I'm not sure if there's a deadlier (or more inept) combination of Italian filmmakers than Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso. These are guys not exactly known for their stellar input with Mattei taking over for Lucio Fulci and delivering the ludicrous entertainment that is Zombi 3 as well as the post apocalyptic rodent attacks of Rats: Night of Terror while Fragasso has gone down in "so bad, it's good" infamy for making Troll 2 - which even became the subject of the great documentary Best Worst Movie. Suffice it to say, you get these two together and not-so-great things are bound to happen. Having previously collaborated on Hell of the Living Dead and The Other Hell, this deadly duo decided to tackle the women-in-prison sub-genre and the result contains a whole bunch of exploitation and sleaziness given the expected Italian spin only to still feel like it's oddly lacking something.
Instantly the flick's European origins are obvious as it opens with faux feminist speeches delivered by inmates during a play where they talk of "serpent women" and "weak men". It's something you wouldn't see in a North American WIP movie and turns out to be the doing of reporter-turned-prisoner Emanuelle (Laura Gemser) which rubs prison bully Alibini (Ursula Flores) the wrong way. After such a weird start things soon settle down into formula as we learn Emanuelle has been tossed into the clink by the district attorney after she's uncovered a drug smuggling ring he's involved with and we're treated to some truly awful dubbed dialogue (one girl proclaims to Albini "I'd like to bite your nipples off... and I'll do it!"), an 'intense' arm wrestling moment, and some lingering lesbian love. And that's just in the first fifteen minutes!
Amongst all the typical scenes of our female prisoners beating on each other and being abused by the ruthless guards; Mattei and Fragasso decide to throw a "what the f*ck?!" spanner into the works. Not content to sit on its laurels as a WIP flick, Women's Prison Massacre soon becomes a partial siege movie (and gets super ridiculous) when psychopathic baddie "Crazy Boy" (Gabriele Tinti) and three of his cronies end up at the prison for safekeeping after a botched attempt to hijack the van transporting them to jail. This leads to scenes of our male baddies running rampant doing such things as chewing on necks, rough-housing and harassing the girls, a stupid moment involving an inflatable doll that laughably tries to be erotic, a little bit of Russian roulette, and the film's only truly memorable moment involving a razor blade and unmentionable place. Then comes a muddled finale packed with bloody shoot-outs and unnecessary flashbacks.
Possibly the most bizarre thing about Women's Prison Massacre is the fact it's meant to be an entry in the Black Emanuelle series. Gemser, who became a cult sex symbol upon the success of the 1975 original, again plays a journalist character called Emanuelle but its ties to earlier entries is tenuous at best. She really isn't given a lot to do here. She's meant to be a smart woman surrounded by depravity but such misguided attempts at feminism just don't belong in a low-budget Italian WIP flick. Here's a girl known for getting naked and she keeps fully clothed - good thing she has a pretty strong screen presence. Tinti, who was Gemser's real-life husband, just chews up scenery here and his over-the-top performance does keep your attention even when your interest in the rest of the movie is waning. Flores also has her moments early on and looks the part of the prison bully quite well, thank you very much. However, the true artists here are those in charge of the dubbing. Almost as clumsy as the rest of the film, the dubbing delivers a lot of unintentional chuckles.
Shot back-to-back with Violence in a Women's Prison, I was mostly bored with this. Sure, it's punctuated with some goofy gore and scummy moments but it doesn't deliver quite enough of the bad taste drive-in nuttiness I wanted. After the promise of the first fifteen minutes my patience soon wore thin while Mattei oddly stages some attempts at being "artsy" as a synth-heavy score wails in the background. It's a pretty poorly made and cheap looking WIP entry that made me long for 1983's Chained Heat because at least that benefitted from co-starring Linda Blair and Sybil Danning while having a warden who has a hot tub(!) in his office. (Chris Hartley, 5/14/15)
Directed By: Gilbert Roussel (Bruno Mattei).
Written By: Claudio Fragasso, Olivier Lefait.
Starring: Laura Gemser, Gabriele Tinti, Ursula Flores, Maria Romano.