Blu-ray Review: Reform School Girls

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During the late ’80s, I’d always run into people that had the poster for Reform School Girls hanging in their bedroom. Nothing said that you had an inside edge at the local videostore like that poster on the wall. The intimidating face of Pat Ast might scare you away, but the intimidating faces of Sybil Danning and Wendy O. Williams made you eager to see the film. Sybil was already legendary thank to the repeated shirt ripping scene during the end credits of Howling II. Wendy O. Williams was the lead singer for The Plastmatics. She was outrageous and fearless as she’d hit the stage barely wearing electrical tape and cause mayhem and destruction while singing. She was a punk goddess. The combination of these two women behind bars made the VHS tape a hot box to itself. Quite often someone would want to rent the tape and a fun time was had by everyone in the room.

Jenny (Linda Carol) is a good girl that ends up with a bad boy. This leads to her getting busted one night. The judge sends her to reform school to straighten her out. Except she learns quickly that there’s little reform or educational opportunities at the facility. The dorm is pretty much the turf of tough gal Charlie Chambliss (Wendy O. Williams) and her squad. She’s tight with the Edna, the cruel matron in charge of the girls in the cellblock. Charlie has eyes set on Jenny and her pal Lisa (Animaniacs‘ Sherri Stoner) to claim them as her property. This includes branding them like several of the other girls on the block. It’s a dehumanizing time. They get forced to work on the farm harvesting on a hot day. Jenny wants out bad. She sleeps with a truck driver in the hopes of having him sneak her off the grounds. But can it really be so easy to regain her freedom? Or does Warden Sutter (Sybil Danning) have a plan to keep her trapped behind bars forever?

The best part of Reform School Girls is that it doesn’t come close to the authentic prison experience. This is a movie doesn’t want the audience to assume it’s a true story with a documentary film. This is a film that plays up the exploitation aspects that we’ve come to enjoy at the grindhouse. There’s plenty of group showering with the ladies. The girls behind bars are allowed to wear the kind of trashy lingerie that looks like was found on a Motley Crue video. Wendy O. Williams wears as little as possible in most scenes. All the prisoners are women that are old enough to rent a car at the airport. None of them would get sentenced to a reform school. This is not like an episode of Lockup that used to run of MSNBC that showed us what really happened in a women’s jail. This is pure tawdry fantasies about what goes on behind the barbed wire fences. The ending features a great stunt with Wendy O. Williams on a bus that isn’t faked on green screen. She delivers a career making performance as Charlie. Pat Ast also keeps up the tension as the evil Edna. You get the idea that she runs a women’s prison in real life. Reform School Girls is a fine way to spend time.

The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. The newly scanned 2K transfers brings out the deep blues of the reform school. This looks so much nicer than the VHS tape that your friends rented from Video Bar. The Audio is DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo so you can the original theatrical mix. The movie is subtitled.

So Young, So Bad, So What (54:30) featured brand new interviews with cast and crew. Director Tom DeSimone gives away all the secrets of what it took to lock these girls up for the production. They had the actresses get tough with each other to determine what character they would have. They socialized on the set with their little groups.

Pat Ast Superstar (7:34) talks with theatrical producer Alan Eichler about the actress. He was there when Women Behind Bars hit the stage starring Pat. Turns out Pat was also a model for Halston. Pat Ast passed away in 2001.

Ode to Wendy (6:44) is a tribute to Wendy O. Williams done by author and critic Breanna Whipple. She loves Wendy O. Williams’ performance in the film. She gives background on the Plasmatics. Wendy passed away in 1998.

Archival commentary track with writer/director Tom DeSimone has him discuss so many elements of the film. He talks about what Wendy O. Williams who didn’t show up until production had started since she was doing a Playboy layout. DeSimone admits he didn’t do any research at a real reform school since he wanted this film to be fun and trashy.

Commentary track with Queer Film Historian Elizabeth Purchell. She has a soft spot for the movie. Elizabeth talks about how Tom DeSimone did adult films while making mainstream films and relates the two sides of his career.

Video footage from the play “Women Behind Bars” (72:07) is a reference tape that was filmed in the back of the theater during the original run that starred Pat Ast in the ’70s. It’s black and white. It’s worth watching to see the Off-Off-Broadway sensations.

Original Trailers includes the full trailer (2:21) and a teaser (0:56) that let viewers know this isn’t a realistic view of juvenile justice.

Vinegar Syndrome presents Reform School Girls. Directed by Tom DeSimone. Screenplay by Tom DeSimone, Jack Cummins and Daniel Arthur Wray. Starring Linda Carol, Wendy O. Williams, Pat Ast, Sybil Danning & Sherri Stoner. Rating: Rated R. Running Time: 94 minutes. Release Date: April 26, 2022.

Joe Corey is the writer and director of "Danger! Health Films" currently streaming on Night Flight and Amazon Prime. He's the author of "The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters." This is the last how to get a job book you'll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary "Moving Midway." He's worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American's Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN's Gaters. He's been featured on The Today Show and CBS's 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, "Joe, you look like an axe murderer." He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.