After 14-year-old Chris Parker (LINDA BLAIR) runs away from home just one too many times, her parents decide to teach her, and in essence everyone who has ever sat through BORN INNOCENT, some valuable life lessons by making her a ward of the courts. Young Chris is processed by the justice system, and dispatched to a juvenile detention center where she is promptly cavity searched, deloused, and initiated into the hard-knock life of a girls’ home where plenty of sexually unambiguous girls with feathered haired abound. Make no mistake though, THE FACTS OF LIFE this isn’t.
Chris draws attention to herself in class by impressing the home’s lone schoolteacher a.k.a. “Mom” (JOANNA MILES) with her geography prowess, and shortly thereafter ends up on the business end of a plunger handle while four tough girls hold her down in the shower. Since there’s nothing like a little forced sodomy with a plunger handle to send a person’s normally sunny disposition down the toilet, our tragic heroine spends the rest of the film in a downward spiral.
She returns home for a weekend visit, only to runaway again from her abusive dick Dad, and is carted back to juvie where she ends up in solitary confinement for inciting a food fight to protect her pregnant friend. The pregnant one happened to be involved in the shower rape, but this seems to be lost on both Chris and the script supervisor. After the pregnant one miscarries, Chris becomes even more bitter and eventually incites a full-scale riot after the school’s house mother Mrs. Lasko (ALLYN ANN McLERIE) refuses to give her shampoo. There’s an inquest into the riot, and Chris straight up lies about her involvement. The movie anticlimactically ends with Chris stomping off across the schoolyard, arm-in-arm with the other delinquents, just another child left behind by a failed rehabilitation system.
Released as made-for-T.V. movie of the week in 1974, BORN INNOCENT garnered high ratings and its shocking shower scene was cited for inspiring a real-life act of forced sodomy with a soda bottle by a group of underage girls. A subsequent legal battle based on this copy-cat crime led to the establishment of the Family Viewing Hour, and the shower scene was cut from all re-broadcasts.
Perhaps equally as criminal is the oversight of BLAIR‘s lightening rod performance by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Not only did she not receive an EMMY for her work, she wasn’t even nominated. In the hands of a lesser contemporary, say HELEN HUNT (There, I said it. I never cared for her poor-man’s JODIE FOSTER schtick and her big forehead), BORN INNOCENT would have just been a Primetime After-School Special. Whether she’s carving her initials in her forearm with a heated bobby pin or slapping a schoolmarm upside the head, BLAIR lends a natural believability to the unfortunate proceedings. You really want her to escape this hell hole, and when she doesn’t, you can’t really fault her for becoming a charter member of the old-school bad girl’s club.