The Film (3.5/5)
Jess Franco died a little over one year ago now in April of 2013, as one of the last remaining auteurs of early EuroCult cinema it was a tragic loss, but being in his mid-80's, and having been in declining health for sometime it was hardly unexpected. If one is to find a silver lining in the dark cloud of Franco's tragic passing it would be that over his very long and prolific career the Spanish director left us with over 200 films (more if you qualify the varying cuts of some of his films) to explore and to enjoy for decades to come. Prior to his passing his films began to trickle on to the Blu-ray format with Redemption Films releasing his classics Female Vampire and Exorcism on to the format in October of 2012. However, it would be Ascot-Elite Films with their line of Franco Blu-ray's that have been keeping the maestro's work visible, and in very beautiful Blu-ray editions since late 2013. The series is working it's way down, and we have decided to go back, and review as many of these titles as time allows as these are some of the most gorgeous cult titles on the market, and they offer a great tribute to the late Jess Franco.
Franco is one of the genre masters of the women in prison film, this should be no surprise to any observant fan of the director as he made close to a dozen films in this genre alone. During his collaborative period with producer Erwin C. Dietrich he made no less than 4 films in the genre, and a few films that skirted the genre with certain shared elements with WiP films.
Previously while viewing the Ascot-Elite Golden Goya Collection, I have observed Ilsa: The Wicked Warden, Love Camp, and Barbed Wire Dolls, the latter of which may be along with his much earlier 99 Women his greatest WiP outing. So where does Women in Cellblock 9 fall in with the rest of Franco's WiP films? Women in Cellblock 9 for starters feels much like Love Camp as both are set in a South American Jungle prison (of course Jungle Prisons were a common setting for WiP films in the 70's and 80's). In Love Camp, the women were rounded up as sex slaves for revolutionary fighters, in Women in Cellblock 9, they ARE the revolutionaries.
The reason for their imprisonment is that the government wants information that only they have, and thus they are tortured for it, and the more silence they keep the more hardcore the torture gets. In that regard the film also has a tendency to cross over into Ilsa/Greta territory. The film changes pace when the girls initiate their escape. While chained up by their necks they begin a lesbian makeout session, and entice their guard to join them for an orgy. Of course the seduction was a ploy, and the girls escape into the jungle where they are pursued by the torturous Doctor Costa (Franco regular Howard Vernon) in order to stop them, and protect his terrible secrets.
If you've seen a women in prison film, you know what you're getting into here. That is especially true if you've seen any of Franco's. I I won't go so far as to call the film a cookie cutter WiP film, as the film is equal parts, sleazy, fun, and entertaining. Aside from a few slow moments at the beginning I was rarely bored during the run time. The film is grounded by an excellent scenery chewing performance by Howard Vernon who plays the sadistic Doctor, and although the role could have been played in a very two dimensional and boring manner, Vernon injects the character full of life, and a sadistic charisma that makes him stand out amongst Franco's villainous characters. A WiP film cannot be a success without an excellent female cast, and this one is quite good as well, but special mention should be given to Susan Hemingway who took me by surprise in Franco's Love Letters of a Portugeuse Nun. Her role in that film was both simple, yet emotional, and truly full of range, and although the role in Women in Cellblock 9 is much more limited she truly gives it her all.
It should come as no surprise that Ascot Elite have once again restored a Franco film to the highest possible quality. The film is presented in a 1080p AVC encoded 1:78:1 transfer. The transfer looks absolutely fantastic with excellent fine detail, and a lush color scheme especially in the films jungle based moments where the greens are very prevalent. There is a healthy level of grain, and not much in the way of damage or softness to report.
For my viewing I listened to the dubbed English 5.1 DTS-HD MA track which was quite suitable with dialogue, music, and effects coming through nicely. I did not detect any audio issues on my listen.
The extras include the films trailer, a photo gallery, and trailers for other films in the series.
Not the finest WiP film Franco would ever make, but a fun, sleazy, entertaining ride. The A/V restoration courtesy of Ascot Elite is excellent, but the extras are limited, however, the Blu-ray does come RECOMMENDED.