Friday, March 17, 2017

WOMEN IN CELLBLOCK 9 (1978) (DVD Review)

WOMEN IN CELLBLOCK 9 (1978) 
(aka Frauen für Zellenblock 9 and Tropical Inferno)

Label: Full Moon Features
Region Code: Region-FREE NTSC
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 78 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Digital Surround 5.1, French Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono. No Subtitles. 
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.78:1) 
Director: Jess Franco
Cast: Karine Gambler, Susan Hemingway, Aida Gouveia, Esther Studer, Dora Doll, Howard Vernon 

In this super trashy slice of Jess Franco women-in-prison (WIP) awfulness we have Karine (Karine Gambier, Caged women) starring as a South American freedom fighter who along with the sympathetic driver of a fruit truck is transporting a group of freedom fighters and resistance sympathizers through the jungles, among the group are Barbara (Esther Studer, Jack the Ripper), and Aida (Aida Gouveia, Swedish Nympho Slaves). Along the way the truck is stopped by an armed group of men under the direction of wicked prison warden Loba (Dora Doll, Bloody Murder)and the sadistic doctor Dr. Martin (Howard Vernon, Countess Perverse), a diabolical doc who specializes in torturing information from freedom fighters in the most painful and sexually perverse ways imaginable. 

The armed guards are told by Karine that they are just transporting fruit, that all their papers are in order, but a search of the truck's cargo reveals the women hidden away in the back, which is when the guard says "this is the kind of fruit my soldiers like!", haha, so cheesy. The women are roughed up, some are raped by the soldiers, and Karine, Barbara and Aida are brought back to Loba's jungle prison, chained by the neck in the standing position, where they await interrogation and further torture at the hands of the sadistic Dr. Milton, played with a wonderful demented glee by Franco alum Howard Vernon.


Also imprisoned at the camp is a young university student named Maria (Susan Hemingway, Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun), who is also subjected to the gruelling sexual tortures of Loba and the doc. Dehydrated and dying for a drink of water Maria if forced to perform oral sex on Loba while an overly-pleased Dr. Milton watches, the scene ends with Maria drinking a flute of champagne laced with salt, and that's one of the nicer displeasures seen onscreen. 

The women are subjected to various tortures including the infamous Spanish donkey torture, which if you're not familiar, one of the women are forced to sit on a sharp edged wooden horse, ouch! Other tortures include electrocution through nipple clamps, and a few even harsher and weirder ones, one of the more demented one features an inclined seat with what looked like an ox-horn mounted on it that penetrates the lady parts, old doc Martin makes it a point to say that most men he's subjected to the same torture have turned homosexual! When that doesn't work a starved rat is introduced into the same orifice of the victim through a metal tube, which looks uncomfortable to say the least, oh boy. Now most of these aren't too graphic, thank the Lord, but these women victims are nude for the entire damn film, you kind of get numb to it after a half hour or so, and the tortures most graphic stuff tends to be blood trickling down the thigh and buttocks, and some foaming at the mouth, not too graphic, late in the film a headshot is pretty much a trickle of blood without any wound, silly stuff, but the idea of the tortures makes the mind reel with horror, Franco really amps up the icky factor with this WIP sleazefest. . 


Eventually one of the women cracks under the pressure of the horrific tortures and reveals the names of her contacts in the city, and the women decide they must break free and warn their contacts before they are captured and killed - leading to an escape that begins with the women feigning a group sex scene, inviting one of the more lustful guards to join in on the fun. When the foolish horn dog unshackles them he is knocked unconscious, the four women escaping into the jungle, still completely nude, of course, and armed with a rifle. One of them women is killed and another is shot and seriously wounded, slowing the others down.Eventually the women make their way to an ancient ruin in the jungle, where a final confrontation with Loba and Dr. Nilton takes place, and boy is this finale a dour one.  

Women of Cellblock 9 (1977) is a pretty threadbare WIP entry, even by the already low standards of WIP movies, the driving force of the film are nude women and horrific torture, and it delivers the goods on both ends with plenty of gorgeous women being treated subhumanly throughout. This feels like a Franco rush job, a movie made on the fly, for cheap, for some quick cash, there are no real leanings towards his artier smut films from the 70s, and nothing as extravagant as is first WIP film, 99 Women (1969). 


Not sure where this one was shot, but the jungle locations worked for me, they're obviously not too deep in the jungle, but just deep enough to look green and lush, with plenty of luscious green fauna, and some supposedly croc infested waters from which our heroines just barely seem to escape, though they never even share a frame with the crocs, we just get some rather poorly matched stock footage of the toothy creatures. Funnily, just after evading the crocs the three women take a nap/sunbath right on the grassy edge of the water, apparently these crocs don't ever come out of the water, and they're not in too much of a hurry to evade their captors, haha.  

The movie benefits from a rather good score by composer Walter Baumgartner, who scored a load of 70s Franco movies, including Jack the Ripper (1976), Wanda the Wicked Warden (1977) and Marquise de Sade (1976). As threadbare as the story is this is enjoyable as a sleazy WIP entry, some decent enough lensing from cinematographer Ruedi Küttel (Wanda the Wicked Warden), who captures the flesh and lush jungle nicely even if it's a far cry from Franco's more artful and thoughtful productions of the era. 

As a bit of trivia, apparently the movie has steadfastly been refused classification by the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC) for home video release because actress Susan Hemingway was barely sixteen years old when she made the film, here's the official reason for the BBFC rejection and glorified sexual violence: 

Under the Video Recordings Act 1984,the Board is required to consider any harmful effect that a video work may have upon potential viewers or,through their behaviour,to society by the manner in which it deals with (amongst other things) violent behaviour,horrific behaviour and human sexual activity. Women in Cellblock 9 contains many sequences depicting the abuse,torture and humiliation of naked women. These sequences were found to be in conflict with the Board's published classification guidelines,which prohibit scenes that eroticise or endorse sexual assault. The Board's strict stance on titillatory sexual violence is supported both by public opinion and by a large body of media effects research. In addition,The Protection of Children Act,as amended by the Sexual Offences Act 2003,makes the distribution and showing of indecent photographs of a child under the age of 18 a criminal offence. One of the lead actresses in Women in Cellblock 9 was just over 16 at the time the film was made. The Board was in no doubt that many of the sexualised scenes involving her would therefore be illegal. Although the amendment will not take effect until May 2004,the BBFC cannot classify material which would be in circulation in breach of the Act. The Board considered the option of cutting the work. However,the quantity of scenes involving eroticised sexual violence,combined with the indecent photographs of a person under 18,meant that cuts were not a viable option.,Dubbed,Widescreen

Audio/Video: Franco's Women In Cellblock 9 (1978) arrives on DVD from Full Moon as part eight of their ten volume Jess Franco Collection. The uncut transfer struck directly from producer Dietrich's own archival negative, restored, and looking quite nice in standard-definition. Colors are vibrant, jungle foliage looks good, and the amply seen flesh tones are natural looking. The source is in great shape without any notable defects, white speckling is kept to a minimum, I saw what looks like some telecine wobble at certain points, but overall this is very pleasing. 

Audio on the disc includes an English Dolby Digital 5.1 track and French Dolby Digital 2.0, the English dub on this is atrocious, the French dub isn't perfect either but the performances seemed a bit more nuanced and not so clumsily assembled, but there are no English subtitle for the French track, which is the biggest mark against it. That said the English dub has more oomph to it, it's more robust and full bodied. There are no subtitle options 

Extras on the disc include a 40-min audio interview with Franco from 1976, conducted in Spanish with English subtitles. There's also a trailer for the film and a 7-min VHS trailer reel of Franco films. 


Special Features:
- Franco, Bloody Franco: An Interview with Jess Franco (Spanish with English Subtitles)(40 min) 
Trailer (3 min) 
- Vintage Jess Franco Trailer Reel(7 min) 

This vintage slice of WIP is trashy fun, though it's not a great film, it's not even a good Jess Franco movie, but it delivers the usual WIP tropes in spades, including a non-stop barrage of nude, nubile flesh, which is always fun and usually why we're watching a women-in-prison movie to begin with, right? I love that these Erwin C. Dietrich produced Franco films getting a release in the U.S., and I am hoping we see them make the leap to Blu-ray soon. 2.5/5

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