The Film (4/5)
I know technically speaking Jess Franco cannot be credited for creating the women in prison film, however, his 1969 entry into the genre, 99 Women, could very well be considered the template for the genre as it became known throughout it's exploitation heyday in the 1970's, and how we know it today. 99 Women came early on during Franco's collaboration with producer Harry Alan Towers, which is also one of his successful periods as an artist with some of his most lavish productions.
99 Women stars Maria Rohm as Marie a woman being sent to a remote island prison that is being kept under government supervision. It is run by a wicked warden (not Ilsa) played by Mercedes McCambridge. Marie soon becomes the target of sexual advances by the men's prison warden located on the same island, Governor Santos. In response to this she takes her problems to a government official who promises a lot, but does nothing. Marie, and 2 inmates then take their fates into their own hands.
Franco was firing on all cylinders with 99 Women. His direction here is flawless, with gorgeously shot scenes that are colorful and well framed from the director. Set pieces funded by Towers are quite lavish in design and scope, and Franco for the most part keeps his zoom in check. There are also some minor, but nice surrealist flourishes from the director. The performances from the main cast are wonderful. Mercedes McCambridge does fantastic as the warden of the women's prison. Maria Rohm does a fantastic job as Marie. We also get excellent turns from Mark of the Devil's Herbert Lom among others.
Blue Underground presents 99 Women in a director's cut version with a 1:66:1 1080p AVC encoded transfer. The director's cut was assembled using the film’s negative and also a 35mm archival print from the American Genre Film Archive in Austin, TX. (Shout out to local heroes!). So starting with the positives, this is definitely an upgrade from the earlier DVD, colors are more pronounced than earlier versions, blacks levels are nice and deep. However, DNR rears it's ugly head again. I can see why it was used, or at least make an educated guess why. The sections of the Blu-ray that use the 35mm print do stand out from the overall film, but the whole film lacks a natural grain structure, and as such fine detail is lost in the process.
The audio is presented with an English DTS-HD mono track. The track is quite solid with dialogue, and score coming through crisp and clear. I don't believe I heard any pops, cracks, hissing or any other elements to complain about here.
Blue Underground has put together quite a decent slate of extras for their release of 99 Women. The release kicks off with an archival interview with director Franco from the prior DVD release. We are also treated to an interview with Murderous Passions author Stephen Thrower. There are deleted and alternate scenes, trailers, a still gallery, and a booklet with liner notes by Thrower. There is also a CD soundtrack with Bruno Nicolai's score.
Admittedly Jess Franco is my favorite director so getting me excited about a new Blu-ray release of his work IS NOT HARD. 99 Women is a fun early WIP entry from the director that shows how he would take the genre into the next decade, and beyond. The Blu-ray transfer is sort of mixed, but there are some decent extras to be found here. RECOMMENDED.