Friday, January 8, 2010

★★★ WOMEN IN CELL BLOCK 9 (1977)

Frauen für Zellenblock 9 a.k.a. Tropical Inferno

In this Franco and Dietrich collaboration, more emphasis is placed on the captors than the captives; reinstated banana republic interrogators given a second chance to delight in the one thing that gives them pleasure - the abuse of human beings. Karine Gambier (ISLAND WOMEN, HITCH HIKERS IN HEAT) is transporting several women with relations to the resistance. After being tipped off, Loba, the local Wardress, intercepts the human cargo.
The women she doesn't incarcerate, her soldiers are allowed to rape. Loba then enlists the help of old friend, Dr. Costa (Howard Vernon), to humiliate and torture information out of the women. In a bourgeoisie scene that feels lifted from Passolini's SALO: 120 DAYS OF SODOM, the sadistic couple sexually abuse a young girl and reminisce about the good old' days during a champagne filled dinner. They admit that politics does not concern them and that the only thrill life offers is the delivering of pain. The extracted information is of little concern. The first half of the film concerns the abuse of four women (Karine Gambier, Susan Hemingway, Aida Gouveia and Esther Studer) hanging nude from dog collars, being interrogated one at a time. While in exile, the destitute "Doctor of Pain" was forced to sell all of his personal belongings, but he held on to his precious tools of the trade.
The tortures range from the usual shock treatment to the more creative - like inserting a starving gerbil into a muff habitrail. Although the violence isn't very graphic, quick cuts to silly looking tempera paint fake blood, the scenes have enough full frontal nudity and close-up's of screaming vs. smiling faces to make any fragile woman a bona-fide man hater.
In the last half of the film, the inmates engage in a lesbian orgy to lure a guard with a raging hard on. The soundtrack plays inappropriate jazz and scat music while women leashed to the ceiling grope each other for what feels like an eternity. The chance for a Penthouse Forum moment becomes too great for the young soldier - he unshackles the women, drops his pants and is quickly dispatched with a karate chop. What's left is naked women running and swimming through the jungle until your typical Jess Franco downer ending.
This review is probably longer than the script and one-dimensional is a dimension too lofty for these underdeveloped characters. Franco regular, Howard Vernon (THE AWFUL DR. ORLOFF), is the only actor displaying any chops while the rest of the cast is as barren as a centerfold on a gas station wall. On the plus side, having about fifty extras greatly improves the production values over Franco's previous attempts and the cinematography of Ruedi Küttel nicely captures the authentic-looking prison and surrounding jungle. Franco also manages some restraint on his zoom obsession and one-up's his topless bust out from LOVE CAMPwith ladies traveling as light as humanly possible. Stoned perverts will probably enjoy these far out nudie cutie elements mixed with the totally uncool and heavy antagonist antics, but there isn't enough here for the working crowd.
WOMEN OF CELL BLOCK 9 hit some controversy when it was rejected for a DVD certificate in February 2004 by the United Kingdom. The British Board of Film Censors discovered that nude actress Susan Hemingway was a month shy of 18 when the film was made thus violating the Video Recordings Act of1984 and the Protection of Children Act, as amended by the Sexual Offences Act of 2003, which makes the distribution and showing of indecent photographs of a child under the age of 18 a criminal offense.
WOMEN OF CELL BLOCK 9 has been available on VHS in the United States from many different distributors and a terrible pan and scan version was released on DVD from a company called Jef Films. The version I'm reviewing is from the VIP's (Switzerland) Anamorphic widescreen directors cut PAL format Region 0 DVD. There are no extras but it does feature optional English & German languages. If you want to take your chances with customs, you can order a copy from FatSpy films.
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