Violence In A Women's Prison (1982)
By: chrysalis on April 5, 2006  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
N/A (Australia). All Regions, PAL. 1.85:1 (Non-anamorphic). English DD 1.0. 99 minutes
The Movie
Director: Vincent Dawn (Bruno Mattei)
Starring: Laura Gemser, Lorraine De Selle, Gabriele Tinti, Maria Romano, Franca Stoppi, Carlo De Mejo
Screenplay: Oliver Lefait, Palmambrogio Molteni
Country: Italy
AKA: Violenza in un Carcere Femminile; Emmanuelle in Hell; Caged Women

Australians rejoice, a Laura Gemser exploitation movie has made it to our fair shores! While I suspect some of Gemser's later-period softcore shenanigans may have perhaps found clandestine DVD distribution in this country, Violence In A Women's Prison is I believe the first of Gemser's more illustrious exploitation offerings to be distributed for the satisfaction of Australian audiences.

Violence In A Women's Prison is however hardly my Gemser vehicle of choice, the film an early '80s done-by-the-numbers women in prison film of Bruno Mattei (perhaps best known for assuming directorial control of Lucio Fulci's ill-fated and ultimately crapola Zombi 3) which works with its decent cast and within its meagre budget to deliver the essentials of the genre without offering much more than the usual clichés and nastiness.

Gemser plays Amnesty International investigative reporter Emanuelle, who has taken it upon herself to expose the conditions of local women's correctional facilities by going undercover as a convicted prostitute/drug dealer/murderer to the local cellblock where she is treated to the usual WIP regime of being stripped, tortured, abused, raped and drugged. Sympathetic facility medico Dr Moran falls for Emanuelle and takes objection to her treatment, placing him at odds with the blackmailing chief warden (a great performance by exploitation veteran Loraine De Selle) and eventually necessitating a jailbreak attempting to bring Emanuelle's incarceration to an end while simultaneously exposing the practices of the prison's wardens. While our lead couple manage to escape, for how long will they remain beyond Le Selle's grasp? What further punishment could Emanuelle undergo if reincarcerated? Has anyone bothered to notice she's missing and, if so, do they care?

The plot of Violence In A Women's Prison barely finds an outlet in the first hour of the movie, which exists only to portray the various barbarisms of the prison: incessant beatings, the daily toil of working in a nearby gravel pit, forced lesbian fumblings and sex shows (which in turn provide erotic fodder for the many inmates within earshot), Emanuelle's solitary confinement in rat-infested dankness, and contrived rapes of female inmates by swarthy male prisoners for the viewing pleasure of Le Selle's character and the local Chief Inspector.

It's only when the prison scene is well and truly set does the plot quickly roll out over the last half hour or so, Emanuelle's identity discovered by the head warden who responds with an even harsher punishment regime, and quickly provoking Dr Moran's intervention with the assistance of a co-conspirator prison riot.

Clearly Mattei has little clue as to what he's doing, but luckily the experienced cast manage to keep this thing on the rails while the director ticks off his WIP checklist and subsequently squeezes in the threadbare plot. Ordinarily an emphasis on brutality and sleaze would suit me just fine but for Violence In A Women's Prison it's a little more difficult for everything is handled so poorly and so blatantly. While engaging set pieces of horrific torture and/or luscious inmate groping are a staple of the women in prison cinematic experience, when directed so dully and executed so amateurishly these scenes, which would otherwise elicit edge-of-the-seat cheering from me, have me instead sinking back into the couch as my interest wanes.

Mattei also directed Emanuelle In Prison (aka Women's Prison Massacre) with an almost identical cast (I believe the two films were shot simultaneously) however the two should not be confused. Gemser's nomenclature in Violence In A Women's Prison is the most transparent of devices as Mattei uses the Emanuelle moniker in an attempt to attract a handful more patrons familiar with the popular Euro-softcore Emmanuelle series or Joe D'Amato's own Gemser-driven Emanuelle grindhouse favourites.
While the print is acceptable the film appears a bit washed out, many of its colours dusty and unremarkable (although this is in keeping with the somber prison aesthetic) while the dark setting of many of the scenes keeps proceedings shadowed, precious detail lost to blackness. Brighter daylight scenes outside the prison also suffer from some artifacting, but given their scarcity this is of no real concern.
I suspect this edition is sourced from Shriek Show's USA DVD edition; reviews of the American edition of Violence In A Women's Prison have almost uniformly commented on the atrocious audio which this Australian pressing shares. Numerous cracks and pops litter the audio track and are annoyingly persistent in many a scene, at times sufficiently overwhelming to dominate the dialogue.

Luigi Ceccarelli's score is a tired affair, vainly attempting to relive then recent success of Dario Argento (one particular theme is directly lifted from Tenebrae) but revealing itself as a hack job plain and simple, vapid electric guitar soloing and moronic faux-saxophone wailing also markedly dating the film for the 21st century viewer.
Extra Features
Not a damn thing. Evidently Australians don't deserve even the minimal special features bestowed by Shriek Show upon American viewers.
The Verdict
A genre which by 1982 was already tired gets an unsympathetic rehashing for this nonetheless mildly entertaining film. Thankfully some of those involved with this effort knew how to keep it all together, for the failings are all too apparent. The number of overly lengthy scenes and otherwise irrelevant characters and storylines (homosexual punching bag Leander and unexplained local Mexican cliché Miguel are but two) bear testament to the fact that fleshing this effort out into a cohesive, entertaining experience was always going to be fraught with difficulty.

Both women in prison and Laura Gemser devotees have been let down by this initial foray into the Australian DVD market given that the significant number of quality films which are otherwise available overseas. I can only hope whoever is responsible for bestowing this upon Australian audiences (the DVD bears no manufacturer/distributor information and is not available through many of the usual Australian DVD outlets) is willing to better themselves next time with a far more engaging film and DVD presentation on par with other regions.
Movie Score
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