Human Experiments is a 1979 American women-in-prison horror film produced and directed by Gregory Goodell from a screenplay by Richard Rothstein (Bates Motel ; Invitation to Hell; Death Valley), based on Goodell’s storyline. It has also been released as Beyond the Gate and Women in Prison.
This film should not be confused with Strange Behavior, which was retitled Human Experiments for a 2003 British VHS release by Vipco.
In the UK, the film earned notoriety for being targeted by the Director of Public Prosecutions during the ‘video nasties‘ furore in the early 1980s.
Although it was listed on the first “video nasty” list issued by the DPP on July 4, 1983, the film was unsurprisingly never prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act because it had originally been passed uncut with an ‘X’ rating by the BBFC for a theatrical release by New Realm in 1979.
Linda Haynes, Geoffrey Lewis (Trilogy of Terror II; Disturbed), Ellen Travolta, Lurene Tuttle, Mercedes Shirley, Darlene Craviotto, Marie O’Henry, Wesley Marie Tackitt, Caroline Davies, Cherie Franklin, Aldo Ray (Evils of the Night; Star Slammer; Bog), Jackie Coogan (The Prey; Halloween with the New Addams Family; Mesa of Lost Women).
Rachel Foster (Linda Haynes) is a country singer travelling alone through the United States. She resists the advances of lecherous bar owner Mat Tibbs (Aldo Ray) and in her hurry to leave town, she wrecks her car.
Looking for help, she finds what appears to be an abandoned house – but in fact it’s the scene of a grisly multiple homicide perpetrated by a young boy.
Railroaded into prison by the bar owner’s brother Sheriff Tibbs (Jackie Coogan), the innocent musician finds herself at the mercy of prison psychiatrist Doctor Kline (Geoffrey Lewis). Kline has some radical techniques for “curing” criminality, and after a failed escape attempt she undergoes his treatment and loses her mind…
“The title is a bit misleading as the main experiment doesn’t happen until the last twenty minutes. Also, don’t expect it to be exploitative and trashy just because most of the action takes place in a women’s penitentiary. The horror here is more psychological than anything, which isn’t exactly a bad thing.” Mitch Lovell, The Video Vacuum
“The whole massacre scene was great and probably one of the best setups for a women in prison movie I’ve seen before. The mid-part with her entering the prison and adjusting there isn’t very good and gets a little slow. It does pick up again near the end, which saves the movie.” Torstein Karlsen, Cinema Terror
“Tension and mood are admirably maintained; Goodell knows how to hold our attention by feeding us information bit by bit, letting the accumulation draw us in. When Haynes is sent down for the murders, the usual clichés of prison life beckon, but the film plays skillfully inside the formula, with the heroine’s gradual collapse under pressure given time to escalate believably.” Stephen Thrower, Nightmare USA
“Does Human Experiments talk to us much about the ordinary prison experience? Probably not, even though its theme of corruption – of wrongdoing not being reported to preserve self-interest – is far from uncommon in any era. Despite this, it’s very much a movie of its time… but it’s such a different prison movie it deserves to be better known.” Eric Penumbra, Prison Movies
“The most grotesque scene has our heroine trapped in a cell with a lot of creepy-crawly insects, a scene which is rather disgusting but it also strains credibility, given the situation. Throw in one of those ambiguous endings, and you have just one more thing not to like about the movie.” Dave Sindelar, Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings
” …nasty and meretricious, albeit fast-moving and action-packed, decidedly voyeuristic ‘back country’ genre piece that clearly owes a debt to Jackson County Jail (1976). Coogan and Ray deliver particularly malevolent cameos…” Phil Hardy (editor), The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror