Friday, September 5, 2008

In her "own natural element": Deceased Artiste Roberta Collins

Roberta Collins was not an exploitation star of the first rank, but she made her sexy blonde presence known in a variety of top-notch Seventies genre classics for the drive-in and grindhouse crowd. She played a tough babe in some extremely memorable Seventies sleaze pics, from the terrific roller derby saga (starring Claudia Jennings and edited by some film student named Scorsese) Unholy Rollers (1972) and Deathrace 2000 (1975, as Matilda the Hun!) to Three The Hard Way (1972) and Eaten Alive (1977). In her later career, she appeared some really sub-par but still watchably awful Eighties sleaze, including Hardbodies (1984) and School Spirit (1985).

Why would you know Roberta? Well, if you’re a fan of the finest sleaze genre there, is the Women’s Prison picture, Roberta distinguished herself as the “hot, mean blonde chick” in a number of chicks-in-chains features. Starting with Jack Hill’s seminal exercise in Filippino prison-camp joy The Big Doll House (1971), and then in Women in Cages (1971), Jonathan Demme’s transformative, revisionist masterwork (I’m serious about that, it is terrific) Caged Heat (1974), and the latter-day revenge-behind bars classic Vendetta (1986), Roberta was at her best when imprisoned.

To illustrate the allure of Ms. Collins in her short prison shift, I offer the trailer for Hill’s The Big Doll House

And just in case you’re still drawing a blank as to exactly which blonde prisoner Roberta was, I do think that this fistfight/mud wrestling scene from Doll House where Roberta meets to settle matters with the queen of Blaxploitation (and Jack Hill discovery) Pam Grier should remind you (or at least just brighten up your day). No one has offered the official vote on this yet, but this scene has to one of the Top 5 Movie Catfights, if only for its raw sleaze factor:

and we leave Roberta in actually the finest movie she took part in, Demme’s Caged Heat, which does for the women’s prison picture what mainstream mavericks Altman and Peckinpah’s films were doing for the Western, the caper movie, the hardboiled detective saga, and a host of other genres. It’s rare that a B-budget film included so much imaginative weirdness — warden Barbara Steele’s odd Blue Angel nod alone is worth the price of admission — but Caged Heat certainly showed Demme to be a consummately talented filmmaker, and I have to say… I actually prefer it over a bunch of his mainstream pics.

Roberta left us at 62. Farewell, hot, mean blonde chick.

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