If you’ve never heard of the sexploitation subgenre, The Big Bird Cage is a great way to get to know it. It features an easygoing atmosphere, an exotic setting and just the right amounts of sleaze. It’s important to be really precise with the terminology here so here’s a full rundown: First you have exploitation movies then within them sexploitation movies and then within them women in prison sexploitation movies. They are best known by the acronym WIP. Just like we now have incredibly specific porn genres to choose from, people back in the seventies had these movies. Funny, entertaining and toying with sexuality, this movie will be one of those you can watch anytime. Not to mention half-nude Pam Grier in one of her first acting roles.
The Big Bird Cage was shot in the Philippines and the opening scene with chained prisoners walking through the stepped fields of rice lets you know that. Huge mountains in the background combined with surreal landscape and scantly dressed female prisoners set the mood for the rest of the movie. Even after fifty years, these shots look amazing. You would expect that movies like this are basically just scenes of naked girls running around all the time, but this is not the case here.
There’s nudity but not in such amount that this can be considered a full-blown sexploitation movie. Even the female prison category is a stretch because our heroines are held in basically a work camp. This doesn’t mean that we won’t get our usual mud wrestling and shower scenes, because we will. Plus one greasy hilarity. Director Jack Hill said that he wanted to make a spoof of WIP movies in order to make it stand out in the genre.
The main story is a charming epic about a small guerilla faction fighting for freedom. Mostly by heavy drinking and doing robberies. Perfectly sixties counterculture material. It plays out like a naughty theater play or a musical with a simplified style of storytelling, almost cartoonish in nature. Just the thing you want in a sexploitation movie. They even managed to talk about racism and sexism. Not to mention capitalism that’s just under the surface of the main story. The exploitation of these poor female prisoners, the sexual and all kinds of other abuse they endure day in and day out is oddly similar to corporate jobs. Even the title of this movie is a dig at this and if you check out The Big Bird Cage you’ll find out why.
I guess now is the time to talk about the sexploitation issue. This is, after all, a movie solely based on the objectification of a naked female body. Unlike other movies in this subgenre, this one doesn’t feature scenes that will make you roll your eyes in disgust. There’s one sentence that stuck with me: “You cannot rape me, I like sex!”, says Terry triumphantly to Django when he kidnapped her. Taken out of context, it is bad. However, her story unfolds in such a way that I will leave this for you to decide. In the end, this is an example of how people felt back in those days and compared to some of the popular categories of porn nowadays seems timid and light.
I already talked about ravishing Miss Grier but I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention beautiful Anitra Ford and charismatic Sid Haig. Three of them carried this movie and had great chemistry. Anitra was active for only a couple of years, starring in mostly sexploitation movies and Haig is best known for his recent work with Rob Zombie.
If you’re looking for more WIP movies, I recommend you check out Women in Cages, Caged Heat, Black Mama White Mama and finally classic Beyond the Valley of the Dolls written by none other than Roger Ebert. I also have to mention the 1965 black and white masterpiece Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! Enjoy.
Director: Jack Hill
Writer: Jack Hill
Cast: Pam Grier, Anitra Ford, Sid Haig, Candice Roman, Teda Bracci, Carol Speed, Andres Centenera, Marissa Delgado
Fun Facts: The dead duck that Sid Haig hits Pam Grier with was real.