WOMEN OF CELL BLOCK 9 (Frauen für Zellenblock 9)
1977, dir: Jess Franco
One of my earliest posts for The Cinephiliacs was the Jess Franco cheapie, Blue Rita. I thought it was high time that I revisited one of my favourite directors. This time we are looking Women of Cell Block 9 (sometimes referred to as Tropical Heat) which was produced the same year. This is yet another collaboration with the prolific Erwin C. Dietrich. So without any further ado, let’s dive right in!
Karine Gambier (Sexy Sisters) stars as Karine, a freedom fighter. In the back of her truck she has women that she is trying to smuggle through the treacherous jungles of occupied South America. Unfortunately for them, their truck is stopped by the sadistic Dr. Milton, played by Franco regular Howard Vernon (Delicatessen). The women find themselves stripped and as prisoners in a tropical prison overlooked by the vicious warden Loba, played by Dora Doll (Bloody Murder). When the women aren’t being chained up, they are subjected to acts of torture at the hands of Dr. Milton. Whilst this is going on, a young student by the name of Maria, played by Susan Hemingway (Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun) is also captured and held captive. One day after being subjected to the sadistic games of Dr. Milton, Karine finally cracks and gives away the names of her comrades. The women decide that enough is enough and start to plan their escape. Thankfully, their prison guard has more testosterone than sense and gives in to their seduction. They escape and a dangerous game of cat and mouse ensues. Will the women find their freedom? Will the rebels overthrow the regime? If I told you, I would have to strip you down and chain you up. What do you mean you don’t want me to tell you!?
Seems like a very short summary right? Well this is a cheap exploitation flick so there’s not exactly a strong story. That being said, it serves it’s purpose. You aren’t here for a complex storyline, you are here for the sleaze and sadism. This my friends, is what this film delivers. The female cast are naked for pretty much for the whole of the running time. Thankfully, the talent on show is top notch for all you sleaze fiends! Look out for a rather awkward group scene! The sadism on show is equally as satisfying. Yeah, it’s nothing amazingly graphic or disturbing, but if you are a fan of the works of de Sade, you will take a sadistic glee in Dr. Milton. Being that uncle Jess has adapted his work, this is hardly surprising. My only real gripe (if it actually is one) is that this film could have potentially stronger in it’s more exploitative prospects. Thankfully, there are countless films in Franco’s filmography that will whet your appetite. That being said, it’s far from boring. I said earlier that the story is simple, in fact it could have literally been written on a napkin, but you do find yourself genuinely sympathising at times with the nubile prisoners. Overall, this is a thoroughly enjoyable film that has it’s exploitative moments as well as it’s silly moments. The warden and Dr. Milton are your typical over the top and cartoonish bad guys and the dialogue is often outrageous. Speaking of dialogue, watching this with the English dub just added a completely new level of satisfaction. It’s also worthy to note that this film is actually controversial and to this day remains banned in the UK. You see, Susan Hemmingway was only around 16 when she starred in this. Of course in Switzerland, that is of no issue. Here in Blighty however, that’s a definite no for the BBFC. Quite frankly, this whole film is pure trash gold ad a little bit scuzzy.
The film is presented fully uncut and in widescreen. Ascot Elite have done a fine job in their restoration. The colours are vivid, especially the lush jungle landscape and the sound is pretty clear (for the English dub at least, I haven’t watched with the other tracks). As always, I am merely going off the DVD version so Franco fans with the ability to play Blu-ray are in for a treat. On the disc itself you can watch the film in either the German, English or French language tracks, the only subtitles available are Italian. In terms of special features, it’s a fairly above standard affair. You get a selection of trailers, a photo gallery and the artwork is reversible so you can present it without that intrusive FSK label. Overall, for the right price, this is a must. Not only for the hardcore Jess Franco fans, but also fans of sleazy exploitation. Prepare to be entertained with this one.
Women in Cellblock 9 is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Ascot Elite Entertainment.