For years, Bill Van Ryn from Groovy Doom has told me how disturbing this made for TV movie is and I kept thinking, someday, I’ll do an entire week of Linda Blair movies and make sure to include it. Now I’m hitting myself for waiting so long.
Blair plays a runaway who ends up trapped between her abusive family, an uncaring system and even more horrifying children, with only one care worker on her side. Highly publicized and incredibly controversial due to its graphic content, Born Innocent was the highest-rated television movie to air in the United States in 1974.
Christine “Chris” Parker (Blair) is fourteen and has been arrested so many times that she’s ended up in reform school. Her abusive home may be the cause, as her father (Richard Jaeckel, Chosen Survivors) beat her so much that she ran away from home, with her mother (Kim Hunter, Dr. Zire from Planet of the Apes) watches on, unfeeling and unable to stop it from happening. Only her older brother knows the truth, but he has his own life now.
The system blames Christine for her behavior and only a counselor named Barbara (Joanna Miles, The Dark Secret of Harvest Home) tries to save her from the apathetic system that allows for a destructive system within the reform school, including a gang that brutally assaults Chris in a scene involving a toilet plunger that was censored from future broadcasts.
After a pregnant girl miscarries due to staff abuse, Chris starts a riot. As the film closes, Barbara realizes that she has lost her, as Chris has gone from a smart and innocent girl with morals to someone who is manipulative and feels no remorse. Once an adult, she’ll basically go from this system to the prison system with no hope for being saved.
As stated before, the original cut of Born Innocent contains a scene where Blair’s character is attacked in the shower by several girls. This controversial scene led to the Family Viewing Hour, which became briefly mandatory for the networks in the late 1970s.
Born Innocent was criticized by the National Organization for Women, the New York Rape Coalition, and numerous gay and lesbian rights organizations for its depiction of female-on-female sexual abuse. In fact, the Lesbian Feminist Liberation considered the movie propaganda against lesbians, claiming that “Men rape, women don’t.” There was even a lawsuit over a copycat crime that was eventually dismissed.
Whew — this is one downbeat, brutal slice of 1970’s dread.