• Gabe Powers

Women’s Prison Massacre Blu-ray Review (originally published 2015)

Sultry reporter Emanuelle (Laura Gemser) is on the verge of breaking a big story about a corrupt politician when she gets framed and sent to a women's prison. There, incarcerated women face unspeakable cruelty and inhumane conditions – and that's before a quartet of dangerous men are temporarily transferred to the facility! When the felonious four overpower the guards and take over, it's up to Emanuelle and her fellow inmates to take control of the prison – and their very lives. (From Scream’s official synopsis)



Women’s Prison Massacre (Italian: Emanuelle Fuga Dall'inferno; aka: Blade Violent, 1983) is what we call an Italian grindhouse three-fer. First, it is directed by the incomparable trash-meister Bruno Mattei – the King of the bottom of the barrel when it comes to Italian exploitation – alongside frequent collaborator Claudio Fragasso (Troll II, 1990), who co-wrote the film with Olivier Lefait. Second, it is a prime example of Italy’s women in prison (WIP) cycle, which gained popularity following the American WIP cycle (kicked off in part with future Oscar winner Jonathan Demme's Caged Heat, 1974) and a run of similarly shocking Nazisploitation flicks. Thirdly, Women’s Prison Massacre is the final film in the long-running Black Emanuelle series (its Italian title translates to Emanuelle Escapes from Hell). The Black Emanuelle films began as a collection of softcore porn cash-ins on Just Jaeckin’s Emmanuelle (1974) and (usually) starred Laura Gemser as an investigative journalist that engages in sexual exploits all over the world. As extreme horror became more popular, Emanuelle uncovered a snuff film ring in Joe D'Amato’s Emanuelle in America (1977), she discovered a hidden tribe of savage cannibals in D’Amato’s Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (Italian: Emanuelle e gli Ultimi Cannibali; aka: Trap Them and Kill Them, 1977), and found herself escaping from corrupt women’s penitentiaries on two occasions – Violence in a Women's Prison (Italian: Violenza in un carcere femminile, 1982) and Women’s Prison Massacre. Her prison exploits were shot back-to-back by Mattei and the two films are often confused, due to distributors renaming them for re-release and because they are basically the same movie. At one point, both were known as either Emanuelle in Hell or Emanuelle in Prison.


Mattei’s half-assed auteurship (there is a decent car chase that I attribute entirely to the talents of the stunt drivers) and Fragasso’s “eh, whatever” style of storytelling is firing on all cylinders here. Even though the overall effect is sort of tame for an Italian WIP flick (the promised massacre comes so close to delivering the gore goods, but stops just short of any real mayhem), plenty of sleaze and ugliness oozes from every razor-cut orifice of the celluloid. The one-liner-only brand of combative dialogue is also good for a giggle. The laughably avant-garde stage play/slam poetry diatribe that runs under the opening credits promises a weird streak that would fit a Jess Franco movie, but, alas, it is only a one-time event, teasing at the possibility of a more entertaining garbage bag of a movie. In its current state, Women’s Prison Massacre sort blends into a dozen other movies (including Violence in a Women’s Prison, obviously), though, I suppose the less brutal brand of exploitation makes it a better entry point for burgeoning WIP fans. As is often the case, Gemser’s performance is a major plus. Her exotic physique and willingness to bare all before cameras wasn’t the only reason her career endured throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s – she was a genuinely compelling screen presence. Her innate abilities appear all the more naturalistic when framed by the high camp performances that surround her. Unfortunately, the audiences unaware of Emanuelle’s previous adventures will be even more confused by the nonsensical plot, which assumes we’re aware of her ongoing story.



Video

Women’s Prison Massacre was first released on North American DVD by Retro Shock-O-Rama. There were two versions: a single disc anamorphic release of the R-rated cut and a double disc set that included the R-rated cut and the unrated cut in 1.33:1. Though it’s not one of Scream Factory’s more high-profile December releases, Italian cult enthusiasts should rejoice, because this new 1.85:1, 1080p HD transfer has been culled from an uncut 35mm source. The upgrade from censored anamorphic DVD and uncensored pan & scan DVD is substantial including tighter image separation, and no substantial compression side effects (the DVD versions are pretty edge-enhancey). Many issues with clarity can be easily blamed on Mattei and cinematographer Henry Frogers’ run-and-gun shooting style and an utter lack of budget. On the more negative side of things, this is yet another Italian-based transfer from Scream Factory that suffers from substantial DNR and signs of telecine machine noise. This leads to more mushy grain levels, posterization effects, and disappointing texture quality. The color timing also skews a bit blue, but the overall palette fares better than the previous couple of SF Italian cult discs.


Audio

The original mono sound is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. Scream has only included the English language dub, but it isn’t a problem, considering that the film was shot without sound and dubbed into multiple languages (including Italian) for international release. Besides, the bad lip-sync is half the fun. The sound quality is about as flat and rigid as you’d expect from this type of release, but there isn’t a lot of high end distortion. Electronic artist Luigi Ceccarelli’s score is pretty great and has a far deeper aural layering than the dialogue and effects, and a decent bass response. The occasional aural warble is excusable.


Extras

There are no extras on the disc.



The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.

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