starting with John Vernon as the warden. This warden is surely the least professional official ever to grace a prison movie, as not only does he have a hot tub in his office (!) with which he entertains his choice of inmates, preferably those who inform for him, he also snorts lines of coke and even takes potshots at catfighting women with a rifle. Yet somehow he's one of the better characters, as he's up against his captain Taylor (Stella Stevens), who is in league with Henry Silva's Lester, a ne'erdowell making money by selling the prisoners as whores to the highest bidder (who turn out to be dodgy politicians, of course).
So that's Blair, Vernon, Stevens and Silva - it can't get any better, can it? Wait, is that Sybil Danning hoving into view as Ericka, the leader of the race warring white gang, and taking a lustful liking to Carol? And is that Cleopatra Jones herself, Tamara Dobson as the righteous Duchess, leader of the black gang out to protect her "sisters" from the worst the system can throw at them? You'd better believe it and also try to spot such minor screen sirens as Monique Gabrielle (not lasting long), Jennifer Ashley and Edy Williams among the others banged up. It all hinges on Taylor's coup against the warden, and a tell tale videotape as he records all his hot tub sessions, fancying himself as something of a budding pornographer, but it's Carol who will unite the factions and stand up to the injsutice going on within these walls. They could have played it more for laughs and it would have been more enjoyable, but as it is Chained Heat is not quite frivolous enough, even if nobody could mistake it for a damning expose of the prison system for all its female empowerment. Music by Joseph Conlan.