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Women's Prison Massacre
Many exploitation films with the theme of women in prison were released in the 70s and 80s, as the subject practically writes itself. Just the title Womens Prison Massacre (the apostrophe which should be there is missing from the title) screams exploitation, but its original Italian title translates as Blade Violent in English and has been released under several different names in various countries- this title just seems to be the most marketable, even though it doesn't quite accurately describe the movie. It was directed by Italian schlockmeister Bruno Mattei under the pseudonym Gilbert Roussel, and shot simultaneously with yet another women-in-prison film that was titled Caged Women in the US using much of the same cast and crew. It's also part of that other "Emanuelle" series of movies (not the one with Sylvia Kristel) starring Laura Gemser and the first of those I've gotten around to seeing. Here Emanuelle is one of the inmates, who was framed by District Attorney Vincent Robinson (Jacques Staney) and sent to Santa Marta Prison as she was about to expose him for corruption.
The first third of Womens Prison Massacre has many of the hallmarks of the women in prison genre- Emanuelle is one of the only characters who seems to be a decent person and she's tormented by a sadistic warden (Lorraine De Selle) and guards along with Albina (Ursula Flores), the inmate at the top of the food chain. You get a bit of softcore lesbian loving with two other prisoners until the guards break it up and force them to dunk their heads in the sink while beating them, an arm-wrestling match with Emanuelle and Albina and later the two of them pitted against each other in a fight for the guards' amusement. The filmmakers decide that there ought to be a bit more of a plot here, so eventually we're introduced to a van-load of male prisoners headed for death row, led by "Crazy Boy" Henderson (Gabriele Tinti). There's an attempt to get them freed from the road that results in some dead cops but one survives to bring them to Santa Marta prison for temporary holding until they're taken to death row. Why hold them at a women's prison? Because it would make for an interesting movie, of course!
At this point the movie turns into a stand-off as Crazy Boy and his friend "Blade" (Pierangelo Pozzato) manage to suddenly overpower the warden and kill one of the guards. District Attorney Robinson and law enforcement soon show up outside the prison and Crazy Boy demands a plane and some cash or else they'll kill more people inside. While waiting for their demands to be met, the men find time to socialize with the female inmates, raping some while others (including Albina) going with it willingly, and later play a game of Russian Roulette that outdoes The Deer Hunter. Most of the "supporting character" inmates remain locked up but grope at the men through the bars of their cell. Will they get their getaway plane and escape, or will the cops outsmart them and save the day?
Whatever the outcome, this is a slightly amusing watch but the main flaw in this version is that the original Italian dialogue has been rather badly dubbed in English, and the disc does not include the original language track. Bad dubbing can sometimes add to the laughter of watching a bad movie, like most of the Asian martial arts flicks, but here it just makes a bad movie worse. I've seen many subtitled films where the dialogue was a bit out there and figured that it made more sense in the original language, here the English-speaking voice-over artists try to inflect sincerity into lines such as when the bad guys en route are told "there'll be no peace until you smell the stink of your own flesh roasting in the electric chair" and come off as just ridiculous. It almost sounds like they're watching an English-subtitled print of the movie and trying to voice those lines as they come. (The back cover says that the script was co-written by Claudio Fragasso, "the visionary behind Troll 2" and we all know how that turned out!) The acting doesn't seem like it was too great in its native language, but the dubbing sets it back even further. The main attribute that saves the movie is the electronic music score by Luigi Ceccarelli, which is similar in style to that of Dawn of the Dead. While it sounds a bit dated and cheap, it fits this movie perfectly.
Womens Prison Massacre has been previously issued a number of times on DVD, some of which were said to have been cut a bit to fit the standards of the American R rating. This version appears to be the full uncut version, although it retains the American title and English dubbing. While there are a number of deaths, the movie still doesn't quite deliver the "Massacre" that one would expect from the title.
Presented in a 1.85 ratio, the picture seems to have been shot with intentionally faded color and slightly-soft focus. There are two oval-shaped "hot spots" a bit above the middle of the screen that remain visible through the entire movie; I would be interested to see if those have appeared on any previous editions. The disc encoding itself appears to be free from compression artifacts or banding.Sound:
The mono sound mix is presented in 2-channel DTS-HD Master Audio (flagged for PCM output) and stays centered with Pro-Logic applied. Quality is about what you'd expect from a film's optical track, sounding a bit muffled but adequate overall. It's quite easy to tell that the sound effects were added in post-production and there doesn't seem to be any sound that was actually recorded during shooting.
Hearing-impaired subtitles (or more accurately "dub-titles") are included, which include descriptions of the music score being "soft" or "dramatic".
Womens Prison Massacre doesn't live up to its title, but as it was given that name mainly for American audiences along with the awful English dubbing that should give bad-movie fans one more reason to laugh at it. It doesn't break much new ground but should be worth at least a rental for curiosity's sake. There are absolutely no extras on this disc; given that Shout Factory likes to release double-features it seems a missed opportunity that the "sister film" Caged Women wasn't also included here as it was in a previous DVD set.
Jesse Skeen is a life-long obsessive media collector (with an unhealthy preoccupation with obsolete and failed formats) and former theater film projectionist. He enjoys watching movies and strives for presenting them perfectly, but lacks the talent to make his own.