Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Schoolgirls in Chains (1973)

(In true exploitation style, the artwork does not really match the film...at all.)

A young girl accepts a ride with two brothers when her car breaks down and is swiftly taken to their out of the way house and introduced to the other "pets" that live in the basement. Frank is the morose and protective older brother who initially shows no interest in the girls as they are intended to be playmates for John who has the mental capacity of a child. However, they both do little to nothing without the approval of the matriarch of the manor, lovingly referred to as Momma. And Momma will do anything to keep her boys close to home.

Now that's a lurid title. Perhaps a little too much so as the US DVD was released as simply Girls in Chains which seems like an unnecessary exclusion even if it is true that there isn't a single pleated plaid skirt to be found anywhere in the film. As it stands, though, this movie is far less exploitative than similar abduction fare from the era. Personally, I found this to be a pleasant surprise as some other films that revel in the sexual violence usually just get my mind wandering as to if the filmmakers were more interested in getting their rocks off than anything else (and if they expected the same from their viewers...sorry, not my cup of tea).

Most of the action revolves around John prodding at the girls as they play 'Doctor' and even when Frank does lose control with one of them he clearly takes no pleasure from it. Momma has most definitely done a number on both of her boys which is highlighted in the most integral scene of the film when they flashback to Frank bringing the girl he loves home to meet Momma and inform her of their impending nuptials. It does not take long for Momma to pridefully explain to his once future bride that they have been having an incestuous affair for several years and then invites her to watch next time she comes around. Admittedly, it was a tad confusing to think that adult Frank was healthy enough to succeed at a relationship with another woman, but it does provide for the most darkly humorous moment in the film.

The success of Schoolgirls in Chains lies mainly in its ability to draw empathy for both the victims and their captors. This really should not be possible but I'll be damned if the brothers are not deserving of at least a bit of pity. Outside of the pivotal scene explained above, we do not get much more in the way of how Momma has indoctrinated her boys to loathe women as they do outside of her insistence that young girls are evil and want only to hurt their mother. More than anything, it is in the performances of the actors that we see how damaged the brothers are. Quiet, nuanced roles in an imprisoned woman's exploitation flick? Stranger things have happened.


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