Tuesday, January 16, 2018

BARBED WIRE DOLLS (1976)  (Full Moon Blu-ray Review)


Label: Full Moon Features
Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 81 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Digital Surround 5.1
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1)
Director: Jess Franco
Cast: Lina Romay, Monica Swinn, Martine Stedil, Eric Falk, Paul Muller

Barbed Wire Dolls (1976) is widely considered one of the most outrageous women-in-prison films of all time, it was the first team-up between Franco and Swedish producer Erwin C. Dietrich When the producer saw the finished cut of the film he declared that it was unreleasable as is - surely not the first or last time the Spanish euro-cult auteur heard that I am sure - but Franco turned him around and the pair had a great string of exploitation films to follow. 

In this seedy WI.P classic Maria (Lina Romay, The Hot Nights of Linda) is sent to an island prison for the murder of her incestuous father, the prison is run by a diabolical lesbo-warden (Monica Swinn, The Duke of Burgundy) who has a penchant for wearing a monocle, reading Nazi literature in bed, and walking around in some seriously demented wardrobes, her preference is for short-shorts and jackboots. She also enjoys the company of women, namely that of her prisoner's whenever the urge arises, occasionally darting her tongue into some ambiguous places in the process. The movie doesn't get much if any set-up, but the standard WIP tropes apply, we have a wicked warden and a group of mostly nude young women, who are subjected to the cruel tortures and erotic delights of the warden and her equally wicked underlings, the diabolical Dr. Costa (Paul Muller, She Killed in Ecstasy) and the pervy torturer Nestor (Eric Faulk, Blue Rita), the latter of whom subjects the women to whippings, beatings and electrocution via the nude women being tied down to a metal bed spring box hooked up to an electrical current. When the women are electrocuted they begin flailing wildly and screaming in pain as the lights dim off and on, it's good, lurid exploitation stuff. 

Lina Romay has that wonderful wide-eyed innocence I love about her, plus that voluptuous 70's body of hers is a major turn on for me, she has something about her that always get under the skin, a lot of it has to do with the way her mouth frames her teeth, but I'm just weird that way, she's a stunner! The nudity in this one is wall-to-wall, including not just her but three other female prisoners, we have the ginger duo of the truly bonkers Ingrid (Peggy Markoff, Swedish Nympho Slaves), who thinks she's a Queen,  the more mean-spirited Rosaria (Beni Cardoso, The Girl from Rio) - who in one scene masturbates with a lit cigarette! - and a blond inmate named Bertha (Martine Stedil, Women Behind Bars), all of whom eventually team-up with newcomer Maria for a daring prison break they get the best of the lustful Dr. Costas who is too blinded by his libido to see what's coming.   

The story is mighty threadbare, most WIP films are, but even by that anemic standard this one has no real drive, perhaps even more plotless than Franco's Women in Cell Block 9 (1978). Where it succeeds is amping up the lurid sexploitation with lots of seedy violence and torture thrown in for cheap titillation, and that's all right by me. A scene worth noting, and not for anything good, is a flashback/dream of Maria's father, played by director Jess Franco, chasing her around with thoughts of daughterly lust on his mind. The scene plays out in slow-motion, but the camera is not slowed down, nope, Franco and Romay play the scene moving themselves in slow motion in a Vaseline lensed slice of hilarious strangeness, the effect completely fails, so much so that it's laughable. As much as I do love Franco there's does always tend to be something sort of unintentionally funny about a moment or two, and not just the crazy use of zoom lensing. 

The island prison's relaxed dress code is also suspect in a campy way, sure we get the expected women prisoners without clothing, but the Warden is never seen fully clothed, not even once, when she's not parading around in her jackboots and short-shorts she's in a see-through negligee or less, and during the island escape the guards pursue the women through the jungle topless, including the a woman guard, small things like that just bring a smile to my face - it doesn't have to make sense, it just has to be fun, and despite the depravity of this lurid slice of WIP cinema, it is a good bit of ridiculous fun. 

Barbed Wire Dolls (1976) is a ton of WIP fun, it's super-sleazy even by the usual Jess Franco standards, but not quite on par with the hardcore stuff he did, but there's still plenty of tortured titties, naughty finger and whip penetration and gratuitous crotch shots, but as I've said,  it's not up there with the x-rated cut of The Hot Night of Linda, but it has loads of what a WIP needs to be salaciously entertaining.
Audio/Video: Jess Franco's Barbed Wire Dolls (1976) arrives on Blu-ray from the original 35mm negative, restored by Swiss producer Erwin C. Dietrich's from the original vault elements, Full Moon licensed this from Acot who also released region-free BLu-rays of these titles in the U.K.. The results look great, this is a Franco cheapie but the guy had an eye for such exploitation flare and the movie was lensed nicely, but of course there's plenty of zoom lens which Franco loved. Overall the PQ is great, grain is nicely managed, it's sharp, and the colors and flesh tones look natural, it's a great looking Blu-ray. I think it leans towards the greens but not unnaturally so. 

The only audio option on the disc is an English-dubbed Dolby Digital track, sadly we get no lossless audio option, which is unfortunate, but it's a capable lossy track with good fidelity. The dubbed English comes through nicely, with obvious dub limitations, and the Walter Baumgartner (Jack the Ripper) sounds good in the mix, there are no subtitles options.

These were released in the UK by Ascot with extras not included here what we do get is a 34-minute interview conducted by former Fangoria editor Chris Alexander with The Duke of Burgundy director Peter Strickland, whose film started out as a remake of Franco's Lorna the Exorcist (1974), he ended up going another direction but the he's still a passionate fan of euro-cult and Franco in particular.
Then we get a VHS sourced trailer reel of Franco films and a trailer for the movie itself running two-minutes and change. 

Special Features: 
- 2014 Audio Interview with The Duke of Burgundy director Peter Strickland discussing the films of Jess Franco, conducted by Chris Alexander. (24 min) 
Original Theatrical Trailer (2 min)
- Vintage Jess Franco VHS Trailer Reel: The Oasis of the Living Dead, Demoniac, A Virgin Among the Living Dead, The Screaming Dead, Erotikill, The Invisible Dead 

I've been asking Full Moon to bring their Jess Franco Collection DVD releases to Blu-ray for awhile now, I'm not taking credit for it, just saying what I already knew, that I wasn't the only one clamoring for these to get the HD upgrade from a U.S. distributor, glad to see it happening with the release of  Barbed Wire Dolls (1976). I prefer Franco's more artsy and somewhat surreal erotic thrillers, She Killed in Ecstasy is still a favorite,  but I do love his seedier WIP films, from the game-changing 99 Women (1969) to this slice of sexed-up sleaze, it's all prime Franco to me.  

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