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DVD: Red Heat (1985)
DVD Transfer: 
Very Good
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July 12, 2011




Genre: Women in Prison / Sexploitation / Drama  
An American bride rots in an East German prison, unaware of her husband's efforts to mount a commando-style rescue.  



Directed by:

Robert Collector
Screenplay by: Robert Collector, Gary Drucker
Music by: Tangerine Dream
Produced by: Monica Teuber, Ernst R. von Theumer

Linda Blair, Sylvia Kristel, Sue Kiel, William Ostrander, Elisabeth Volkmann, Albert Fortell, Herb Andress, Barbara Spitz, Kati Marothy, and Dagmar Schwartz.

Film Length: 94 mins
Process/Ratio: 1.78:1
Anamorphic DVD: Yes
Languages:  English Mono
Special Features :  

Disc 1 --- Film: Chained Heat (1983) - uncut vers. / Interview with actress Stella Stevens (11:14) and Sybil Danning (11:23) / Optional Mr. Skin Introduction (1:09) / Theatrical Trailer

Disc 2 --- Films: Red Heat (1985) + Jungle Warriors (1984) / Mr. Skin Introductions (1:02) + (1:07) / Theatrical Trailers

Comments :

'Fool me twice, shame on me?'

One would suspect that after being snookered into her first Women in Prison [WIP] film, Chained Heat (1983), Linda Blair would’ve stayed away from the genre, given the script’s more sincere premise of wrongful imprisonment morphed into naked women being bars being brutalized by overlords male (prison warden, guards) and female (prison matron & supervisor).

It may have been a case of straight economics, or perhaps there was literally nothing being offered to the Oscar-nominated actress (The Exorcist [M]) beyond sleazy sexploitation, revenge, or slasher films. Maybe it was a trip to Austria mit frei Wienerschnitzel, Beer, und Sachertorte mit Kafee that sweetened the deal. Or smooth talking that convinced Blair Red Heat (1985) was basically Midnight Express (1978) with a gender switch, and a country swap to an East German women’s prison.

Either way, it seems surreal that for Blair, history would repeat itself, particularly since her first WIP film shared the same producing team of Ernst R. von Theumer and Monica Teuber (who appears as a hotel receptionist in Red Heat)

Blair was again literally trapped behind bars, this time with her largely German & Austrian co-stars in a dank prison (with one toilet), and a script rewritten daily. In her commentary track on the VSC DVD, she explains the 1980s offered actors less rights of refusal, and actors didn’t simply walk off set, spouting a big ‘Fuck You’ to the producers; according to Blair, you finished the film and moved on, chalking up the experience as a valuable lesson.

The actress says it’s a situation that also affected the production of Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), with 5 unique script revisions, an incoherent finished product, and a box office dud. The way she explains her position, ‘If Richard Burton wasn’t willing to protest and walk off, how could I?’

(Without naming the specific film, Blair also mentions her appearance in a third WIP movie, Savage Island (1985), in which she was contracted to appear in wraparound scenes in a role that was more of a cameo, but was given top billing in the film and poster art – another case of bring cheated by sleazy WIP filmmakers.)

The chief difference between Exorcist II and Blair’s two true WIP films lies in a better sense of continuity: the structure of the original scripts, with their beginning and ends, remained intact and the sleaze was still tied to being trapped in a dreadful place.



Ah, subtext

Where Red Heat offered a sharper dramatic edge was an unusual political content:  the script by Gary Drucker (Domestic Disturbance) and director Robert Collector contains strong anti-totalitarian commentary, and uses the sleaze to vilify the East German regime as wretched state where individuality is crushed, and one’s horrible circumstance, in the eyes of the State, is one’s own fault; punishment is part of a necessary social realignment.

Blair wasn’t privy to the uniquely East-West German political situation, but she was aware of the surreal situation where even during filming, there were certain border crossings that were dangerous. That edginess is present in her performance, and the mood of the prisoners and supervisors who all feel entrapped. It’s a shame the filmmakers of Red Heat were never contacted for a commentary track; perhaps they rejected attention on a film they’d rather forget (residuals excepted).

Collector’s film has two storylines: Christine Carlson (Blair) trapped in prison after she was literally snatched during her honeymoon because she saw an East German political advocate named Hedda (Sue Kiel) abducted by Stazi scum; and the quest of fiancé Mike (William Ostrander) to save her in spite of encountering nothing but utter apathy from the U.S. Government, and his own military superiors.

The silent message to the young soldier is ‘don’t rock the boat,’ and forget about his new bride; she’s simply a victim of a complex political mess that dates back to the early sixties when Russian and American tanks stood barrel-to-barrel when the Soviets attempted to annex Berlin’s Western Sectors from the Allied powers.

That’s the subtext in Collector’s film, and there are too many subtle details to fully write-off Red Heat as outright sleaze; it’s sexploitation, but inside its shell is a fervent, anti-East German stance. The problems with Collector’s finished product are the cruelties – rape, torture, rape, gang violence, rape, and nudity - which made Red Heat a cult favourite among WIP connoisseurs, but clouded what can still be perceived as earnest attempt to depict the GDR’s corrupt components (even in a pulpy style).

The film has shades of Midnight Express, but it also owes a lot to the Naziploitation smut cranked out by Italian schlockmeisters: once incarcerated, the film almost exclusively focuses on torment to justify a revenge finale, which in this weirdo genre often includes an armed insurgence rescuing the women from further torment.

There’s also a strong similarity to the themes of Rambo: First Blood Part II, primarily because the motivations of Mike isn’t to fully rescue his wife, but make a grand statement against the U.S. Government for abandoning its own.

Like Rambo, a crew is assembled to rescue citizens ‘left behind’ by America, and their safe return home will shame a nation for leavings its own to die slowly under the duress of an enemy state. When Mike emerges in West Germany with Christine, their arrival will both embarrass their Government and shed light on U.S. citizens rotting in foreign jails. Both Rambo and Red Heat were released in the U.S. in May of 1985, so it’s hard to say whether one film influenced the other, or the shared political statements are pure coincidence.

Collector does offer more scenes of the husband’s efforts to mount a rescue mission with anti-GDR activists, but those scenes tend to exist out of necessity: his attempts to find simpatico rebels are intercut with Blair’s misery, and the prison break through sewer system tunnels is just the endpoint where the two storylines inevitably converge.

As a WIP film, Red Heat is above average, but the sleaze factor includes brutality meted out by Sofia (Emmanuelle’s Sylvia Kristel), a lifer whose fellow gang members have nothing to lose by being cruel: any act of self-defense by a regular prisoner will yield a term extension. It’s a clever twist because it allows Collector to have his villains literally get away with every kind of grotesquerie: Sophia regularly forces an inmate into orgies, metes out vaginal punishment for being uppity, and uses rape to keep rebels like Christine in line.



Multiple versions, different tones

According to Blair, Red Heat was a much nastier film, and VSC’s DVD contains a longer rape scene (4:47) in the Special Features section. In the substantially longer sequence, the porn-happy prison guard has a go on Christine, after which Sophia crawls on top and has her round, warning Christine there will be more sessions. This scene is only present as a bonus deleted scene in the VSC disc; both the VSC and Panik House DVDs contain the same version 94 mins. cut.

The original running time was reportedly 104 mins, and other scene deletions included an extended prison booking scene where Christine is shoved into a shower naked by an aggressive guard, which Collector contrasts with Hedda blankly showering and heaving after the slightest urging of her guard; and more strangely, a great little scene that occurs prior to Christine and Mike's love scene early in the film.

After the newliweds arrive at the coastal resort, Christine stands in the doorway of their bedroom, and the two check each other out, with obvious nervousness. Mike drops his uniform jacket on the rug, and Christine steps forward. The two embrace, the music starts, and the disrobing begins. It's a simple, cute character-building scene that had no reason to be deleted except to tighten the first act.


Version PAS integrale


All three of the aforementioned deleted scenes are present in a French VHS release, although that version lost considerable scenes to accomodate an absurd 85 mins. running time. (The box incorrectly states a length of 102 mins.) There was a reportedly 101 mins. VHS version released in England, but at this stage it's a bit ridiculous that no uncut print is in circulation. Perhaps it's a case where the film's current owners simply don't care enough to search their archives to enable a definitive release of this sleazy classic.



Extras + closing thoughts

In her commentary track, which is mostly consistent regarding the film’s production, Blair covers filming in Austria, working with “sensitive actress” Kristel, the terrible working conditions, and being named “the Voice of America” because she argued for better living & working conditions for the film’s secondary and bit actors.

VSC producer / track moderator Jonathan Gross is perhaps a bit too enamored with Blair to ask broader questions about her career, the era, and Blair’s involvement in various sexploitation genres, but it’s a good track that provides probably the one and only time anyone connected with this film will give candid discussions of its making. The track remains exclusive to the VSC release.



Mr. Skin_________________________VSC


The lone extra on Panik House’s DVD is a perfunctory Mr. Skin intro and a theatrical trailer, but the NTSC film transfer was made from a superior PAL master, and while the print isn’t as clean as Blair’s other WIP film in the DVD set - Chained Heat - there’s plenty of detail in terms of grain, grunge, and dim lighting – particularly the finale where the men break out the women, and escape through Austria’s spectacularly massive sewer tunnels, which were apparently designed to shelter WWII citizens during an air raid.

Tangerine Dream’s score is perfunctory – once hears bits of outtakes from Thief (1981) and The Keep (1983) blended with newer material – but the prison break is underscored with a solid track that takes its rhythmic structure from the industrial machines operated by the prisoners.

Given the slick direction, Robert Collector’s film career was oddly brief. His only other efforts were Nightflyers (1987) under the pseudonym of T.C. Blake, and Believe in Me (2006), which he also wrote. Collector also co-wrote Jungle Warriors for producers Teuber and von Theumer (a film that coincidentally co-starred Paul Smith, who played the sadistic Turkish dungeon master in Midnight Express). Collector also rewrote part of John Carpenter’s Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992).

This title is part of Panik House’s Mr. Skin presents Women in Prison set, featuring Chained Heat [M] (1983), Red Heat (1985), and Jungle Warriors [M] (1984), and improves upon the transfers of the VSC release (which featured the same three films, albeit with CH shorn of its maximum ‘heat’). In addition to the Blair commentary track, the VSC edition includes brief bio pages, and a French dub track.


© 2011 Mark R. Hasan

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