Caged Hearts


This 1996 film was directed by Henri Charr, who also co-wrote the script with Jess Mancilla and Taesung Yim. It stars Tane McClure and Carrie Genzel as Sharon and Kate, two friends who go to a club one night where they encounter Sharon’s ex-boyfriend John (Michael J. Anderson) who is drunk and starts harassing her. When he gets violent and starts assaulting Sharon, Kate pulls out a gun and orders him to back off, but when he grabs for the gun it goes off and John is shot dead. Despite it being clear self-defense, and their lawyer, a young public defender named Steve (Nick Wilder), fighting hard for their defense, they are railroaded in court thanks to a false witness and apparent collusion between the judge and prosecutor, and are found guilty of first-degree murder and each sentenced to 35 (Sharon) and 30 (Kate) years in prison.


At this point, it enters typical “Women In Prison” film territory. Sharon and Kate are taken to prison where they’re strip-searched (by male prison guards, of course) and witness fights, run afoul of brutal inmates with lesbian tendencies, and, of course, take group showers with other inmates (which Henri Charr helpfully lingers over their nude bodies as they wash themselves). After being framed again, this time for the stabbing of Kate’s cellmate, they’re set to a particularly brutal section of the prison where all the worst and most violent inmates are sent, where they endure more mistreatment. Eventually, they’re set up in a phony escape attempt and the murder of another inmate (Chloe Cross), and forced to sign false confessions, now upgrading their sentences to life.

At this point, the film takes a turn from exploitive to becoming more of a thriller. The women learn that the corrupt warden of the prison (aren’t Wardens always corrupt in these films?), played by Taylor Leigh, and the captain of her guards (ditto), played by Lenny Rose, are part of a larger secret organization called The Shield. The Shield is a vast network of law enforcement officials and politicians who run the justice system in their state. Judges, prosecutors, police, etc. They all conspire together to put criminals away, ostensibly for the greater good. But they also have a system of using attractive female prisoners as prostitutes, given as a reward to the various male members of The Shield. This is why Sharon and Kate were railroaded in their trial, to use as part of this scheme. The prisoners who are selected, willingly or not, are moved to a special wing of the prison where they get to live in more comfort and wear normal clothes. Then occasionally they’re taken out of prison to a large mansion for a party, where they’re given make-up and fancy dresses, and are sent out to entertain the guests who are all members of The Shield and are required to go to bedrooms to have sex with whichever man chooses them. Sharon and Kate go along with this initially, hoping that being outside will give them a chance to escape, but they’re still heavily guarded. At the first party they attend both women get picked by different men and reluctantly have sex with them, but Sharon’s guest turns violent for no reason and assaults her during the sex, leaving her traumatized for the rest of the night, but the warden forces Kate to rejoin the party.

Steve shows up as a guest at the party by the prosecutor from before, as a new member of The Shield this is his “initiation.” Steven is reluctant to go along with all this, he doesn’t approve of The Shield’s methods or this forced prostitution. Kate is surprised to see him there and goes with him to a bedroom to have sex, but he asks her to explain what’s going on, and he agrees to secretly help her and Sharon expose the Shield and get free. This is dangerous for all of them, as we see that anyone who doesn’t go along with The Shield gets killed. With the ladies working from the inside and Steve working from the outside, it’s a race to uncover the conspiracy before they’re caught. It all races to a thrilling and explosive finish.

This film is a definite step above typical films of this genre. This is thanks largely to McClure and Genzel since the majority of the film falls on their shoulders. Although I mostly know McClure from a string of softcore films (like Scorned 2) where she plays a sexpot, this is a more serious role that shows off her dramatic talents. Genzel is also impressive, as her character goes through a range of emotions here from vulnerable to aggressive. I give this film get a Chacebook rating of 5 STARS.

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