There are various types of exploitation films; Over the years, I’ve come across nunsploitation, blaxploitation, nazisploitation, even dwarfsploitation (see The Sinful Dwarf). One of the oldest and most popular amongst fans, however, seems to be women in prison films. Numerous filmmakers have entries in the sub-genre, but the king of all exploitation seems to be unanimously voted as the prolific Jess Franco. The film that I am referring to, this time around, is his 1969 production of 99 Women.
Three women are transported to an all-female prison known as the castle of death, where punishment and fear are served on a daily basis. After one dies from being ignored the proper medical attention she required, the recently appointed Minister of Justice sends a new superintendent to observe the current super and the equally as sleazy governor. The promise of a new superintendent and better conditions isn’t enough, however, and the remaining pair of new prisoners plan their escape. Can they get past the prison walls without being noticed or are they stuck on this island for good?
I’ve made the above synopsis sound pretty intense, but believe it or not, there is actually quite a bit going on in 99 Women. It isn’t your run-of-the-mill women in prison flick. A great script features tons of character development and the performances are superb, across the board. Although, with actors like Herbert Lom (The Dead Zone) and Oscar winner Mercedes McCambridge (Johnny Guitar), how could it be any different?
I’ve seen a number of Jess Franco films and even reviewed a few for this site before. Sadly, I was never impressed and always wondered what viewers saw in his work. Why is he so popular among genre fans? 99 Women has opened my eyes quite a bit. This film, released before the big boom of films like it, in the 70’s, is brilliant in many ways. The cinematography, the lighting, and even the romantic saxophone-heavy soundtrack all lend a hand in creating a beautiful atmosphere out of a rather ominous situation. These prisoners are stuck in a huge, fortified prison, on an island, and yet Franco and his crew have found a way to present it as otherwise.
As you’d expect in a film about an all-female prison, there is nudity, lesbianism, and violence. While it is all quite titillating, it is executed in a more tasteful manner than other Franco fare that I’ve personally become accustomed to. I can compare some of the scenes of the gorgeous Rosalba Neri, playing Zoie, as more of a burlesque striptease than a downright softcore pornographic film. It was surprising and made 99 Women way more enjoyable than I could have every expected.
I must note that even with all of these wonderful filmmaking elements thrown into the mix, Franco did of course have to put some other touches on things. We do get some random cat fights among various prisoners and the brilliant filmmaker even managed to throw in some animal cruelty a la Cannibal Ferox and Cannibal Holocaust, during the film’s third act. None of this was overdone, however, and was of course expected in an exploitation film about a prison referred to as castillo de la muerte.
I normally wouldn’t push the idea of running out and rushing to watch an exploitation film over so many other good flicks out there, but 99 Women is different. It was a pleasant surprise for me and I want others to experience it the way that I did. If you are a Jess Franco fan or not, you definitely need to give this one a shot. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
As I’ve said before, Blue Underground has really done a great job of releasing fantastic editions for us hardcore collectors. Their rendition of 99 Women is no different and I am confident in saying, it goes unrivaled. The sound and picture quality is almost flawless, while the bonus features just sweeten the pot. A collectible booklet, reversible artwork, and a bonus CD soundtrack are all present, making this limited release a must-have, so be sure to go grab yourself a copy today!
I give this film a final rating of 4 women prisoners out of 5.