[Frauen für Zellenblock 9]
[Women in Cell Block 9 / Visa pour mourir]
Reviewed By-Kit Gavin Directed by Jess Franco Starring: Karine Gambier, Aida Gouvier, Susan Hemingway and Howard Vernon Source: DVD VIP [Switzerland] NTSC Region 2
Milton Koster [Vernon], a torturer and supposed doctor, and Loba, his one time lover, governess of a tropical prison camp, together with a cohort of local soldiers are waiting on a road through the jungle for a truck. Travelling along the jungle roads in Karine Luverne [Gambier], a platinum blonde revolutionary, in a truck loaded up with fruit. But also amongst the cargo are a handful of women hoping to flee from the unnamed country, which is in mid-revolution. Amongst the assorted females are the blonde Aida Morgan and the brunette Barbara Taylor, apparently seeking to join a group of terrorists. Loba and Milton, suspicious of the truck, order it to be stopped and searched. After taking Barbara, Karin and Aida to the cellblock, they tell the guards to do what they wish with the other women. Not unsurprisingly the women try to flee and guard pursue them and then rape them.
Upon arrival at the prison camp, the three women are stripped and chained up in Cell Block 9. The women huddle together, scared and cold, most especially the English girl, Barbara. Later, over dinner, Milton and Loba drink champagne and eat well. Keen to give Milton a performance, Loba demands that the guards bring in Maria [Hemingway], a student who apparently had propaganda in her room. The girl arrives, hungry and thirsty, for which Loba opens her plump thighs and forces the girls head between them, making her quench her thirst through performing oral sex on her. Afterwards, she gives the girl some champagne, but not before Milton has added some salt to it, making it undrinkable.
The next day, Loba goes to Cell Block 9 to decide which of the three women she wants to torture to learn the whereabouts of the revolutionaries. Loba takes Barbara to the cellar in order to torture what she believes is the truth out of her. There, Barbara is made to sit, nude on serrated metal sheets, which are forced between her thighs in order to make her confess. Eventually Barbara admits to being married to Mario Gonzales, a journalist and writer who is considered a revolutionary and enemy, whom she was on the way to, before being stopped whilst in the fruit truck. Aida is then taken and electrocuted in order to make her confess, however Aida says nothing until she literally foams at the mouth in pain. The worst however is reserved for Karine, who is suspended above a sharp horn nearing her private parts, which eventually she is forced unto, and then a rat is fed down a tube to feed where it is "dark and moist".
Later, when Loba and Milton leave to report their findings to the Government, the four women, broken by their torture, are all chained up once again in Cell Block 9. As a result of the torture, Karine admits to the others that she betrayed their comrades in the city. One of the guards comes in and gives the four of them water unexpectedly. Later the four girls start making out and invite one of the guards to join them so as they can have sex all together. He releases the four of them and then, unexpectedly, Karin knocks him unconscious. The four women flee from their cell.
However their flight is short lived. Aida is shot in the head by one of the prison guards and whilst fleeing through the jungle Barbara is shot in the shoulder. Whilst swimming across the crocodile infested waters, one of the aforementioned crocodiles gives chase. Feeling the pain of the bullet Barbara asks to be left to die. However, fortunately, the bullet isn’t lodged too deeply in her shoulder and Maria manages to remove the bullet successfully. Leaving Barbara to recover Maria and Karine seek food. However Barbara is discovered by Loba and the guards and is beaten to death. The two women return to discover her battered body before realising they are surrounded by rifle bearing prison guards. Determined to make a last stance Karine grabs Loba’s handgun and threatens to shoot her. This last act however is in vain, as the guards mow Karine and Maria down in a shower of bullets. Loba and Milton leave, telling the guards to get rid of the bodies. Not satisfied with ending the movie on such a depressing note, Franco ends on a truly sleazy one, with the dead bodies lying in the sunshine and the sound of the soldiers unzipping their pants (!)
WOMEN IN CELL BLOCK 7 is an unusual "women in prison" movie to say the least. It also is a highly unusual Franco film and quite unlike his other entries into this cinematic oeuvre. For a start, the film is told with a narration from Doctor Milton, who is one of the two despicable characters who enjoy the torture of these young women in their prison camp, as opposed to being through the eyes of one of the four captured girls. The mood throughout is torrid, sweaty, and unrelentingly bleak, despite the fact that the film is quite a bright affair. But given the nihilist and unusual ending where all four of the women the viewer has sympathised with throughout their torturous ordeals, and a slightly protracted scene where the young pretty Maria manages to retrieve a bullet from her friends shoulder (only for all the women to be killed shortly thereafter) makes the movie even more depressing and tragic. Also the film does not seem to utilise many of Franco’s familiar motifs from the period which gives the suggestion that perhaps the film was more directed by the producer Dietrich (who also doubled up as a director from time to time) as it has not many of Franco’s trademark zooms, no extreme close-ups of women’s pudenda and pubic hair, nor even when the woman are chained up does it have Franco’s familiar of chains running across their breasts.
The film clearly was shot quickly and the storyline seems somewhat rushed and threadbare. None of the supporting male cast of the prison guards are credited at all – nor surprisingly is the evil butch Loba (a particularly familiar if not especially pleasant face). There are some scenes of rather extreme and nasty torture, yet thankfully it is not shown in close-up, however it was considered sufficiently strong for the BBFC to reject the film outright for DVD release last year when submitted by Anchor Bay Entertainment in the UK, having submitted most of the other Franco/Dietrich titles, some getting through uncut and others being passed with a degree of cuts here and there. WOMEN IN CELL BLOCK 9 was clearly considered too degrading and nasty in its subject matter, hence it’s complete rejection outright (as well as, doubtless, the presence of Susan Hemingway. In fact torture is more often than not shown off screen, with only drops of blood dripping or the after-effects showing the horrific extent of what is going on coupled with cries and screams.
Performances in the film are actually generally on the good side as opposed to the bad, with all the performers delivering well in mostly thankless under developed character roles. The only male of any note in the film is the uniformly interesting Howard Vernon who plays the perverse torturer Milton, who spends most of his time cackling and devising nasty methods of torture from the "instruments" he carries in his suitcases ("all he was allowed to keep"). Opposite him is the uncredited Loba who delivers a sadistic tour de force and clearly is relishing her role as an evil bitch. The four captive women who escape all give pretty good performances too – most all of them from a porno background of some sort or another, and are required spend the majority of the film in the nude – either chained up, being tortured, or running through the jungle. Despite the harrowing ordeals they go through, however, all four women manage to remain perfectly made up (!). Of note are the pretty young Susan Hemingway, who had starred previously with Franco/Dietrich in LOVE LETTERS OF A PORTUGESE NUN (previously reviewed on Cinema Nocturna) and is perfectly cast again as she exudes vulnerability as a young likable naVve victim. Also good is Dietrich regular, buxom bleach blonde German Karine Gambier, who at times looks scarily like Klaus Kinski with the same wild intense look and piercing anger in her eyes. Gambier worked on a large number of films for and with Dietrich and here she delivers another strong, yet more sympathetic performance. As an interesting point of trivia, the surname "Luverne" was later used as a pseudonym (with the first name Lulu) by Franco’s frequent muse, Lina Romay, when making hardcore films together with Franco in the 1980’s.
Picture quality is superb with no discernable damage and only the tiniest spot of speckling from time to time. The DVDs have been, without doubt taken from the original elements and look amazingly fresh, natural and like they were shot yesterday. Colors are clean, fresh and natural and the definition is perfect. Once again VIP have delivered a solid perfect presentation of another sleazy Franco classic. And of course the film under review is uncut in all its trashy glory.
Audio is above par and the soundtrack is clean and crisp without hiss or distortion. The original German is probably the best way to experience the film, but equally the French and English language (newly created) tracks are most satisfactory and are professionally done, and I watched the film in English, so as to follow the non-too complex storyline. Dubbing is adequate if at times the voices sound vaguely forced. The wardress Loba is dubbed by with a particularly brusque English voice, which sounds alarmingly similar to an unattractive current British politician, by the name of Ann Widdicombe. As is usual however, in the case of dubbing, it is important for the viewer to distance themselves to an extent to the character being portrayed on screen, as the voice doesn’t always seem to fit in with the character. No subtitles are included with either the German nor the French track and those would have been more welcome – as the German track seems more fitting than the English one. Oh well…
Extras are unexceptional – featuring a photo gallery of all the posters in the Dietrich catalog, no trailers and the routine Jack the Ripper documentary which seems to be prevalent on most all of the VIP Franco titles.
In conclusion, one of the more "approachable" works from prolific director Jess Franco, with good quality camera work, a fair to middling storyline and with reasonable acting. Intellectually redundant but well shot, yet lacking in style and routinely directed with good production values for such a hurried production. A real mixed bag when it comes to quality of film – but beautifully and glossily presented on a stellar DVD. Another interesting nasty sleazy entry into the "women in prison" subgenre which Franco fans as much as lovers of trash cinema will enjoy to have in their collection. Certainly far from being a film for everyone, this is entertainment as unwholesome and trashy as it can get.
STORY / FILM: 2 BITCH SLAPS PICTURE: 4 BITCH SLAPS AUDIO: 4 BITCH SLAPS EXTRAS: 1.5 BITCH SLAPS OVERALL: 2.5 BITCH SLAPS
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