Review by Troy
= Highest Rating
in a prison for women rebel against their sadistic captors...
no names, only numbers! You have no future, only the past! You
have no hopes, only regret! You have no friends... only me!"
So speaketh the sadistic Thelma Diaz (Mercedes McCambridge),
superintendent of the gloomy Castello de la Muerte —
a prison for women located on a small island off the coast of
Panama. The first of many WIP ("women in prison") flicks
helmed by controversial Spanish maverick Jess Franco, 99
Women is a model for restraint and class when compared
to such campy later outings as Sadomania
or Women in Cellblock 9.
Produced and co-written by British exploitation maven Harry
Alan Towers, the film offers up superior production values and
casting compared to those later films. It is also, in its own
way, sincere in its attempts to do something substantial and
dramatic with its sensationalistic premise.
reviled for the rough-edged approach he brings to many of his
pictures, again shows that he is more than capable of delivering
a coherent, slickly produced product. Like most of his films
for Towers, 99 Women benefits from
having adequate resources to realize the project's potential.
The screenplay is relatively simple and straightforward — none
of the dreamlike delicacy of Venus
in Furs (1969) is in evidence — but within its somewhat
crude framework, Franco is able to imbue the film with a sense
of drama and emotion. He especially revels in the sequences
that depict the past crimes of the inmates portrayed by Maria
Rohm and Rosalba Neri; the former poetically depicts the vile
act of gang rape, while the latter enables the director to stage
one of his many memorable cabaret acts. Even the now de rigeur
act of forced lesbian lovemaking is handled in a way that is
both artful and oddly moving. If later Franco WIP flicks are
content to be nothing more than fast-moving trash, then 99
Women is more akin to finding the poetry amid the wreckage
of a notoriously crass and sexploitative genre.
The film also
benefits from a first rate cast. This being a WIP film, it's
safe to assume that there will be plenty of attractive actresses
on display. While Franco isn't given the scope to show all the
99 women alluded to in the title and dialogue, he does well
with the ones who are actually shown. The standouts, without
question, are the gorgeous Maria Rohm and the impossibly sexy
Rosalba Neri. Rohm (Venus in Furs,
aka Mrs. Harry Alan Towers) plays the naive innocent thrust
into a world she cannot comprehend, and she is completely convincing
— a true testimony to her ability as an actress when one considers
her far more 'knowing' roles for Franco in Justine
(1968) and Eugenie... The Story
of Her Journey Into Perversion (1970). Neri (Lady
Frankenstein) virtually steals the film as a far more aggressive
and sexually overt prisoner; whether showing off her legs or
showing a surprising moment of tenderness as she reveals the
reason for her imprisonment, she's a mesmerizing presence. Maria
Schell (The Bloody Judge) gives
a nice, low-key performance as the concerned observer from the
Ministry of Justice, but she's outshone by the over-the-top
theatrics of McCambridge (The Exorcist)
playing the sadistic head of the prison. She gets most of the
film's best lines, though a few go to the ever-reliable Herbert
Lom (Mark of the Devil) as the
equally sadistic head of the men's prison. Lom, an actor of
tremendous strength and dignity, gives the film a touch of class
by his very presence, even if he is ultimately playing a very
are solid. Manuel Merino, one of Franco's favorite DPs, gives
the film a nice glossy look that nevertheless conveys a gritty,
sunbaked feel. Bruno Nicolai (All
the Colors of the Dark) contributes an excellent score.
Parts of his soundtrack would later be re-orchestrated and used
to great effect in Franco's Venus In Furs,
Eugenie de Sade
(1970) and She Killed in
Ecstasy (1970). Curiously, part of the film is scored with
music composed by an uncredited Paul Sawtell, previously heard
in The Fly (1958) and The
Last Man on Earth (1964). The insanely catchy title theme
("Day I was born... trouble began...") is performed with
bluesy gusto by Barbara McNair, who subsequently appeared in
Venus in Furs.
one of Franco's most entertaining works, 99
Women is also a key film in its none-too-reputable subgenre.
Underground's release of 99 Women
joins their simultaneous release of Venus
in Furs as the first great Euro-Cult releases of 2005.
Advertised as the authentic director's cut, it has also been released,
in limited form, in an X-rated French edition, featuring inserts
not shot by Franco. The director's cut, here under review, offers
no surprises to those already familiar with the now-OOP Republic/NTA
release. Though it clocks in at approximately 4 minutes longer
than the old VHS release, in terms of content it appears to be
identical. However, the picture/audio quality is vastly improved.
The framing, advertised on the case as being 1.66 but looking
much more like 1.85, restores some info the peripheries of the
frame and results in better balanced compositions. Print quality
is very good indeed. A few shots appear grainy and/or less than
stellar, but on the whole the film looks absolutely marvelous.
Colors are vividly defined; detail is very sharp. The mono English
track (which preserves the vocal performances of Lom, McCambridge
and Schell) is solid overall, though a few spots sound a trifle
muffled. Hiss and background noise are not an issue.
a still/poster gallery, a theatrical trailer (very brown, but
letterboxed) and a terrific 19 minute interview with Jess Franco.
The ever-gregarious director speaks fondly of the film and his
stars, and once again comes across with great passion and enthusiasm
for the filmmaking process. Also included are three cut/extended
sequences. The first is a variant of the Maria Rohm flashback
set-piece Taken from a German source, it lacks audio during several
shots and doesn't play any better than the version included in
Franco's preferred cut (eyes open for a cameo from the director,
however). The second is a ludicrous substitute for Rosalba Neri's
flashback — removing one of the film's sexiest highlights and
incorporating footage not shot by Franco, it provides a new, less
salacious background for her character. The last is a more upbeat
finale that, if included in the finished version, would soften
the film's impact somewhat; this sequence, contributed to BU by
Francesco Cesari, was sourced from the 'soft' Spanish version.
A Franco bio, written by Tim Lucas, is accessible only via DVD-ROM.