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“He Doesn’t Have My Permission to Die Yet!”: Twelve Evil Movie Wardens

“He Doesn’t Have My Permission to Die Yet!”: Twelve Evil Movie Wardens (photo)

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Nobody wants to go to jail. But if you’ve got to go to jail, just hope you don’t do it in the movies. Odds are if you’re going to movie jail, you’re going to wind up at the mercy of some jerk warden (or captain or superintendent or game show host of a dystopian future) who wants to torture you for kicks.

It happens time and again, most recently in this week’s “Gamer” where poor Gerard Butler plays an inmate who finds himself as a running man in a death race against the southern-accented treachery of Michael C. Hall. In honor of “Gamer,” here are 12 more corrupt and sadistic movie wardens who could scare anyone straight.

09032009_CoolHandLuke.jpgStrother Martin as The Captain
“Cool Hand Luke” (1967)

“What we’ve got here is… failure to communicate.” It’s not just the most famous line ever spoken by a movie warden; it’s one of the most famous lines in movie history. (The American Film Institute ranked it the 11th most memorable movie quotation of all time on their list “100 Years… 100 Movie Quotes”) Many movie wardens play at gentility: all eloquence, kind words, and good manners until the inevitable meltdown, but Strother Martin’s Captain has a downright grandfatherly presence in his early appearances: speaking warmly about his prison camp in that nasal Southern twang and quietly observing his charges from a rocking chair on his office’s porch. That approach might work with most of the inmates, but not with Luke Jackson (Paul Newman). The Captain gives Luke a preemptive stint in “the box” to ensure he doesn’t try to escape in order to attend his mother’s funeral; instead, it provokes Luke to try one escape after another. After his first failed attempt, the Captain parades the captured Luke in front of the other inmates; when Luke talks back, the Captain loses his cool. “Don’t you ever talk to me that way!” he screams. It’s then that the Captain says his famous line, perhaps most memorably because what he is trying to communicate should be entirely clear. It’s just that Luke refuses to listen.

09022009_CagedHeat.jpgBarbara Steele as Superintendent McQueen
“Caged Heat” (1974)

For a Roger Corman-produced women-in-prison exploitation picture, Jonathan Demme’s “Caged Heat” is awfully experimental. It features extensive dream sequences and some very thinly veiled subtext about feminism and sexuality. And yet even a film this willing to play with convention is still beholden to the evil warden syndrome. (It’s also beholden to the “women in prison tend to shower a lot syndrome” too, but that’s a conversation for another time.) Barbara Steele’s Superintendent McQueen even looks sinister with her schoolmarm clothes, slicked back hair, big glasses, and cold scowl. Slowly prowling the halls in her mechanized wheelchair, McQueen’s repressed, robotic demeanor stands in contrast with the sensual, free-spirited inmates. And, of course, she’s not to be trifled with — “We punish here as well as correct,” she warns. Though McQueen doesn’t win the award for most depraved prison employee — that would be the prison medical director who sedates his patients then molests them — she’s no saint, either. She tacitly condones his bad behavior by authorizing the doctor’s use of electro-shock therapy in order to sedate an agitated general population. Her only concern? Making sure he gets the women to sign the release forms before he turns them into vegetables. Experiments are well and good, but you’ve got to be covered in case they go bad, the same way you’d make an experimental women-in-prison film with lots of shower scenes.

09032009_TheLongestYard.jpgEddie Albert as Warden Hazen
“The Longest Yard” (1974)

It is a curious fact of prison movies, particularly those of the variety featuring corrupt or sadistic wardens, that they make us root for the criminals who make up the villains of just about every other movie involving cops and crooks. Consider “The Longest Yard,” the story of a football game between the prisoners and guards at a Florida jailhouse. Both sides play dirty, but we root for the cons. Why? Because the cons break the rules, but they do it for the right reasons. The guards cheat on the orders of their boss, Warden Hazen, who takes so much pride in his prison’s semi-pro football team he can’t bear to see them lose at the hands of the inmates. So he threatens their captain, former pro Paul “Wrecking” Crewe (Burt Reynolds), with an extended sentence if he doesn’t throw the game. (He’s previously issued his second-in-command a similar ultimatum: win this season’s championship or look for a new job.) So, yes, Crewe might lead the “Mean Machine” by sending one guy to the hospital with back-to-back intentional throws at his groin — but only in retaliation for the guards’ own sneaky moves. They cheat with integrity.

09032009_EscapeFromAlcatraz.jpgPatrick McGoohan as Warden
“Escape From Alcatraz” (1979)

Patrick McGoohan plays the evil Warden with icy fastidiousness. A stickler for personal grooming, he flicks out his gleaming nail clipper while speaking with Frank Morris (Clint Eastwood), the high IQ inmate who will mastermind the only escape from Alcatraz prison. Stalking around his office with a ramrod posture and daggers in his eyes, McGoohan is a frightening vision of bureaucratic amorality. He over-enunciates every word, snapping his jaw shut with military precision before harassing a pet bird in its cage. That this blunt metaphor is effective is a tribute to McGoohan’s controlled ferocity. He is the antagonist in Don Siegel’s otherwise austere drama, a film more concerned with the process of escaping than the escape itself. Siegel spends as much time attending to dirt disposal as the Warden does on his well-manicured fingernails. Without McGoohan’s juicy performance, “Escape From Alcatraz” would be as static as Bresson’s sublime prison movie, “A Man Escaped.” And despite the fact that Warden is clearly a dramatic construction doesn’t detract from his power, for whether he’s withdrawing paints from an aging artist or stamping on a memorial flower, McGoohan imbues him with an unforgettably soulless menace.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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