At the height of the cold war, college student Christine Carlson (Linda Blair, of course) travels to West Germany to marry her fiancée, Lt. Mike Grainger (William Ostrander). Mike has spent the last few years in West Berlin but, with his time in the army coming to an end, that means that he will be able to return to the United States with Christine. The only problem is that Mike doesn’t want to do that. Instead, Mike has decided to spend a few more years in the army and to put the marriage off for a while.
Christine is so upset that she goes for a walk to clear her head. Unfortunately, while walking around West Berlin, she witnesses a defector being abducted by the Stasi. For unclear reasons, the Stasi decided to kidnap Christine as well. Soon, Christine is in East Berlin, where she’s forced to falsely confess to being a CIA agent. Christine is sentenced to three years in prison and finally, after 20 minutes of build-up, Red Heat settles into being a typical Women In Prison film.
All of the usual WIP tropes are present. Sylvia Kristel plays Sofia, the lesbian gang leader who immediately targets Christine. The political prisoners (like Christine) are preyed upon by the common criminals, some of whom work with crooked guards to maintain order in the prison. There’s the usual collection of fights, shower scenes, and suicides, all mixed with scenes of Mike trying to get a group together to sneak across the border and rescue his fiancée. The only thing that really distinguished Red Heat from every other WIP film ever made is that it takes place in a communist-controlled prison so, in between fighting off Sofia and her crew, Christine has to watch propaganda films.
Linda Blair appeared in a lot of films like this and, by the time she made Red Heat, she was clearly getting bored with the genre. Both Blair and Kristel go through the motions and supply the obligatory nudity but neither one of them really seems to be that into the movie, with Sylvia Kristel especially appearing to be bored. Both Blair and Kristel were better in other films and, despite the uniqueness of the cold war angle, Red Heat is never as strange or as memorable as Blair’s best WIP film, Chained Heat. Red Heat is ultimately for Blair and Kristel completists only.
(In a perfect world, Red Heat would have been made in the 70s with Pam Grier in Blair’s role, Glynn Turman as Mike, Barbara Steele as Sofia, and Sid Haig as one of the guards. Now that would have been something to see!)