As a fan of the unintentional campiness of drive-in B-movies and the sleazy cinematic pleasures of the grindhouse era, Don Brandenburg is ecstatic when I bring up the subject of sexploitation films and women-in-prison subgenre. "They were so awful, they were great," he says. So great, in fact, that Brandenburg decided to head up a local production of Slammergirls!, a musical spoof of female prison movies from the 1960s.
Written by Patrick Cuccaro and originally produced in Atlanta in the late '80s, Slammergirls! quickly garnered a rabid fan base that supported a run several months long, making it one of the longest running shows in Atlanta's history. Brandenburg, who saw it several times over its record-breaking run, sounds like a fanboy when asked about the production. "When I saw the show for the first time and the girls hit the finale number, I was thinking, 'Don't stop, don't stop.' I didn't want the show to end. Everyone in the audience was having such a great time."
Brandenburg knew then that one day he wanted to see the sexy, high-energy show on stage in Charleston. Not one to wait for someone else to take the torch, he decided to go ahead and tackle the production himself. He eventually located Cuccaro, who loved the idea of letting Brandenburg pursue a production of his own.
Not unlike the films it parodies, the show's plot is quite simplistic. There are five convicts: Francine, a former flight attendant turned prison matron; Princess, the air-head nymphomaniac; Bonnie, the coupon-clipping charity embezzler; Blossom, the earth mother; and Grace, the dominatrix. We follow each of them during their stay in the big house under the eye of a sadistic prison matron.
Needless to say, the show's themes, built around a genre that flourished during the 1960s' sexual revolution, are a bit adult. While the censorship laws were starting to change during the era, a lot of these films were pushing the envelope with their sexual exploitation of women. "If produced today, I believe a movie of this type would be too politically incorrect, with its blatant oppression of women," Brandenburg says. "However, today is a perfect time to produce a spoof that showcases the absurdity of the genre."
Brandenburg adds, "The only thing I want audiences to know about Slammergirls!, or rather remember about Slammergirls!, is that it is a parody. Don't take it too seriously. Laugh at the ridiculous situations. Enjoy the music and just have fun."
Spice up your Slammergirls! experience with these campy sexploitation flicks.
Caged (1950). One of the first women-in-prison movies told the tale of a teenage newlywed sent to prison for being an accessory to a robbery and her experiences that transform her into a hardened convict.
99 Women (1968). Previous films like Caged were noirish dramas meant for a female audience. Jess Franco's venture added nudity, sadism, explicit lesbianism, and other elements that seemed to appeal to the sexual fantasies of men.
Female Convict 701: Scorpion (1972). Sans the film's rape scene and a moment of Hostel-ish unpleasantness, this Japanese entry into the women-in-prison sweepstakes is an awesome collection of badassery. When Nami Matsushima is set up by her boyfriend, a crooked police detective named Sugimi, she winds up in the pokey. While on the inside, the Yakuza and other inmates try their darndest to get rid of her.
Ladies They Talk About (1936). Films made in the pre-Motion Picture Production Code era were known to present people in provocative or violent situations, and didn't mind showing us women in skimpy attire. Naturally, a film like this Barbara Stanwyck vehicle felt right at home among films like Reefer Madness and Howard Hawks' original Scarface.