Jess Franco has certainly earned his reputation as a prolific filmmaker with an erratic record, ranging from moody classics to drab pot-boilers. His films can be at once both sloppy and elegant, crass and refined. When dealing with noir/gothic/erotic elements, this fetishistic, eccentric auteur is capable of crafting heated nightmares of lush beauty and decrepit amorality, marrying pain with beauty and surrealism with the most painfully felt realism. When churning out inept sexploitation quickies void of style or meaningful context, Franco can be downright redundant. Women Behind Bars falls in neither category. Not as inspired or stylistic as Succubus or Virgin Among the Living Dead, this newly remastered orgy of brutality and sleaze is nowhere as insipid as his nineties output. Devoted to outright sexploitation, exchanging logic or nuance of character for outrageous scenes of amorality and brutality, this women in prison fiasco seeks to tantalize and shock. In this regards it succeeds, if without the refined nightmare appeal of the director's finest forays into fear. Women Behind Bars may lack the essential depravity and fiendish erotic power of such features as 99 Women, yet the essential goal remains the same: show as much violence, degradation, and sex as possible.
When a wealthy central American businessman is robbed, a semi-tragic series of events is ignited, leading to a celebration of debasement and carnal pleasures. After bold heist results in a double cross, the perpetrator is murdered his mistress. The fem fatal, Shirley Fields, then finds herself in a tropical prison, where her pride, life, and identity will be assaulted by whips, chains, and lust. Throughout the prison it is rumored that Shirley killed her lover not out of jealousy but greed, and therefore knows where the loot is hidden. Amidst a torture show of lesbian rubbing, crooked politics, and high-voltage electrodes, she must fight to stay alive . . . And in one piece.
A feast of visual naughtiness, Women Behind Bars is every bit as scandalous as it promises. Often short on logic, more than once lapsing into absurdity, this fragmented (and often padded) script is even shorter on character. While this is never recommended for storytelling of any sort, here it doesn't matter all that much, as the admitted purpose of the film is to feed the viewer various scenes of carnage and action, with theme and plot serving only to tie loosely associated scenes of depravity together. Merging together the dubious pleasures of the action/heist picture with the women in prison film -- that faithful standby of the exploitation genre -- Franco may not have crafted anything unique here, but fans of Franco's uniquely vicious visits to the penitentiary will find plenty of juicy meat to chew on. If the story is admittedly padded in length, looking hurried even y this director's standards, the resulting moments of terror, intrigue, and good old fashioned smut make the trip worthwhile for serious collectors.
Another fine achievement by genre hero Blue Underground, Women Behind Bars looks as good as it ever will. The anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1 transfer is clean and concise, full of sharply defined angles and realistic skin tones. Colors are fairly vibrant, a definite improvement on past releases. The audio is just as impressive, featured in Dolby Digital Mono (English). The track is clean, suffering no scratching or outside interference. Extras include the satisfyingly sleazy French Trailer and, most impressive, "Back Behind Bars," an intriguing and opinionated interview with Franco himself. A celebration of excess, this feature proves that even Franco's more redundant pictures are worthy of seeking out -- particularly when they look as good as this.
Review by William Simmons
|Released by Blue Underground|
|Region 1 - NTSC|
|see main review|