Women's Prison Massacre (1983)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2016-01-19 01:55

Women’s Prison Massacre (1983)
Studio: Scream Factory
Release date: December 8th, 2015

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman

The movie:

For a guy whose shtick involved ripping off the famous (or at least infamous) works of other artists, it seems like just about every Bruno Mattei production at least carries some interesting anecdotes. In the case of Women’s Prison Massacre, Mattei’s notorious penny-pinching and plagiarism is perhaps at its most absurd; the second of two WIP efforts filmed with mostly the same cast, crew, and location, the film doubles back over the same general premise as Violence in a Woman’s Prison but tweaks the details just enough to result in an entirely new movie. Roger Corman would certainly approve.

Regardless of which film we’re discussing, much of premise’s appeal rests in something that (unsurprisingly) originated outside of Mattei himself, as Laura Gemser unofficially (?) reprises her role as Emmanuelle for both (it should also come as no surprise that one of the myriad alternate titles is “Emmanuelle in Prison”). In both films, Emmanuelle is a reporter who winds up jailed and subjected to the horrors of a system lorded over by cruel, corrupt wardens and guards.

Women’s Prison Massacre adds a specific wrinkle to the formula that has her jailed on false charges by a crooked DA (in Violence, she’s only working undercover to expose the corruption), a distinction that, well, doesn’t mean much at first. For the most part, Massacre proceeds like most women-in-prison flicks, with Emmanuelle emerging as a savior for the women who have suffered under the thumb of the guards and the alpha prisoners, an arc that sees her defying the wardens before having a knife fight with the baddest bitch in the yard (Ursula Flores).

But then all hell really breaks loose when a subplot from what feels like an entirely different movie crashes right into the prison: some miles away, a transport carrying a pack of violent male criminals makes its way to the women’s penitentiary, where this quartet of death row-bound thugs will wait—even though it’s not a maximum security facility and the situation seems as if it’s destined to go wrong. It does, naturally.

From there, the already languid film becomes even more aimless. As is often the case with Mattei’s work, it doesn’t feel like Women’s Prison Massacre was tightly edited with coherence in mind so much as it was cobbled together in an effort to squeeze as much grime, smut, and sleaze into a 90-minute window. Sustained subplots are hard to come by, as characters are largely sequestered, forced to drop in and out of the movie, often just to remind us that they’re there. A SWAT team just sort of futzes around outside until their one big scene, while even Emmanuelle herself gets caught up in the world’s most interminable game of Russian roulette. Mattei’s idea of plot involves scattered events—many of them cribbed from other films—occurring randomly until the film resolves itself.

Remarkably, this is not to say Mattei doesn’t direct the fuck out of Women’s Prison Massacre, at least in terms of mood and atmosphere. Disparate and unhurried though the plot may be, it unfolds under a dreamy, mesmerizing haze, accented by otherworldly colors and a hypnotic synth score. The aesthetic is, of course, not unique to Mattei (these days, it’d be the equivalent of using a “Eurohorror” filter on Instagram or something), but it gives his usual brand of trash a strange, almost disconnected tenor. While it’s exploitative to the max, Women’s Prison Massacre feels disturbing despite its inane dialogue, flubbed lines, and trippy dubbing.

It’s often tempting to dismiss Mattei’s films as pure camp objects, enjoyable only in an ironic sense, but he makes a strong opposing case here by trying his hand at an art house sensibility. Even when he’s cutting and pasting sequences from other sources (the stage show during the credits is pilfered from Caged Heat, the Russian roulette scene echoes The Deer Hunter, and even the infamous corked razorblade sequence from Deported Women of the SS reappears), Mattei does it with a keen sense of creating unity through a palpably eccentric mood.

All of this is to say Women’s Prison Massacre is cock-eyed to the end. What it lacks in a riveting story, it makes up for with the illusion of barely-connected scenes, many of which unfold with the express purpose to inspire revulsion and shock. Savagery abounds at every turn, as Mattei subjects the audience to a Eurosleaze tour where rape sequences and ultraviolent shootouts serve as the “highlights.” Working alongside Mattei as guides is a litany of familiar Euorotrash faces whose scowls and bug-eyed freak-outs require no translation. Flores is especially memorable and even weirdly affecting in a role that finds her morphing from loathsome bully to a pitiful creature; WIP films often thrive on this sort of arc, but Women’s Prison Massacre upends it with her harsh eventual fate. Sometimes, it feels as though Gemser’s Emmanuelle is an afterthought in the carnage, albeit a graceful, dignified one, sort of a disconnected calm in a maelstrom swirling with tyrannical male faces (including Gemser’s husband, Gabriele Tinti, who plays the mad dog ringleader).

For much of the runtime, relegating the heroine to the background or reducing her to tagalong status feels like a sloppy, tone-deaf decision for a WIP flick. Throughout the film, Emmanuelle is denied agency and becomes a spectator even in her own revenge quest against the corrupt DA. Her arc effectively flies in the face of similar genre fare, and, just when you think this all an unwitting accident, Mattei delivers a final, sobering scene that’s far removed from triumph. Suddenly, you realize that the women in this film have only been successful at terrorizing each other, much to the titillation of the audience. In the end, Emmanuelle is left with a victory so hollow that it might as well be a defeat. It’s an unexpected bit of subversion from Mattei, a filmmaker known for simply rehashing and regurgitating.

The disc:

Nearly eight years after its most recent DVD release, Women’s Prison Massacre receives a Blu-ray upgrade from Scream Factory. A rare bare bones release from the boutique label, the disc provides a modest high-definition upgrade: considering the film’s age and budget, it’s not surprising that it still carries a bit of a grungy, hazy look over 30 years later. Still, the details are solid enough, and the DTS-MA mono track is rather stout (this is especially a boon for Luigi Ceccarelli’s loopy score).

Besides the lack of extras, the only other real complaint to be lodged here is the lack of a companion feature in Violence in a Women’s Prison. I can only assume rights issues have denied us this déjà vu double feature, but it’s also hard to complain anytime a Bruno Mattei film is released on Blu-ray. Well, some people might, but they're obviously not to be trusted.
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