Women’s Prison Massacre (Blu-ray)
Starring Laura Gemser, Gabriele Tinti, Ursula Flores
Directed by Bruno Mattei (as Gilbert Roussel)
Distributed by Scream Factory
The bar for women-in-prison movies was never set at a very high level, but leave it to the Eurosleaze tag team of Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso to miss it by a country mile. The best the genre ever got was when Pam Grier got locked behind bars in such cult classics as Women in Cages (1971), The Big Doll House (1971) and The Big Bird Cage (1972). Then there are also the Nazisploitation prison pictures such as Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1974) and its sequels, which are entertaining because they’re so preposterously over-the-top. All of these films generally share a similar formula: put good-looking women in a prison, some have lesbian sex, some fight, and eventually they revolt and escape. This isn’t a difficult outline to follow. These trashy pictures exist for no other reason than to satisfy male (and female?) fantasies, showing off the goods of any actress on screen and letting things like strong characterization and good writing take a backseat.
Women’s Prison Massacre (1983) starts off interestingly, as a trio of convicts is seen performing a stage play intended to bring a little art to their austere surroundings. Once their play is interrupted, the film swings into trite territory by bringing out the usual staples: lesbian sex and women fighting. But the sex scenes are poorly staged, as is the fighting. The plot, loose as it is, concerns new prisoner Emanuelle (Laura Gemser, sort of reprising her most famous role), who has recently been locked up thanks to a frame job when her investigative journalism uncovers corruption in the government. The warden and her officers try to break her, as does Albina (Ursula Flores), a wig-wearing fellow inmate who brown-noses incessantly to the top brass. Albina was the tough girl in this clink, but Emanuelle shows her up every chance she gets.
The in-fighting between the ladies gets sidelined when a tough cop brings a foursome of fearsome male convicts to the prison. Don’t ask why men are being held at a women’s prison. Does it even matter? The men soon overpower their captors and take the warden, guards, and inmates as hostages as they attempt to bargain their way out of prison. Cops surround the building and a barely-tense standoff takes up the bulk of the film’s third act. The plot eventually finds its way back to Emanuelle and her quest for vengeance, wrapping up this half-baked slice of Eurotrash cinema.
Films of this ilk aren’t even close to high art, so if a filmmaker is going to make one might as well push the envelope as far as possible. Surprisingly, it seems as though Mattei and writer Fragasso held back a bit, letting the usual T&A and bare-knuckle brawls become secondary to a storyline about dangerous men trying to break free. These men, led by the hilariously over-the-top Crazy Boy (Gabriele Tinti), are total stock bad guys. The focus here should have been on Gemser and her tribulations as a falsely accused prisoner, not a group of forgettable felons.
There are filmmakers who have been able to do WIP films right – Jack Hill, Jonathan Demme – but Mattei and Fragasso are not among them. Women’s Prison Massacre is nothing more than a quickly made, cheap cash-in on the WIP grindhouse craze that was sweeping the globe circa the late ‘70s/early ‘80s. Mattei tries to please every sleazehound in the audience by offering up more than just a T&A-laced romp through an all-female prison, but these additions wind up dragging the flimsy plot down even further. If you’re in the mood for some great WIP action, there are certainly “better” pictures to view.
Note: this is the fully uncut version of the film. Previous DVD editions were cut by up to five minutes, but this restores all of the illicit action.
Don’t expect much from the film’s 1.85:1 1080p picture and your expectations might just be met. This low-budget cash grab looks the best it probably ever will, even if that’s still kinda ugly. Colors appear faded and lacking in strong saturation; ditto on black levels, which appear hazy and weak. Definition is, at best, middling, with many shots looking very soft and lacking focus. This is a very flat picture, with zero depth to the image. I get that sometimes these movies don’t need to look too polished, but this is hardly close to eye candy.
An English DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track easily handles the poor dubbing and minimal sound design. The score, from composer Luigi Ceccarelli, sounds like a rip-off of Goblin’s work – not a bad group to ape, btw – and it’s probably the highlight of the film… even if the themes are occasionally cheesy and repeat more than necessary. But the fidelity is good, at the least. Subtitles are available in English.
There are no bonus features whatsoever. Not even a trailer.