Sunday, April 12, 2009

Women's Prison Massacre

Did you ever want to see Laura Gemser get into a rotten vegetable fight with female prisoners while dressed as an Indian stereotype after delivering a performance art piece? Then Bruno Mattei's Women's Prison Massacre just might be the movie for you. Or did you ever want to see 'head' inmate, Albina, a Courtney Love look-alike with an even worse dye job, hurl insults to other women in the vein of 'I'd like to bite your nipples off!' A natural progression to a comment such as this leads the viewer to anticipate nothing less than an arm wrestling competition and then, of course, lesbian erotica in the prison showers. But as usual, I'm getting ahead of myself. 

Mattei's gritty, fetishistic take on the women's prison subgenre would be my movie if I liked my movies to progress in the following order: rotten vegetable fight during a theatrical performance, arm wrestling, lesbian erotica, cruelty against women perpetrated by women, and forced bouts of Russian roulette. Unfortunately, I don't like my movies like this at all. I know I don't normally deliver the 'as a woman' speech, but I might have to go this route with this one. Woman's Prison Massacre is essentially the story of some ladies locked up, Laura Gemser's Emanuelle character being one of them (although this isn't a usual Emanuelle movie - she's not the focus here, but I'll touch on that in a second) and four male inmates that must be held at the women's prison for a short time while they await their fates. The men wind up overthrowing the guards and a full-on riot ensues. Picture lots of violence, lots of sexual abandon, and little regard for anything really. 

Let's talk about the violence against women first. The female guards in the prison are all sorts of tough, what you would expect from a prison environment naturally, prisons are the most hardened of places, but these ladies take their jobs one step further. They degrade Emanuelle mercilessly and you can tell by their sly smiles, and even laughter, they enjoy it. They damn near drown her in a sink, as to not leave marks on her body. Guarding these women is clearly not just a job, it's fun. Em's abused and fights more in this film than any other movie I've ever watched her in. Usually, she's the slick journalist and able to escape any kind of violence to her own person, showing up after other women have been abused to expose the (usually male) perpetrators of said violence in whatever article she's currently working on. Here, this is not the case. She's been wrongly imprisoned because she was framed by her ex-beau and since she's not the sultry reporter she normally plays, she's given license to tear off Albina's wig and fight her hardcore. It's always weird for me to watch violence perpetrated against women by women. The first time I ever remember feeling that way was when I first saw Craven's Last House on the Left who knows how many years ago, a long time, before I studied this stuff, went to college, or had any kind of context really, and thought, wow, how can Sadie let these guys do what they do to these innocent girls? She's a woman too, shouldn't she help them? I get the same gut feeling when watching the guards and female inmates fight each other. It's a weird feeling because it's not something I necessarily enjoy watching, and I know it's exploitation. But what is being exploited here isn't the females in the movies, it's the audience, primarily male, because that's who these types of movies were made for, and the filmmakers are exploiting them by playing on their fetish of watching women in prison fuck each other up and taking their money. So if I keep that in my mind while watching something like this, it's easier to deal with. 

Things take a turn for the worse when the male prisoners show up. These guys are the worst of the worst, they almost immediately overthrow the prison hierarchy and take over. They call the women sluts and whores and one especially unfortunate guard gets her neck bitten into. They lick the warden and go on a sex spree with the female inmates, who are naturally stoked to see men. But these guys are equally opportunity, and fuck up the male police officers just as badly when they show up to try to get a handle on the situation, by killing them with machine guns. It's also interesting to note that once the male inmates show up, the 'real' action gets going. It's been about 50 minutes into the movie at this point and with the exception of the one lesbian scene in the showers, which really wasn't all that risque and the introduction of a blowup doll sent to one inmate by her boyfriend on the outside 'to keep in practice' there hasn't been much sexy action. 

For instance, one of the guys gets the warden to slowly disrobe and she doesn't look as if she's in peril at all. She looks like she might actually be enjoying it. The women inmates want the men there too and brazenly display their need to have sex with these guys. Yes, they engaged in same-sex relationships prior to the men's arrival, but isn't that the whole thing about prison life? You do what you need to do for lovin'. The way the women act when the guys show up is almost a caricature of sexuality, they are freaking out and rubbing all over the place and acting like cats in heat, really - when I initially signed on to view this movie, I thought we'd be treated to lots and lots of lesbian erotica but that's not the deal here. The whole thing turns into a sex riot for a second. And not really in a good way. 

Men come off as beastly here. Like I said, I don't always play the 'as a woman' card, but here they are beasts and the ones being exploited. The women aren't particularly better either, not one character has any redeeming qualities whatsoever. It's gritty and almost too realistic to be a good time. But there are those weirdo moments that make the viewer squirm and make me keep my eyes open after three or four vodka sodas. Like the girl with the blowup doll is instructed to dance with it, which comes off surreal and fucked up and the scene goes on way too long and then the doll gets popped and she slaps the dude that instructed her to dance with the doll in the first place, and I'm guessing, he kills her. 

Mattei's got a lot of other movies in this vein to his credit as well as some starring Laura Gemser, so I'm eager to check those out and see where this one fits. As I mentioned earlier, this was a curious one for me, because I'm used to Emanuelle kinda saving the day, so to speak, and she's an active participant in the festivities here. A weird turn for the character, methinks, but this is a different director and a wholly different take as well as genre. 

I wanted to post on an Easter horror movie, but as far as I know, the only movie I've ever seen is Peter Rottentail and it's not necessarily an Easter movie, more like an evil giant el cheapo bunny suited lunatic movie, so I figured nothing said Easter Sunday like a women in prison movie. It was either this or another Easter classic like Rollin's Living Dead Girl. 


  1. I'm a fan of this one, but to be honest, if you find the treatment of women somewhat degrading here, I would advise avoiding the whole 'women in prison' genre completely, as some other entries such as Domination Blue and Bare Behind Bars take it to extremes. But as you said, it's the guys who are paying hard earned cash in to jerk off at this that are being expoited, and Italian exploitation cinema isn't known for it's great treatment of females.

    Nice review though!

  2. Yeah, it's a weird viewing experience for me. It's not a genre I've explored in depth yet, but I'm wondering how the more 'extreme' pictures fit into the exploitation canon, at least for me as a female viewer.

    Rock on, and thanks!

  3. jervaise brooke hamsterSeptember 14, 2009 at 6:48 AM

    I want to bugger Laura Gemser (as she was in 1968 when she was 18, not as she is now obviously).