The deeper Shout! Factory gets into the Roger Corman/New World Pictures library, the more they favor releasing titles in multi-film sets. It’s a savvy tactic, as it appeals to fans by giving them plenty of bang for their buck and also minimizes risk for the company (bundling popular titles with lesser-known items ensures fans will pick the set up for the popular ones). When this concept is done well, it can be artful – and artful is a nice description for Shout! Factory’s excellent Women In Cages Collection.
This set gathers together a trio of seminal New World Pictures releases, all united by their women-in-prison theme: The Big Doll House, Women In Cages and The Big Bird Cage. Each film has been given a new anamorphic transfer and the results are jaw-dropping: every film presented here is bursting with color and detail and boasts a sharp level of detail that effortlessly surpasses the old open-matte transfers of these fllms. Even veteran fans will be surprised by how good these films look on this set.
The audio quality is mostly good, which is quite an achievment when you consider the limitations of the source material. The Big Doll House has a few spots where ambient audio drops out between lines of dialogue (no lines are lost) and Women In Cages sounds like it was never given a proper mix as the differences between ADR and set audio are jarring. That said, such quibbles have to do with the way these films were originally recorded and mixed, not to mention their age. The producers of this set have done a fine job and the films sound quite good given the nature of their mixes.
Better yet, there is an array of extras on these discs. This set includes the Jack Hill commentary tracks heard on previous editions of The Big Doll House and The Big Bird Cage – and both are amongst the best commentaries you’ll ever hear on an exploitation film. Hill has an impressive recall of each film’s shoot as well as the personalities involved and he weaves these memories into engaging, scene-specific narratives that are as punchy and colorful as the films themselves.
Hill covers all phases of each film, from pre-production to reception, and is free with praise for his collaborators (especially Sid Haig). The Big Doll House‘s track is particularly interesting, as Hill sheds light on the film’s troubled development phase and points out the scenes that were rewritten or improvised. Simply put, each track is necessary listening for any student of exploitation cinema.
Trailers are also included for each film, plus a few still galleries and a brief interview with Judy Brown in which she tells a memorably scary tale of on-location peril. However, the best extra is a new documentary produced especially for this set: it’s called From Manila With Love and runs a whopping 50 minutes as it incorporates interviews with Hill and Roger Corman as well as on-set producer Jane Schaeffer and a variety of cast members, including such rarely interviewed figures as Anitra Ford and Teda Bracci.
From Manila With Love focuses on The Big Doll House and The Big Bird Cage, with director Elijah Drenner sharpening the interview footage into a compelling sound-bite narrative. He also uses film clips to create a cheeky counterpoint to the participants retrospective comments – the funniest bit is the creative visualization for Jack Hill’s checklist of scenes that must be included in a women-in-prison film – and it even incorporates a few bits of original retro-style music score by co-editor Dan Greene. All the participants have cool/interesting things to say, with Bracci and co-star Candice Roman threatening to steal the show via their vivacious commentary (Ford is also quite impressive, but she’s more introspective in tone). There’s even a loving tribute to departed costar Roberta Collins. It’s a great little documentary and fans will eat it up.
In short, the Women In Cages Collection works both as entertainment, a work of schlock education and an excellent value for fans. The combination of classic flicks and killer supplements make it one of the must-buys of 2011 for any cult movie buff.