My recent viewing of Jess Franco’s 99 Women was a true eye-opener for me. It was the one film of his I was waiting for, it proved to me that the man had depth and truly was a great filmmaker. Even for a women in prison film, it had artistic vision and substance. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for another of his sexploitation ventures, Women in Cellblock 9.
Three women are apprehended from a fruit truck, taken to an all women prison, and thrown into cellblock number nine. Here, they are individually humiliated and tortured in an attempt to gather information about ‘the resistance.’ The women must find a way to band together and make their escape from this dreadful place, before they are all killed by the warden and her good doctor.
There were ten years between the production of the aforementioned 99 Women and Franco’s Women in Cellblock 9. It seems a lot can change in that time, as almost every aspect of each film differs tremendously. In this later flick, the acting is much more amateurish, the level of sleaze is cranked way up, and the overall quality of the film, script and all, have diminished greatly.
This is the Jess Franco I know. In my last review, I mentioned that there seems to be this overwhelming love for the prolific writer and director amongst genre fans. I saw a glimpse into why this was the case, but now I am plunged back into my world of wondering what the fuss is really all about. What is it that makes a man go from creating a fantastic picture to one that is lacking in almost every way? In Franco’s case, I think the biggest culprit was budget restrictions. Less money meant lesser known, less talented actors to portray his characters (Howard Vernon and Dora Doll are certainly no Herbert Lom and Mercedes McCambridge). It also meant, perhaps, a less talented crew — lighting crew, cinematographers, etc. All of this can account for the film’s lesser quality, but what it can’t confirm is why the overall story is rather underwhelming.
Perhaps it was age, being ten years older, perhaps it was something else, but there are certainly two different Jesus Franco’s being analyzed here. One seemed to care about making quality pieces of art, while the other was just concerned with titillating his audience. In the end, this is genre filmmaking, horror and exploitation… there’s nothing wrong with any of this. Most of us got into horror because of the blood and boobs, so I’m not knocking it completely. If sleaze is what you want, Franco is the filmmaker for you and Women in Cellblock 9 is the flick you’ll want to watch.
I’m a huge supporter of Full Moon Features and while I don’t necessarily enjoy every film Charles Band produces, I do at least give each release a fair shot. Their recent Blu-ray releases have been actually quite good, when it comes to picture and audio quality. Their DVD-only release, part of the Jess Franco limited series, is no different. The picture quality is quite beautiful and I’d imagine this is the best you’re going to see Women in Cellblock 9. If you’re a fan of the man who has over 160 films under his belt, you can’t go wrong with adding this new DVD to your collection. Be sure to pick up a copy today, along with the rest of the Full Moon Jess Franco collection!
I give this one 1.5 hamsters-in-the-vagina out of 5.