When I first viewed the opening credits, one of my initial thoughts was, “this stars the guy in those commercials that steals your stuff when you fall asleep at your desk at 3:00?” My next thought was, “Nope-that’s Robert Goulet and Robert Vaughn played a bipolar public official on “Law and Order” and plugs a law firm.
All actors have to start somewhere. The camera first pans to a girls’ dormitory where a petite brunette packs a bag and looks over her shoulder, clearly about to run away. She is met by a friend, played by Nia Long, who gives the girl a switchblade for the journey ahead. After a few scares, shots of sleeping girls in various stages of undress and a shadow walking past, she finally makes a bid for freedom…and the hitchhiking, truck stops etc. that go with it.
Not to be! She is met by a mysterious man in what looks to be a Ronald Reagan mask, attacked and chased down a trap door, a rabbit hole if you would. She screams her way down the tube into a dark pit where she is dragged into a pit by our masked man, strapped into a straight jacket, even though she is fighting her solitary attacker and slowly but surely bricked into her little pit stall.
Enter a newly hired doctor by the name of Janet who suffers from strange hallucinations. She is starting her first day at her dream job working at a troubled girls’ clinic under a shrink named Gary, played by Mark E. Salomo-I mean, Robert Vaughn (he means business either way). She holds him in high regard and wants to please him right away.
Did I mention that she was blond and beautiful? If he wasn’t impressed by her credentials, he was all over her assets, as was the creepy assistant doctor, played by Donald Pleasence. If you thought that Pleasence was obsessed with Michael Myers to disturbing degrees in the Halloween movies, then you will be very creeped out by the way he follows Dr. Janet throughout the hospital grounds!
He does not turn out to be the only creepy admirer in Janet’s life, as the viewer will soon see, but the immediate problem for Janet is getting lost in the kitchen area. She bumbles in to find a group of tough, loud, and at many turns scantily dressed teenage girls looking her over as the new authority figure while grinding meat. Some girls bathe, do their hair, and primp in the kitchen as well. I can’t explain why the girls’ beauty rituals take place where food is prepared, but this is a mental hospital…
The girls’ while having a gang like mentality, are not above spats and fights among themselves. Janet walks into such a dispute, and raises the ire of the ringleader, Debbie, played by Ginger Lynn. Debbie starts a conflict with complaints of laziness, and blows it up to a full on brawl. One girl starts to garner delusions of persecution from the staff, other girls, and the beloved Dr. Gary.
A little mischief might be the norm, as this is a school for troubled girls, but going overboard, or not responding to Gary’s brand of therapy in the way he’d like has bad results for the patients. One is flayed by an electric beater as she uses it as a curling iron, and more find themselves bricked into pits, which turn out to be located in an underground basement area where some of the girls sneak boys, drugs and other party favors.
All the while, Janet asks Gary about the missing girls, harbors hallucinations of hands trying to break through a brick wall, accompanied by voices while being peeped and followed by Donald Pleasence. I, for one don’t need the job or the money that badly. However, she views Gary as a mentor, even when it looks like he is trying to undress her half the time. You really see how obsessed he gets when Debbie complains about Janet and threatens to have the rest of the girls boycott her science class focusing on ants. Gary thanks her for being honest to her face, but when Debbie sneaks out to meet a boy about some grass, trouble ensues. When Janet finally finds the tunnels and starts to see what kind of therapy Gary and staff have planned for the worst of the problem girls, rotting skulls and all, she’s in real trouble, especially after she turns down Gary’s marriage proposal.
I had fun with this movie, despite some of the plot holes. It did have a women in prison exploitation feel to it, especially with a shower initiation scene, but it had solid performances from Nia Long as the concerned friend who wasn’t going to know what was happening until the end. The standout performance was Donald Pleasence as patient experiment turned creepy staff. We all have that one coworker we’re never quite sure of, less so if that one has a crush on you! It touched on the fears of patient experimentation and being bricked into a small room within an enclave swarming with ants. I don’t think it was too faithful to Poe, but it was entertaining to watch, ants, electric mixers, presidential masks and all.