Shout Factory introduced 2-for-1 discs as part of their Roger Corman Cult Classics line last year and they’ve quickly become reliable winners for schlock-DVD fanatics, delivering value-conscious double features of material that have been long out of print (and in some cases never available) on DVD. A recent pairing of Caged Heat and Jackson County Jail is a solid example of this approach in action: two worthy films get an upgrade – in both look and extras – for the price of one catalog title.
Both Caged Heat and Jackson County Jail were staples on VHS and early DVD but both formats utilized the same soft, weakly-colored open matte transfers. This Shout! Factory disc boasts new anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfers for both titles that represent a nice visual upgrade. Vivid detail and strong colors are present in both transfers, which will please fans because these are amongst the best-photographed New World films (Tak Fujimoto shot Caged Heat, Bruce Logan did the honors for Jackson County Jail). Mono soundtracks are used for both titles: Jackson County Jail sounds fine but Caged Heat is a little bit overmodulated – if you’re listening to it through a home theater system, you might have turn the volume a little lower than normal to compensate.
The disc also benefits from some nice extras: there is a trailer for each film (both classic New World-style “hard sells,” particularly the Joe Dante-edited trailer for Caged Heat) and a grindhouse experience option that allows viewers to watch both films back-to-back with vintage trailers for other Shout! Factory-distributed titles, plus intro cards and an intermission spot. If you’ve got the time to spare, the “Experience” option is the best way to enjoy the films in the spirit they were intended.
There are also brief image galleries for both films: the Caged Heat gallery makes extensive use of a set of German lobby cards while the Jackson County Jail gallery boasts some nice candid stills. Those who don’t have the original DVDs of these titles will be glad to know the brief Roger Corman interviews (done by Leonard Maltin) from those discs are carried over here.
However, the most notable additions to this set in terms of extras are a pair of new commentary tracks. The Jackson County Jail track features director Michael Miller, producer Jeff Begun and cinematographer Logan. Unfortunately, it’s not all it could be because it is hampered by the late addition of a moderator (said mod doesn’t identify himself but you can tell by voice that he’s one of the Olsen Brothers of Code Red/Scorpion Releasing DVD fame). He suddenly pops up around the half-hour mark and distracts the flow of the commentary with ill-timed, sometimes senseless questions: you’re likely to smack your own forehead when he asks if the performing the film’s rape scene was difficult for the actors!
Thankfully, the filmmakers are able to tolerate him and contribute some interesting trivia, like how Corman initially disliked the film and how Bruce Logan almost got killed filming a car stunt in the film. That said, the lame moderation is particularly frustrating as Miller seems game to discuss his artistic ambitions with this film and a more skilled moderator could have gotten some mileage out of discussing the film’s oft-subversive commentary on American society. If a moderator is going to be as ill-prepared as Olson is here, he’s better off just sitting out of the commentary altogether.
Thankfully, the Caged Heat commentary fares much better. This track features director Jonathan Demme, cinematographer Tak Fujimoto and actress Erica Gavin. Demme takes the reins from the get-go and dives in with admirable enthusiasm for his maiden directorial voyage, freely confessing his first-time directing jitters and generously crediting everyone who helped him out. He and Fujimoto freely discuss the influences they used in creating the film’s style (everything from Sam Fuller to Caged to Marat/Sade). Film scholars will definitely be happy with this track as they discuss enough references to help the listener put together a nice viewing list.
Gavin adds the actor’s perspective, discussing the challenges inherent in particular scenes and praising Demme for being one of the few directors who didn’t ask her to sleep with him for the job(!). She and Demme also pay tribute to sadly-departed costars like Rainbeaux Smith and Roberta Collins. The end result plays like a lively roundtable discussion of the film and is likely to please its fanbase.
To sum up, this pairing of two New World classics is well worth the time for b-movie scholars. Despite the occasional flaw, this disc offers nice looking transfers and useful extra content at a price that’s hard to beat. If you’re into Corman productions, it’s a safe and worthwhile buy.