Lacking the faux seriousness of its predecessor, 1957’s Reform School Girl, this 1986 film directed by renowned gay-porn auteur Tom DeSimone is nevertheless a reflection of its own historical milieu. Actually its focus, or lack thereof depending on how you look at it, is far more dependent on the specific filmic moment than any general attitude in the United States at the time. Women in Prison films were so common in the 70s and 80s that they were passe enough to parody. While this film isn’t quite the send up that Slammer Girls was (or would be, it came out a year later) its humor is self aware enough that as far as I’m concerned it counts (only just) as comedy.
Actually, though this film is clearly aware of its pedigree, Reform School Girls is only interested in hitting a few high points in 80’s pop-culture on the way out. Sure a number of these sight-gags that are so stupid they’re funny. For example, the girls prance around the prison in tiny underwear styled at the height of 80’s commercial-punk fashion, including clear vinyl and lacy gloves, and there’s lots of teased hair, but not much else. Even the nudity, which doesn’t necessarily improve a movie, not even a WIP, is fairly subdued. Yes there are a couple of shower scenes, there has to be (even that other gay-porn-director cum hetero-exploitation-dabbler Tim Kincaid included one in his WIP outing Bad Girls Dormitory) but the camera doesn’t revel in them quite like other genre entries. And the rest of the film: acting, dialogue, continuity, editing, needs all the help it can get. But, despite this, Reform School Girls seems to perpetually get off the hook thanks to its stars, the ubiquitous Sybil Danning (all hail) and one of the few film appearances of shock-rock icon Wendy O. Williams who also provides a portion of the soundtrack.
Perhaps Reform School Girls‘ greatest tribute to its particular historical moment is that it’s just plain bad, and not ironically. The sincerity and hard work of so many other low-budget VHS-age gems show through in spite of their failings, but this film doesn’t try. Rather, it’s willing to do only the bare minimum (pun intended) and ride the coattails of ironical “goodness” into the hearts of fetishists and completists everywhere. As far as I’m concerned, Reform School Girls is a fine reminder of the subjectivity of memory. You will often find me trumpeting the praises of 80s American exploitation cinema as the “Golden Age,” but there are most assuredly occasions when I eat crow.