Women's Prison Massacre Blu-ray Review
Written by ZigZag
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by Bruno Mattei (as Gilbert Roussel)
Written by Claudio Fragasso
1983, 89 minutes, Unrated
Blu-ray released on December 8th, 2015
Laura Gemser as Emanuelle
Gabriele Tinti as Crazy Boy Henderson
Carlo De Mejo as Lawman Harrison
Antonella Giacomini as Irene
Maria Romano as Laura
Ursula Flores as Albina
Raul Cabrera as Geronimo
Pierangelo Pozzato as Blade
Emanuelle is doing hard time in women’s prison for the crime of sticking her journalistic nose where it doesn’t belong. She is determined to clear her name and bring the corrupt city officials who framed her to justice. This task is all the more difficult as the warden is a sadistic bitch that is also on the take. The dreaded inmate Albina leads a group of thugs that always manage to hurt people when the guards somehow aren’t looking. Luckily, Emanuelle is not alone in her struggle and can count on Laura and Irene, her equally beautiful cellmates, to protect her from the full brunt of the inhumane torture that is lavished upon the incarcerated.
All petty differences are set aside once a quartet of high-profile male prisoners, including the notorious “Crazy Boy” Henderson, are temporarily transferred to the facility while they await sentencing. Local lawman Sgt. Harrison is overseeing the transfer personally, but things take a serious turn when these new convicts break free of their captors and swiftly overtake the building. If Emanuelle thought her situation was bad before, she is about to receive a harsh lesson in the depravity of man, as the new arrivals rape and torture their way from one cell block to the next. The women must fight back if they are to stand any chance of returning to their normal routine of hurting each other on a daily basis.
A quick note about the female protagonist Emanuelle: she is a recurring character in a series of unauthorized knock-off films inspired by Marayat Roller-Andriane’s tale of sensual Emmanuelle, the bored housewife of a French diplomat, that spawned numerous soft-core Emmanuelle pictures. With a slight spelling change, the titular character embarked on a whole new set of sexy albeit low-budget adventures in a variety of genres. Laura Gemser made a career as Emanuelle in a series of twelve movies, including Black Emanuelle (1975), Emanuelle in Bangkok (1976) and Emanuelle: Queen Bitch (1980). Each successive entry in the franchise finds Gemser in one compromising position after another. She continues to find trouble in Women’s Prison Massacre (1983), her tenth time in the role, but somehow the Indonesian beauty manages to keep her clothes on throughout the picture, allowing her to showcase some unexpected acting ability.
Director Bruno Mattei (Island of the Living Dead) built a name for himself with his brazen lack of cinematic ethics as he repeatedly payed homage (pronounced rip off) to countless better filmmakers with his cheesy cannibal and zombie flicks. This time, hiding behind the alias Gilbert Roussel, he sticks his incompetent toe in the world of women-in-prison movies and the results are not that much more satisfying. It is stunning how frequently he fails to connect with the material given his exploitation background. Women’s Prison Massacre (also known as Blade Violent, Escape from the Women’s Prison, A Bunch of Bastards, Emanuelle Escapes from Hell, and Emanuelle in Prison) was written by the equally talented Claudio Fragasso (Troll 2), whose screenplay abandons everything it struggled to establish in the first half hour, in order to pursue a different storyline once the male prisoners arrive. Every female character is relegated to the script’s back burner while we follow the hang-ups of the “Crazy Boy” Henderson posse. This is not to say Albina and the warden disappear entirely, but they are no longer in command and simply follow the orders of the men.
Laura Gemser makes the most of the material provided and does a fine job even when stuck in the background tending to the wounded policeman. Her best moments are in the first half hour as she is adjusting to prison life with her cellmates. The film opens with the trio performing a series of feminist monologues in a theatre piece for their fellow inmates. Antonella Giacomini (Lady of the Night) and Maria Romano (Violence in a Women’s Prison) make a strong impression as Irene and Laura respectively, but are quickly overshadowed by the powerhouse that is Ursula Flores (Dead End) as the dreaded Albina. This villainess brings an over-the-top energy with her crazy fright wig and intense arm wrestling skills, and deserves her own movie rather than being benched in this one. Carlo De Mejo (City of the Living Dead) is in a similar position as Sgt. Harrison, a role that starts off strongly enough, but spends a lot of his screen time on the sidelines until the grand finale. Gabriele Tinti (Cut and Run) hijacks the picture as “Crazy Boy” Henderson, and although he and his gang of misfits are menacing, I was more interested in the story being told before they arrived. Tinti and Gemser were married at the time and frequently appeared onscreen together, but this is one of their lesser efforts.
The women-in-prison subgenre of exploitation movies has always been a guilty pleasure and for anyone unfamiliar with the material, I can easily recommend at least half a dozen titles over this one...and I will. The Big Doll House (1971), Black Mama White Mama (1973), Born Innocent (1974), Caged Heat (1974), The Concrete Jungle (1982), Chained Heat (1983), Reform School Girls (1986) and Caged Fury (1990) are all worthy adventures that genre fans with a kick for kink should definitely check out. Additional debauchery can be enjoyed with the notorious Ilsa franchise and the Japanese Female Prisoner: Scorpion series. The problem with Women’s Prison Massacre is that it never fully commits to the subject matter. An entertaining exploitation romp filled with lesbian showers, prison fights and sadistic behavior is reduced to a dull slog through an endless 89-minute running time thanks once again to the late, not-so-great Bruno Mattei. The best moments of his projects usually stem from the unintentional laughs resulting from terrible dubbing and shoddy action choreography and this picture is no exception. Mattei was at his best when audaciously copying others, but here he commits the crime of just being boring. Guilty as charged.
Video and Audio:
Women’s Prison Massacre is presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and looks better than I expected. Colors and black levels are surprisingly strong and yet the picture retains its overall drive-in level of grain, meaning it is a giant step up from previous releases, but doesn’t appear too squeaky-clean.
The DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio mix is serviceable but not particularly engaging. Music cues and sound effects are well balanced and do not step on dialogue levels, but the limitations of the original source materials are apparent.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
Scream Factory’s entry into the women-in-prison subgenre is a bit of a disappointment, as the disc is bare bones, but fans will be happy to note this is the unrated version of the picture. There is still one scene missing from the end that explains the fate of our female lead, but the graphic violence is intact. Bruno Mattei shot Women’s Prison Massacre back-to-back with Violence in a Women’s Prison (1982); both films include many of the same cast and crew and it is a shame these are not presented here as an awesome (and obvious) double feature.