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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.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.