During the ’80s, Bruno Mattei and his screenwriter buddy/future director Claudio Fragasso embraced their status as b-movie journeymen and took every opportunity to try their hand at whatever the trend-of-the-moment was in exploitation filmmaking: zombie flicks (Hell Of The Living Dead), post-apocalyptic sci-fi (Rats), etc. Women-in-prison fare was enjoying an upsurge in the early ’80s so the Mattei/Fragasso team made a couple. The best-known of these is Women’s Prison Massacre, a blast of surreal, overheated trash that rates as a career highlight for this grindhouse duo.
Women’s Prison Massacre begins in a sturdy, familiar style: rebellious prisoner Emanuelle (Laura Gemser) has to deal with both the cruelties of the warden (Lorraine De Selle) and a jealous rival in queen bee prisoner Albina (Ursula Flores). However, the film changes up the game when a group of male prisoners stages a jailbreak while being transported to another prison and show up at the women’s prison with wounded cop Harrison (Carlo De Mejo) in tow. They put the women through a series of brutal paces as they plot a ransom/escape, leading to an ever-wilder whirlpool of violence and sleaze.
The result is a film that treats grindhouse aficionados to a multi-course feast of bizarre pleasures. For the bad movie buff, there is plenty of wacko plotting and trashy, eccentric dialogue, like when Albina calls one of her enemies a “hottentot.” There’s plenty of sex, a shower scene, car chases and a surprisingly high amount of gory shootouts.
Women’s Prison Massacre is also packed with an array of actors familiar to Eurosleaze buffs, including Gemser in a rare fully-clothed role, her real life hubby Tinti in a gonzo villain performance and Cannibal Ferox vet De Selle as a warden who is forced to let her hair (and other things) down. That said, the wildest work comes from the little-known Pierangelo Pozzato as one of Tinti’s fellow cons: he overacts wildly and mugs for the camera in a way that would put most silent film actors to shame.
However, what really puts this flick over the top is the bizarre, go-for-broke creativity used in putting it together. For instance, there is a tricky opening sequence where Emanuelle and two fellow prisoners introduce themselves to the camera that is revealed to be an experimental theater show behind prison walls. Mattei and Fragasso push the conceit into meta territory by having Albina and the warden critique the show for being trashy and negative (art imitates life for the auteurs, eh?).
The filmmakers are similarly ambitious with how they stage their sleaze, with the highpoint being a jaw-dropping scene where a game of forced Russian roulette is intercut with a femme prisoner avenging her cellmate with her feminine wiles and a perversely inventive weapon. It’s like a little aria of sleaze, bad performances, splatter and unexpected artsiness. The same could be said for Women’s Prison Massacre itself and this is why it is required viewing for any student of grindhouse history.
Blu-Ray Notes: Scream Factory just released this title to blu-ray. The transfer is decent: it’s not a knockout in terms of color and detail but it brings things up a little from the DVD incarnations of this title and probably represents this low-budget production accurately. The lossless mono track does well by this vintage English dub. There are no extras on this disc.