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A mistress murders her diamond heisting boyfriend and is carted off to a, ahem, tropical prison. The people who run the prison suspect that she’s hidden the diamonds, and they’ll do anything to get the information, including but not limited to hitting, beating, lesbian advances, and electronic shocks to the groin. Can she escape with her druthers, and does she actually have the diamonds in the first place?

Women Behind Bars
How could I have been reviewing obscure European trash cinema on DVD for this long without coming across a Jesus ‘Jess’ Franco film? It doesn’t seem possible that cinema’s most prolific filmmaker hasn’t found his way into my inbox, but somehow it is. It’s time to rectify the situation, and rectify it good.

If Euro Trash had a middle name it’d be Franco. There was no genre too over-done, no taboo too grotesque, no woman too nude, no budget too low, and no subject manner too exploitative for the Sultan of Sleaze, and there have been few directors in history to rival the master’s sheer output. Franco, unlike most filmmakers that revel in garbage, actually had some definite, raw talent, and a handful of his films feature genuinely beautiful imagery. I find this interesting when watching (or suffering through) his movies, because his worst work comes out of disinterest, unlike say, Ed Wood Jr. and Uwe Boll, who give it their all.

Women Behind Bars is actually a pretty even sampling of Franco’s work. The film was made to exploit the then popular Women in Prison subgenre (which was responsible for jumpstarting Oscar winner Jonathan Demme’s film career), and the plot is a mash-up of other popular subjects of the time. It appears to have been edited by a narcoleptic with a dull cleaver, and filmed by a student learning the ways of the focus pull. The acting is riper than that of most hardcore pornos, and the dialogue is awkward and almost all unnecessary. Yet despite Franco’s obvious boredom (perhaps due to the fact that he’d already made several WIP movies before this one, including an in name only follow up to Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS), and the fact that nothing seems to have gone right in the filmmaking process, Women Behind Bars is still somehow entertaining.

Women Behind Bars
As per the norm for Franco (and other films of this calibre and era) it takes way too long to get to the promised sex and violence (almost half an hour), but when it arrives it doesn’t seem to ever go away, at least not the sex part. Once the clothes come off they more or less stay off. Also per the norm the sex scenes aren’t particularly sexy (usually they’re more funny), and I recall only one scene I could really consider particularly violent or shocking. But what it lacks in sex and violence Women Behind Bars almost makes up for in a ridiculously contrived plot, filled with silly backstab after silly backstab.

I should also note that Women Behind Bars was a member of the British Board of Film Certification’s original Video Nasties list. The film is relatively tame by most standards, but does feature a couple of nude torture scenes. See No Evil (co-written by David Kerekes and David Slater), a book dedicated to the controversy that rocked England during the early ‘80s, lists the mix of torture and nudity as a big bone of contention for the ban-happy BBFC at the time. By modern American standards the film’s only real controversial imagery is found in the occasional female nether-region close-up.

Video


First, I'd like everyone to know how freaking hard it was to find screen caps that looked interesting without breaking any of DVDActive's content rules.

Women Behind Bars
I wouldn’t call this transfer Blue Underground’s crowning achievement, but it’s undoubtedly the best the film will ever look. The print is dirty, which is most obvious in the whites, though artefacts are surprisingly absent for the most part. The clarity of the image is decent, colours seem accurate, if not a little faded, and blacks, though inconsistent, are deep. Brighter scenes wiggle a bit in a few cases, and there are a few frame jumps. Issues with blur are probably due to mistakes on the part of Franco’s cinematographer, though there is an overall softness that may be a mistake.

Audio


I don’t think I can blame anything wrong with this Dolby Digital Mono track on Blue Underground. The problems are all with the source English dub. The dialogue is so far removed from the mouths during group shots that it’s sometimes impossible to tell which character is even talking, and even when lip-sync looks correct the vocal patterns don’t match. The folly is maybe the worst I’ve ever seen, apparently produced by a single sole with a pair of blocky shoes and a chalk board. The general cleanliness of the track really makes this clunky work stand out, for better or worse. The music is all over the place stylistically, and often entirely inappropriate, but it sounds clear, even warm on occasion.

Extras


For extra features Blue Underground supplies us with a seventeen-minute Jess Franco interview and a French trailer. Franco, who speaks broken English with subtitles, remembers a lot about the film. Considering his age, and the fact that he’s made about a million movies, this is pretty amazing. In the interview he comes across as a good natured and slightly perverse grandfather, and his general honesty and warmth makes for a good interview subject. Fans will also be delighted by the inclusion of modern footage of some of the film’s locations, which all look more of less the same thirty-two years later. The trailer is delightfully dirty, and in French to boot.

Women Behind Bars

Overall


There aren’t any surprises here, those that enjoy this kind of film should know what to expect, and those that don’t enjoy trash for trash’s sake should probably notice the box art and title aren’t to their liking. Blue Underground does another good job digging up and dusting off a grindhouse collector’s item, and all the right people should be more than happy with this release. Those curious about Franco and the subgenre would probably do better with 99 Women, which has a pulpy charm not on display here.


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