Friday, May 4, 2018

VIOLENCE IN A WOMEN'S PRISON - BLU-RAY REVIEW

Yet another of Bruno Mattei’s infamous back-to-back productions, VIOLENCE IN A WOMEN’S PRISON (1982) was, like his earlier nunsploitation twofer, THE OTHER HELL and THE TRUE STORY OF THE NUN OF MONZA (both 1980), helmed jointly alongside WOMEN’S PRISON MASSACRE (a.k.a. BLADE VIOLENT, 1983), another ‘Emanuelle in Prison’ movie starring Laura Gemser, which was actually directed by his frequent collaborator Claudio Fragasso but attributed to Mattei.  Along with their recent slate of Italian trash films on Blu-ray, Severin have seen fit to give this unapologetically sleazy WIP film a very nice HD upgrade, which should please fans of both Mattei’s and Gemser’s outrageous filmic oeuvres. 

VIAWP follows the standard WIP template to a tee without ever straying outside the lines. Sent to prison for an unspecified stretch for drugs and prostitution, Laura Kendall (Laura Gemser) is soon witness to the usual acts of humiliation, subjugation, beatings and other such ‘niceties’ common to the women-in-prison genre; which are, more often than not, instigated by the head prison guard Rescaut (Franca Stoppi from BEYOND THE DARKNESS [1979]) and the quietly authoritarian warden, Delores (Lorraine De Selle). At first, Laura merely calmly observes the brutality on display from the sidelines, but she herself eventually becomes drawn into and embroiled in the prison milieu too, and in one of the film’s more memorably disgusting scenes, she dumps a bucket of excrement over a prison guard’s head (“I gave you an order! Obey it!”), resulting in a truly one-of-a-kind, shit-strewn scuffle on the prison floor. Thrown into solitary confinement, she is soon hungrily chewed upon by nasty red-eyed rats – possibly relatives of those later seen in Mattei/Fragasso’s notorious post-apocalyptic sci-fi schlocker RATS: NIGHT OF TERROR (1984)?! – during a scene where Gemser appears to be squirming in all-too-genuine discomfort, which only adds extra exploitation verisimilitude to an already sleazy, downbeat scenario. The requisite sympathetic doctor (Gemser’s real-life husband, Gabriele Tinti), himself also an inmate at the men’s prison located – handily – right next door (!?), naturally comes to Laura’s rescue, but, sure enough, one of the prison snitches (Italian porn starlet Françoise Perrot) soon discovers Laura’s covert true identity and motivations, which as a result, sees still more indignities being heaped upon her…

While ostensibly an unofficial Emanuelle entry, Mattei’s film is far removed from Joe D’Amato’s rather playful, globetrotting skinflicks starring the same character (which, in the inimitable Italian exploitation cinema way, were themselves unofficial cash-ins on the legit Emmanuelle [note double-“m”!] series). Shot in-and-around what appears to be a large abandoned villa, VIOLENCE IN A WOMEN’S PRISON is steeped in a morbid sense of decay and hopelessness. Even the sparsely-decorated DePaolis Studios sets are suitably grubby, another aspect that further augments the overall depressing atmosphere. Of course, being a Mattei film, it never fails to entertain, really piling-on the sexploitation staples throughout its almost 100-minute running time. The director also inserts plenty of sleaze in-between all the violence and, in one of film’s more stylistically-realized sequences, cons seek solace in each other’s arms during a montage of Sapphic couplings set to appropriate synth-’n’-sax ‘mood muzak’ courtesy of Luigi Ceccarelli. Over at the men’s wing of the big house, the token gay character (Franco Caracciolo) – who is dubbed with a particularly annoying voice – is constantly harassed by his fellow inmates, which comes to the fore (“Drooling savages! I satisfied you once!”) when one of the female prisoners (Antonella Giacomini) gives the sex-starved men next door a bad case of blue balls (“Look at those jugs!”) while teasingly stripping for them in her cell window, so near yet so far away. 

At the time of the film’s release, Gemser had been an established presence in Italian cinema for a number of years already, and she gives a committed performance (well-dubbed by English voice-talent Pat Starke) as the bruised-and-battered heroine and, as with their earlier co-starring roles, she and Tinti generate some believable onscreen chemistry. As expected, Franca Stoppi also puts in another lively, over-the-top performance, and much like her roles in both BEYOND THE DARKNESS and THE OTHER HELL, she seems to revel in portraying unstable, power-hungry characters who are prone to histrionics.

Released theatrically and on video simultaneously in the U.S. as CAGED WOMEN in 1984 by both MPM (Motion Picture Marketing, who also released Mattei’s zombie opus, HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD [1980] as NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIES), and Vestron Video, respectively, VIAWP film made its official DVD debut in 2002 courtesy of Shriek Show. This was, for the time, a nice-looking disc, which was repackaged by Shriek Show in 2010 in their Prison Girls Collection, a 3-disc set which also included Michele Massimo Tarantini’s WOMEN IN FURY (1985) and Derek Wan’s much-more-recent American zombie splatterfest SHADOW: DEAD RIOT (2006). In 2018, Severin decided to revisit Mattei’s present squalid little film with a new (quote) “2k scan from an uncensored inter-positive”, which still retains the adequate amount of natural film grain and some surprisingly colourfully-composed shots, which nonetheless doesn’t take away from the filthy atmosphere on display in abundance. The DTS-HD master audio 2.0 also sounds very good, with all of the post-synched dialogue coming through loud-’n’-clear.

Extras begin with Brawl in Women’s Block (29m03s), an on-camera interview with Claudio Fragasso and his wife and frequent collaborator Rosella Drudi, who discuss their humble beginnings working together when they (quote) “learned to do everything” on a film set; their initial collaboration with Mattei on the two-pack of aforementioned nun films, and the (quote) “successful formula” of shooting their films back-to-back; their mutual admiration for Gemser, as well as many of the other actors in the film… and, be ready for their camera-hungry cat, Milo, who photo-bombs the proceedings to share some unexpected screen time with its humans! The disc also includes an archival interview with Mattei (2m47s) which originally appeared on Shriek Show’s DVD, the film’s 30-second radio spot (“A bizarre world of violence where anything goes!”) and reversible cover art featuring two quite striking choices. 

Anyone accustomed to Bruno Mattei’s tawdry if colourfully sleazy/skeezy works will be more than satisfied with Severin’s newest, slick-looking Blu-ray of this admittedly scuzzy, straight-ahead WIP film. Order it from Severin Films as part of their Laura Gemser Deluxe Bundle, Blu-ray, DVD or from DiabolikDVD, and you Canadian readers can get it from Suspect Video.

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