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The Muthers
(1976)

Director: Cirio H. Santiago  
Cast:
Jayne Kennedy, Jeannie Bell, Rosanne Katon


Though it may not be obvious by the writing I do on this web site, I treat life quite seriously for the most part. Week after week, my highest priorities are things that have to do with the upkeep of my personal life, such as giving a good enough effort at my job so I won't be fired, or making time to do necessary things from buying groceries to doing my income taxes. Sometimes my serious side even drifts onto this web site, when I devote time to looking at a serious movie like That Championship Season. But I think that by a look at the majority of movies I review at The Unknown Movies, I subscribe to the theory that, "All work and no play make Jack a dull boy." More often than not, when I reserve time to watching movies either for The Unknown Movies or simply for pleasure, the movies that I watch may be considered belonging to the "B" movie category. And not just a few categories inside that "B" movie category - I have been striving from the start to review examples of a whole bunch of different kinds of "B" movies. For example, several times I have looked at slasher movies, such as Slaughter High and Madman. Tough cop movies have been another favorite movie genre, from Strange Shadows In An Empty Room to 10 To Midnight. Giant monster movies, a favorite subject of many other "B" movie review web sites, also are an interest of mine, with Godzilla Vs. King Ghidora one example that I've examined. Other "B" movie genres I've covered include spaghetti westerns, martial art movies, teenage sex comedies, zombie films, and post-apocalypse epics.

As you can see from the examples that I listed in the previous paragraph, I have been trying to cover at least one example of every "B" movie genre for this web site. One reason is that variety is the spice of life, and the other reason is to try and give every visitor to The Unknown Movies at least one movie that may strike their interest and give them cause to return to my web site sometime again in the future. However, if you have carefully looked at all of the "B" movies I have reviewed, possibly you will have seen that there is one "B" movie genre that until now I have not reviewed even one example of. And that genre is the WIP genre. If you don't know what that stands for, it means "Women In Prison". With the knowledge that I haven't reviewed in the past any WIP movies, you are probably very surprised. After all, doesn't the WIP genre offer all kinds of tantilizing delights? There are brutal wardens, lesbianism, cat fights, lesbianism, shower scenes, lesbianism, guards having sex with inmates, and lesbianism. Well, you would think with all that (and more) stuff in WIP movies, I would have covered at least one WIP movie by now. But you may be surprised by this confession: For some reason, WIP movies fail to move me. It may be because they often involve innocent people imprisoned, and I've confessed in the past one personal fear of mine is to be jailed for something I didn't do. It may be because I find the atmosphere in these movies to generally be downbeat and depressing. Whatever the reason (or reasons) may be, one WIP movie after another has failed to entertain me. Even what's considered the queen of WIP movies - Chained Heat - didn't make me happy to have watched it.

For quite some time, I have been telling myself that I should review at least one WIP movie for The Unknown Movies. But understanding my past disappointments with the genre, you can probably see why I was reluctant to take on the task. But not that long ago, I found a copy of The Muthersthe movie The Muthers in a thrift store, and my subsequent research of it suggested that this WIP movie might be easier to sit through than the others I watched. Namely because it isn't totally a WIP film - although there is a women's prison, not all of the events of the movie take place in it. Another interesting factor about The Muthers was that the writer, director, and producer was prolific Filipino movie maker Cirio H. Santiago, who a few years earlier participated in the making some pretty popular WIP movies like The Big Bird Cage. So I was lead to believe Santiago may have learned something from those earlier movies. The movie is centered on two women, Kelly (Bell, TNT Jackson) and Angie (Katon, Prime Time), two modern-day pirates who with their crew attack rich people on the sea, using their loot to help the poor. One day, the two women are visited by a government official who promises the government will look the other way regarding their piracy if they go undercover on a special assignment. A brute by the name of Montiero (Tony Carreon, Styrker) is running a prison camp slash coffee plantation where dozens of women are held captive, and the government wants to know just what's going on there. Kelly and Angie take the assignment, in part due to the news that Kelly's sister Sandra is being held captive in the camp. Once in the camp, disguised as newly arrived prisoners, Kelly and Angie get to know two other women prisoners, trustee Marcie (Trina Parks, Darktown Strutters) and Serena (Kennedy), mistress of warden Montiero. But even with all four women working together, it soon becomes clear that finding Sandra and getting out unscathed won't be easy.

I am pretty confident that for most people, that above plot description sounds more or less like a standard women in prison movie that came out of the 1970s. But The Muthers has one attribute that not only makes it stick out from other women in prison movies of any era, but also just about any other "B" movie (as well as a whole bunch of "A" movies) you can think of. If you are familiar with the actresses in the cast, you have probably already figured it out, but if not, I'll tell you now: All of the principle women parts in the movie - Kelly, Angie, Marcie, and Serena - happen to be played by African-American women. Even if you haven't watched as many movies as I have, you have probably seen that finding a movie with the lead being played by an African-American woman is rare, and it's even rarer to find a movie with several African-American women up front and center in the action. So Cirio H. Santiago deserves some kudos for this atypical casting. Also, he deserves some credit for getting all four women to give spunky performances all throughout the movie. Though the women aren't great actresses, their enthusiasm gives the movie some genuine energy. Unfortunately, it doesn't take long in watching the movie when it becomes clear that the women are doing more for the movie than the movie is doing for them. For example, the movie doesn't do the actresses any favors when it comes to showing them in action. While there are indications that some of them may know how to do physical stunts (one of the actresses is given several opportunities to do backflips and other acrobatics), the choreography of their fight sequences (either martial art or battles involving firearms) is so inept it feels like not only have the women have never seen a fight before, they were given very little instruction by the choreographer as to how to fight.

But the disappointing construction of these female protagonists goes beyond the shabby way they are put through in the action sequences. These four female characters, to put it bluntly, are very weakly written. They show no real past, no indication as to where they came from and little as to why they do the things that they do. There is little emotion coming from them; for example, when Kelly learns that her sister has been kidnapped and is being held prisoner, all she does is moan, "Oh no", showing no other sign of concern. These characters don't become real people, and there is very little that differentiates them from each other. In the end, they are just devices that do the bare minimum so that the plot can advance. That is, if you can really call the plot of The Muthers a bona fide plot. The script problems extend to this portion of the movie as well. For starters, the movie has a poor sense of where it is. There are a lot of Asian people seen, and a cobra makes an appearance at one point, but there's one line of dialogue that suggests the events are taking place in Central or South America. But the question of location is nothing compared to how the majority of the movie unfolds. Though the movie runs only eighty-two minutes long, there is a considerable amount of padding on display. When there is the inevitable Great Escape from the prison, you might think that the level of tension and excitement would increase considerably. But seconds after running away from the camp, the protagonists slow their fleeing to a casual walk, soon afterwards sitting around in a campsite for a considerable amount of time.

If you are a fan of women in prison movies, you might be thinking something along the lines of, "I don't care about stuff like poor script writing, all I care about is seeing those tantalizing ingredients found in your typical women in prison movies." Well, I'm here to inform those people that they will be sorely disappointed by the depiction of the women prison found in The Muthers - and since I don't like women in prison movies, you can guess my critique will be more hostile than what comes from those people. It's a pretty cheap-looking prison, with only a few grass huts and one guard tower on display. There are no catfights, sex, or lesbianism seen at any moment. There is one shower sequence, but only one woman is seen topless. (And that is one of only two brief scenes of nudity in the entire film.) Not only are the prime ingredients missing, but so is the tone that you would expect. For the longest time, it seems that this prison plantation isn't actually a bad place to be. The inmates aren't seen doing that much work, they get to have makeshift picnics, and there is very little actual suffering by anyone for the longest time. Even the warden doesn't come across as such a bad fellow for the most part, with him devoting more time to talking tough than actually doing anything that would be considered cruel or evil. Even when the warden does start to act more like a villain, Carreon's performance is so laid back that he just comes across as a rude person rather than someone deserving of his just desserts. As you can see, the problems of The Muthers go beyond incorrect spelling, and the movie is proof that filmmaker Cirio H. Santiago's prolific career was devoted more to quantity than quality.

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See also: Bloodfist 3, Escape From El Diablo, Felon

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