Against Their Wills

A Lifetime Channel Prison Rape Movie

Here's the DVD box cover for "Against Their Wills." They retitled it "Caged Seduction" which is actually a better, more accurate title than "Against Their Wills" and also has the advantage that it's a lot more lurid. Also, check out that prison smock with the deep, deep cleavage. No smocks remotely like that in the actual movie of course ... it's Lifetime Channel after all. But there is some great bondage, unlike a few "sexploitation" films I could name.

Copyright 2008 by Pat Powers

I've often mentioned Lifetime Channel women in prison movies in my reviews of sexploitation women in prison movies, and so I thought I'd review one so you can see what I'm talking about.

Against Their Wills is a story about a semi-innocent woman who helps her fellow inmates fight an uncaring warden who is kinda laissez-faire about his guards' activities, and whose guards are just the opposite of laissez-faire with the more attractive inmates.

Alice Needham, played by Judith Light, is first seen enjoying life with her wonderful family -- two bouncy, robust teen boys and a cute grade school aged daughter.

There's also her loving grandmother. This is very typical of Lifetime movies -- they establish that the woman who's about to be thrown in the hoosegow has a warm, loving family whom she will miss very much and who will miss her very much. Throughout the film, there will be visits from the family, phone calls from the family, etc.

Family members enjoy talking with Alice. The kids do, anyway. Grandma appears to have bad news.

In fact, the major stressor for the women in prison in a Lifetime women in prison flick isn't being dominated by the guards or locked in their rooms or having to do hard, menial labor, or the risk of being assaulted by other prisoners, or even being raped by the guards. The thing that REALLY REALLY bothers them is being separated from their families. Everything, and we mean everything else pales by comparison with not being around their children any more.

This concern is generally entirely absent from sexploitation women in prison flicks or is much less pronounced -- one exception being Time Served.

No adult men are in evidence in Alice's life, because Alice has execrable taste in men -- her current lover, in fact, is a lawyer, which says it all. Typically in Lifetime women in prison flicks lovers and husbands are either entirely absent, or are there but turn out to be rotters who betray them, or fools who enmesh them in some idiot criminal enterprise that lands them in prison.

The protagonists of Lifetime women in prison flicks do encounter decent men, but it's almost always after she's been imprisoned, typically in the form of a dedicated guy who's interested in getting her out.

Alice works at a car dealership, where she's doing very well at her job. All is right with the world. There's just one little harbinger that things might not be entirely perfect in Alice's life -- Alice looks just like Flanders' Vegas Mommy, the past-her-prime Las Vegas party girl that Ned Flanders married while on an ill-advised drunken spree in Las Vegas with ill adviser Homer Simpson from the Simpsons TV show.

On the left, we have Alice from "Caged Seduction." On the right we have Vegas Mommy from "The Simpsons." I rest my case.

This harbinger harbings when a former friend of Alice shows up at her dealership asking for help, every bit of body language and vocal intonation in the woman's voice reeking of desperation.

Alice, however, is reluctant to help her former friend, because her former friend is her former cellmate. And the terms of Alice's parole are that she not associate with known felons, which her former cellmate most definitely is.

Her friend says she just needs a ride to a store. So against her better judgment, which she should really listen to more often, Alice drives her friend to the store and waits while she does her important shopping. But when Alice's friend comes out of the store, the cops grab her for shoplifting, and they grab Alice as her accomplice -- getaway car driver, y'know.

Alice, it turns out, has a history of drug abuse and theft which landed her in prison in the past. She's tried to set that life behind her, but her cellmate seems to have mucked things up badly.

Fortunately, her lawyer/lover is on the case. He tells Alice he has an in with the judge and he's got an agreement worked out that if she'll plead guilty the judge will just extend her probation rather than throw her in jail.

Alice is all for pleading innocent to the theft charges since she did not in fact steal anything or knowingly help her friend steal anything, but Alice figures lawyer/lover knows what he's doing. And she's right. And she's right: he does know what he's doing. It's just not what Alice thinks he's doing. She thinks he's trying to get rid of the charges against her. He's actually getting rid of her.

Alice discovers this when the judge sentences her to five years in prison, which seems a little stiff but she is a repeat offender. It's obvious that lawyer/lover did not have this "in" with the judge. This occasions some slugging of lawyer/lover by Alice now that she realizes she's been screwed by him in more ways than one, and she's cuffed hands behind by the bailiff and dragged off sobbing while her family also sobs.

This is a lousy bondage scene but there is much better to come.

Next there's a bondage scene on the prison bus, with the inmates cuffed to one another. It's crummy, too, you can hardly make out their cuffs. But still, better to come.

Carrie: young, pretty, new to the prison system. We know what that means in wip movies.

Alice's cellmate is Carrie, played by Giuliana Santini, a very pretty newbie who announces "I can't stay here!" as soon as they slam the cell door on her. She's there for murder since she killed her abusive husband by accident while defending herself from him. A very typical Lifetime beef. Alice tells her she needs to "find that place within herself that will let her live here" if she wants to survive. She's gone from suburban mommy to her old role as cagey old con very quickly.

Alice needs to be cagey, because things have changed at Ronald Reagan State Prison for Women. As we noted early on, rape is the order of the day. Sometimes the guards give the inmates they rape gifts, sometimes they give them money, and sometimes they seduce them by offering them protection and affection in a place where those things really count. And sometimes they just pin the inmate down and fuck her by force. But it's all rape, because the power imbalance between the inmates and the guards is so great that they rightly fear saying "no."

The power imbalance phenomenon isn't spelled out in the movie, but it clearly underlies Alice's reaction to the rapes/sex and in real life is the rationale behind laws forbidding sex between guards and inmates in prisons and jails, no matter how "consensual" they may be.

Note that the rapes aren't part of an organized conspiracy to whore the inmates out to paying customers as in most sexploitation women in prison flicks. It's just guards taking advantage of a prison culture which tolerates rape. Typically, Lifetime women in prison movies avoid the more fanciful plotlines favored by sexploitation women in prison movies. However, the rapes are so commonplace that a con who's been in prison while Alice was "away" says, "They've turned the place into a giant orgy. They're exchanging favors for sex. The zookeeper has looked away and the baboons have gone wild."

In fact, one of the male staff -- not even a guard, really, and kind of feeble-minded -- carries around a picture of the child he had with an inmate and shows it to everyone -- including Alice -- at every opportunity.

A rape scene begins with a pan across the room showing the guns and cuffs that are used to control and if necessary kill the female inmates. It's a powerful way to establish the power imbalance between the guards and the women they control.

One of the inmates being raped is Sondra, played by Tonya Pinkins, a very attractive young black woman with a lively personality. She's accepting money for sex, but it's obvious that she'd be having sex with the guard whether she wanted to or not, so it's more of a consolation prize than a capitalism thing. She has a great line: after the guard is done with her, he tosses her a few bills. She responds, "If that's all you can afford, keep it, you obviously need it more than I do."

Josie is raped by one of the guards. Note the way he is pinning her arms down as he fucks her. There's also a racism angle: he's white and in power, she's black and powerless. You gotta wonder about the wisdom of raping a woman in a room full of guns, or of letting inmates in the weapons room at all. I bet they have rules about that in most prisons, such as "Don't ever do this."

Sondra is clearly affected by the sex she's having that she doesn't want to have, and this leads her to "act out" as they say, violently. We first see this when Sondra attacks Carrie when she accidentally jostles her.

The guards pull Sondra off Carrie and cuff her hands behind her back, another crummy, almost unseeable scene. But there's better stuff coming soon.

Although it's obvious to us that Sondra's attack is a result of her quasi-rape -- she wants to beat up the guard who raped her, but she can't so she attacks Carrie -- it's not obvious to Carrie, and she fears being labeled a troublemaker by the guards.

"Fortunately" for Carrie, there's Bill, a guard who's prepared to console her. He first introduces himself to Carrie, who is quite the young honey, by chasing off Sondra and some pals as they harass Carrie while she mops the floor. He talks to her in a friendly and nice manner, but we know better, because we've already seen Bill at work -- he's the one who was raping Sondra. Instead of being the brusque, authoritarian guard with her he's, well, seductive.

Bill the rapist guard lays the charm on Carrie. It's working, too.

This is another big difference between Lifetime women in prison flicks and sexploitation women in prison flicks. The characterizations tend to be much more subtle. In sexploitation flicks the guards tend to be monsters, raping, beating and even killing the inmates, their only approach to them authoritarian to the point of being fascist, as you can easily tell from my reviews of various exploitation women in prison flicks.

But in Against Their Wills, the sexual aggression is played much more subtly. For example, there's a scene where another con, Lisa Jamison, played by Kay Lenz, is working in a factory-like environment, and a male overseer starts putting the moves on her. He doesn't grab Lisa or anything, just talks to her and subtly encroaches on her space, while she retreats nervously like a small guy trying to put distance between himself and a large bully who's ragging on him, without being too obvious about it. Lisa is obviously physically afraid of him. Lisa moves about halfway down the table away from him and then abruptly leaves to go ask the supervisor to make the guy back off.

Lisa's supervisor on the job. This is about as close as you'll get to a lurid, nekkid sex scene in any Lifetime Channel flick. And I really like the way the blond is reaching out and getting herself a little middle-aged spread butt booty and she's GRINNING about it. That is one horny, desperate woman.

Unfortunately, when Lisa opens the door to the supervisor's office, he finds the supervisor naked with another inmate who's also naked, having sex. It's a beautifully realized moment, powerfully demonstrating how hopeless the inmates' situation is. Obviously, the supervisor is in no position to criticize the overseer for putting the moves on an inmate, even if he wanted to. And in fact, the next time the overseer puts the moves on Lisa, more forcefully this time, she succumbs, knowing she has no one to go to about it.

This more subtle characterization has the effect of cranking up the power of the dominance/submission elements in the story because it is easier to relate to. Sexploitation women in prison flick prisons tend to be hellish nightmares full of lurid activities that are clearly id drivel. The guards are monsters who can and do rape, kill and torture inmates and the only thing the inmates can do about it is scream a lot, which doesn't do any good of course.

Carrie gives up the pink to Bill the rapist guard, under the impression that they have an actual relationship. Later on he will let her know that her sweet spot is just another pearl on his necklace.

Ronald Reagan Prison for Women is more like a high school -- a high school where the girls are locked in cells much of the time, and the boys determine whether individual girls can leave their cells, whether they have access to snacks and goodies, whether or not they can hang with their buddies during their free time, whether their jobs are easy or difficult and whether they are put in handcuffs or more serious restraints. And the boys can assault the girls with impunity. Naturally, some of the boys take advantage of this situation.

But there's still all the coquetry and relationship stuff and cliques (in prison they're called "gangs") you find in high school. It's a woman's eye view of prison. The guards don't just grab the prisoners and rape them on the spot, they romance them, seduce them, give them tiny favors that mean a lot in prison. They combine that with the force and authority of their positions to get what they want from the inmates. The relationship between the guards and the inmates are parodies of normal relationships, not real relationships because of the tremendous power imbalance between the guards and the inmates, and the inmates know it and deeply resent it even as they are cozened into these phony relationships.

And everybody can remember the high school boys who would take advantage of the girls whenever they could, and how some of the girls let them and some didn't. Like I said, very easy to relate to, and to imagine how those boys would behave if they had the kind of power the guards in this story have. With the power imbalances cranked to such great levels, the dominance/submission elements are strongly felt, even though the action is not nearly so lurid as in a sexploitation flick.

Of course, this is also a FLAW in the movie, because lurid events -- to be specific, rape -- are occurring, and if instead of a brief shot of clothed coitus or two half naked people sitting next to each other, we were to see something more explicit, it would make the drama more powerful. For example, if when the older con discovers the factory supervisor and the inmate having sex, she had been kneeling before him with her head in his lap, bobbing up and down, it would have been much more powerful.

And a shot of a gagged inmate crying and moaning into her gag, tied to a bed and being molested by a guard who subsequently drops a pack of Cheetos and a Hershey bar on the bed with her after untying her, then leaves, it would be very powerful, and make the rape more real.

OK, this is really lurid, but you know what? It powerfully conveys the helplessness of the prisoners and the way they're used in a way that less lurid images just can't. Image courtesy of our advertiser, Sex and Submission.

Alice has matured a lot while free and raising her family and she isn't at all happy about how the prison has changed in her absence. In a conference with the warden, she chastises him about the guards' conduct, and threatens a lawsuit. The warden threatens to make her stay in prison very hard. In a sexploitation flick this would likely mean solitary confinement, beatings, rape, torture, etc. In this Lifetime women in prison flick, it doesn't seem to mean a whole hell of a lot.

Plus, the inmates are desexualized in their role as victims of the guards. There's no sense that any of them would like sex with a guard, even though it's quite possible that some of them would -- because that would run counter to their roles as rape victims, even though in real life when power imbalances are as great as they are between guards and inmates, any sex is understood as rape, no matter how willing the inmate is.

Meanwhile, back at the plot, Sondra finally has enough of all the rape and so forth and tries to hang herself. It's a really shoddy suicide attempt -- she uses towels and tries to hang herself from the shower heads in the group showers (no nude shower scenes in this Lifetime flick, of course, just one shot from the shoulders up). A guard notices Sondra is missing and finds her and gets her down before she can strangle.

A half-naked Josie is first put in humane restraint leg cuffs ...

As punishment for trying to kill herself, the guards put leg cuffs on Sondra, then put her in a straightjacket and chain her legs to the back of her straightjacket in a hogtie, and haul her off like so much dirty laundry, dumping her in a bare cell pretty much naked except for one of those hospital gowns that make you feel like something's hanging out no matter how they're adjusted. Because something is.

Then it's straightjacket time ...

Alice objects to this treatment of Sondra, and makes a scene. As a result, SHE gets forced into a cell, where a female guard hold up a hospital gown and forces her to strip naked behind it with four or five guards standing in the background ready to strip her if she doesn't comply.

Finally, her cuffed legs are chained to the back of the straightjacket and she's hauled off like a sack of potatoes. Now, that's gettin' down with da bondage!

Alice disrobes and then they lay her on a cot and put a sheet with straps on it over her so she can't get up. In fact, the only parts of Alice that are exposed are her head and her wrists, and the guards have put humane restraint cuffs on her wrists, rendering her totally helpless, and then they inject her with a sedative.

Because Alice objected to Josie's treatment, she gets the treatment, too. First, she's forced to strip naked in front of a bunch of guards, behind the scant cover provided by a hospital gown.

"Don't do that!" Alice cries, "I'm an addict!" But to no avail. Personally, if I was going to be strapped into a bed for a long while, I'd be real happy for something to put me to sleep for most of that while. But I'm not an addict.

These bondage scenes are much more powerful than anything I've seen in any of the sexploitation women in prison flicks I've reviewed to date. Both Sondra and Alice are rendered totally helpless, unable to move at all. This powerfully reinforces the dominance of the guards -- if a prisoner gets out of line, she can be forced to strip naked as Alice was, and put in bondage that renders her utterly helpless, and they can do anything to her, such as inject her with drugs that might re-start her addiction. I've yet to see the sexploitation film that works the bondage with such power.

Of course in the case of Against Their Wills the bondage is used mainly to further establish the domination of the guards over the inmates and their helplessness within the prison system. Even an outspoken inmate like Alice can be rendered helpless and naked if she gets out of line. Or even if she doesn't, as is clearly implied.

Then Alice is psycho-strapped into a bed with a canvas sheet that has restraint straps bult into it.

In addition, the bondage is worked for its pathos. The last bit of the scene shows Alice with just her head and bound hands visible, singing "The Star Spangled Banner" to resist the effects of the sedative, finally succumbing to it and passing out, demonstrating her helplessness.

Then they put cuffs on Alice's wrists and inject her with a sedative. The last image we see of her in this scene is her trying to fight the drugs, only her head and hands visible, and her hands in restraints ... a powerful image of helplessness and vulnerability.

The bondage puts Alice over the edge and she starts collecting affidavits from all the rape victims so she can make a legal case against the prison. She is not one to knuckle under.

Some of the inmates (including, weirdly enough, Sondra) actually like the status quo and in a subsequent scene we see the guards breaking up a fight between Alice and Jodie and a couple of her pals. There's blood on Alice's face, but you don't see how it got there. (A sexploitation flick would never miss and opportunity like this.)

Alice's face is bloodied in a fight we don't see. Actually, we have no idea how the blood got there. Frankly, this is just plain bad direction ... we SHOULD have seen how the blood got there, it's relevant to the story and would probably add a lot to the dramatic power of Alice's situation ... she would seem much more in jeopardy.

Alice makes such a ruckus in the jail that the warden finally decides something final has to be done about her. So he ... gives her an early parole. Frees her. Lets her skate.

Alice gets right in the warden's face and pisses him off so much that he ... gives her an early parole.

Actually, this is a pretty smart move as it gets her out of the prison so she can't rabble rouse the inmates against getting raped. But you know in a sexploitation flick a "something final" would involve murder or some variation of it. Then again, "smart" rarely describes the actions of anyone in a sexploitation flick.

The warden is hoping that once she's out of prison, Alice will forget about all the rape and stuff in prison. Alice's mom hopes for that, too. So do her kids.

But of course, Alice is not about to forget all the rape and stuff in prison. She finds a crusading lawyer -- a good lawyer unlike her old lawyer/lover -- in Jack Devlin, played by Stacy Keach. She shows him her affidavits (and she has lovely affidavits) and persuades him to do a pro bono investigation of conditions at the prison.

Stacy Keach, crusading lawyer. He cleaned up good for this movie.

A lot of the dramatic juice could have gone out of the movie when Alice was released from prison, and to tell the truth, a lot of it did. With the protagonist no longer in jeopardy, the suspense level went way down. Still, there are a lot of women still in the prison, still getting raped, and still unhappy about it.

The inmates are also prone to turn on one another. For example, a rumor circulates that Carrie is one of the inmates who gave a deposition, or snitched as it is called. For some reason this pisses off some of the prisoners, and in the yard they surround her and appear ready to gang-beat her thoroughly, so she does the logical thing and panics, running up to the prison fence and trying to climb it.

But in her blind panic she grabs the razor wire atop the fence, causing her to scream and release the fence, causing her to plummet to the hard pavement below. She hits her head on the pavement hard enough to give herself a severe headache, and is chastised by the guard as she grabs her, telling her she might have hurt herself severely.

(Of course, in a sexploitation flick Carrie would either have been beaten to death by the other inmates or she would have landed on her head when she fell off the fence, severely killing herself.)

Other than this, the movie turns into a dull series of legal maneuvers as Alice and Devlin try to develop legal proof that the guards are raping the shit out of the inmates. I won't tell you how the movie ends because that would be giving things away.

OK, here's the warden's boss and possibly the whole source of the problem at Ronald Reagan State Prison for Womenfolk. What the hell is Agent Smith from "The Matrix" doing running a prison system?

The point is, the conflict between the guards and the inmates is resolved through legal maneuvers, not a prison riot or a series of murders or a huge explosion or some combination of these elements, as things are generally resolved in sexploitation women in prison flicks.

This is probably a lot more realistic -- and certainly characteristic of Lifetime women in prison flicks -- but it's also a lot less dramatic than the prison riot/huge explosion ending. In fact, it isn't dramatic at all. Typically the end of Lifetime women in prison flicks is when the inmate is finally freed and has a happy reunion with the family she's been missing for so long.

Against Their Wills misses that boat when Alice is released from prison two thirds of the way through the film. Which is the film's only major flaw as Lifetime women in prison flick. Otherwise, it did a fine job of milking every bit of drama and pathos out of its topic.

It didn't have much going in the way of actual sexiness, but that's a flaw shared by almost all Lifetime women in prison flicks. (And I only said "almost all" instead of just "all" just to be on the safe side -- I don't know of any Lifetime women in prison flick that brings the sexy.)

But in the use of characterization to maximize dominance/submission relationships and the use of bondage to do the same the movie is far above most sexploitation women in prison flicks. They cold learn a thing or two from this film.

Article-ending prison booty courtesy of our advertiser Sex and Submission. We sure weren't about to get any naked booty from "Against Their Wills." Except for clothed booty from that supervisor guy. And that would just be wrong.

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