Friday, March 18, 2011

Franco Friday #8: 99 Women

Franco Friday #8

Okay, who just stuck a shiv in my throat? Was it you, number 76? Why must you always be like that? I didn't know that was your cornbread! I may be speaking out of turn here but I think someone needs to see the psychologist about certain rage issues brought on by repressed memories of lesbian rape! Anyway, here is my dichotomous review of 99 Women, damn it.

99 Women
Directed by Jess Franco
Starring Maria Schell, Herbert Lom, Mercedes McCambridge, Maria Rohm, Rosalba Neri, Elisa Montes
86 minutes

The prisoners of the female jail nicknamed the “Castille de la Muerte” sure do got it rough. Their names are taken away and they are given numbers. Their fancy clothes are replaced with drab and very short, gray dresses. Worst of all, their warden is Thelma Diaz (played by Mercedes McCambridge), a diminutive sociopath whose only real accomplishment is making her lady prisoners suffer. She also lets Governor Santos (Herbert Lom), warden of a nearby men’s prison, have his pick of the most beautiful girls for his unwholesome desires.

Enter Leonie Caroll (played by Maria Schell). She has been sent by the government to inspect the prison which will likely lead to Thelma losing her vice-like grip on the prison. All hell breaks loose when three prisoners decide to make a break for it. Helga (Elisa Montes), Marie (Maria Rohm), and Rosalie (Valentina Godoy) take off through the jungle to freedom but run into a group of AWOL prisoners from the men’s prison. Things do not end well, let me tells ya.

I’m not going to lie, I’m not really a huge fan of the Women-In-Prison genre. Rape, degradation, and limitless sorrow? I get enough of that from one episode of Glee. I will say this, 99 Women sure as hell starts off with a bang. Some lovely lady prisoners being taken by boat to the “Castille de la Muerte” accompanied by a kickass theme song is a pretty fantastic opener. I asked myself, “Is this the one? Is this the WIP flick that’s going to break me? Why is my heart beating so fast?” But then the film settles into what I consider pretty humdrum stuff for this type of film: lesbian rape and non-lesbian rape! RAPE RAPE RAPE! I really like the flashbacks showing how some of the girls ended up in the jail in the first place.

Anyway, what does make this film watchable is the phenomenal cast. Everyone is totally awesome here. Mercedes McCambridge is perfect as Thelma Diaz, the insanely cruel warden. Herbert Lom is definitely not wasted as the sadistic piece of shit, Governor Santos. These two actors chew up the scenery like it was something that you chew on a lot and they were the kind of people who chew on stuff a lot.

Maria Schell is very good as Leonie, a woman who genuinely wants to help the lady prisoners. Isn’t that nice? Elisa Montes (who looks a little like Bjork) really stands out as the tough as nails Helga who keeps moving forward even when everything looks grim. My absolute favorite actress in the film is Rosalba Neri (Lady Frankenstein, Amuck!) as the conniving rapist bitch, Zoe. Was Neri ever not good in a movie? Seriously, the more evil and the more nasty she gets, the more I love her!

I both love and hate 99 Women, just like I both love and hate the ending. I was incredibly depressed after this film was over and I realized that I really cared about the prisoners. It also occurred to me that I wanted to jump into the TV and take a machine gun to their captors. The film is incredibly stylish with great camerawork and phenomenal locations and sets. This is definitely worth watching even if you’re not really into this type of film and that vibe of hopelessness will stay with you days afterward. I will say that I found the middle portion of the film rather tedious and dreary because damn it, I like my women like I like my coffee: FREE! But with lots of cream and sugar.


And that ending! What the hell? Thank for you for not resolving a fucking thing there, Franco! I am drowning in melancholy here and I kind of like it. But that is what makes this movie kind of great. It doesn’t give you a hero or a Deus Ex Machina to rescue my homegirls. 99 Women does whatever the hell it wants. It doesn’t care about you. Shit, I seriously watched that ending at least 10 times. That shot of Leonie leaving the prison, defeated and the girls just watching her go. I got major goosebumps there. That look on Zoe’s face! I’m telling you, Rosalba Neri can do no wrong. It pisses me off but I can’t deny how frustratingly awesome that ending is. By the way, on the Blue Underground DVD, there is an alternate ending which made me a little happier. It shows the good doctor returning to the island with the authorities to shut the place down. Thanks for that, I needed a little solace.

Please note: I almost forgot. There is some animal abuse in this film so tread carefully. A snake gets his head bashed in by some idiot actor in this movie. Lame!


  1. Franco went on to recycle the same plotline many times over in Barbed Wire Dolls, Women in Cellblock 9 and many other films, with variations on the downbeat ending. But never again did he have the budget or the actors of the Herbert Lom calibre.

  2. @Alex - I gathered from the extras on the disc that this was a very profitable film. I'm not surprised at all that Franco would recycle this theme.

  3. Just be glad you weren't silly enough to watch BU's 'X' Rated edition of the film, Richard - it's a travesty! The film is rudely (no pun intended) interrupted every 10 minutes with horrible hardcore sequences that have no relationship to anything in the film whatsoever.

    I could piece out that '99 Women' was a solid film irrespective of these additional 'scenes' (the totally unjustified slaughter of that poor snake notwithstanding), but I've yet to see the film in its 'original' cut.

    Note: Personally, I find 'Barbed Wire Dolls' wretched, and best avoided.

  4. @Davo - Oh man, I forgot about the snake! That poor little guy. Friggin' Euro movies and their animal violence. And I don't even like snakes but I still felt bad, you know? As we go along with these Franco films you will find out just how little I am interested in his films beyond a typical X rating. I am not looking forward to a time where I will be confronted with some dang XXX junk. Thanks for the advice.

  5. The WIP genre is a weird genre for sure. Although some of them are quite harmless, the nastiest are quite disturbing. Actually, it doesn't really disturb me so much what is seen on screen (hey, those are mostly cheap productions - they can't fool me!!), but the fact that there are probably folks out there thinking "Awesome, that bitch gets raped and tortured! More! More!" Urrghh. Whereas I kinda enjoy them for the WTF-factor and the over-the-top-ness of, say, the Ilsa films.

    I read that some of Franco's WIP films were among the highest grossing in the years of their release in my native Germany...whew.

    P.S. Has anyone noticed the weird little girl in a pink dress at the side of the road at the beginning of Women For Cell Block 9? WTF???


  6. I love this film.

    Who are the girls on the firls lesbian scene ?