Sadomania (1981)
By: Mr Intolerance on August 5, 2009  | 
Blue Underground (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 1.66:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0 Mono. 102 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Jess Franco
Starring: Ajita Wilson, Ursula Fellner, Robert Foster, Gina Jansen, Andrea Guzzon
Screenplay: Jess Franco, Gunter Ebert
Country: Spain/Germany
External Links
Purchase IMDB YouTube
Ah, the Women In Prison film – is there anything more guaranteed to be balls-out sleazy? And when it's filmed by Jess Franco, could it possibly be any sleazier? Well, I suppose if you had a Naziploitation filmed by Joe D'Amato you might have something to contend, but I think you'd find that a film where the lead role is played by a real-life man-to-woman trans-sexual porno star, and features lashings of sexual torture, lesbian sex, an almost always topless if not totally nekkid cast, rape, a woman being raped by an alsatian that has been specifically trained for the task, inter-racial sodomy, white slavery and graphic violence pretty hard to top on the sleaze-o-meter, especially when the camera just positively leers at all of the no-holds barred depravity on display.

Blue Underground have put together a composite complete edit of this sleazy masterpiece, often heavily censored for reasons that are to become readily apparent, sourced from a range of different prints just so that you, the drooling perverts in the audience can see Sadomania the way Jess Franco wanted you to see it. Filmed in Spain not long after the end of the Franco regime (the fascist military dictator, not the free-wheeling libertine director), this is a film that really and totally gleefully spits in the eye of the repressive censorship that had dogged Spanish cinema since 1936 – there's a reason why many Franco films were filmed in different countries, and for the better part, that was it; Arrabal had the same problem.

A young married couple (Michael and Olga) necking in a car are arrested by the topless guards of Magda Urtado, the Ilsa-esque warden of the prison we're to spend the next 100+ minutes in the claustrophobic confines of. Olga is to be confined, presumably to be put to hard labour like the other inmates, all of whom, like the guards, are topless, and wearing Daisy Dukes. No, I don't know why either. The Governor of the prison turns up with an outrageously false moustache to take his pick of the young ladies, apparently a daily occurrence. The girls don't see this as the hottest meal ticket in town, and the girl selected this fine morning heads for the hills, only to be roped by Magda's guards and stuck nekkid in a small cage to be punished by Magda in a little game the prisoners call "Run and Get Shot". It's a death sentence, he added, unnecessarily.

The dialogue has the usual Franco subtlety: "Sex? That's all you lesbians ever think about." Nope, that wasn't written to titillate at all; how could you even think that? That's not got the male audience adjusting their trousers and imagining the sweaty nubile pretty young women on the screen chowing down on box – no sir, not at all. I mean this isn't a raincoater flick, but it doesn't pull any punches on the exploitation factor – Franco's audience want sex and violence and he knows that; in this film he delivers even more assiduously than usual. He never descends into hard-core territory; when those scenes appear in Franco flick (there are none here), my bet is that some enterprising producer has inserted them trying to broaden the appeal of the film into an even more adult market, if you catch my drift.

The "Run and Get Shot" game works like this: the victim is set free and has a one minute head start, her ultimate objective is to make it to the edge of the swamp (actually an inland salt-water wake in Murcia – you can see a city skyline in the distance) without getting shot by either the Governor or Magda, and you can go free. Some deal. Mind you, you also have other dangers to contend with – like the ferocious rubber crocodile which looks like an over-grown bath toy. That provoked from definite sniggering from this sofa, let me tell you – but hey, credit where it's due – all parties continue to play the whole thing straight.

Woo-hoo! Dodgy flashback sequences! No, but seriously these need to be present – Olga's arrest for being on private property lacked any kind of credibility, but having prisoners in the slot for drugs, like blonde lovely Tara, and other actual criminal activities, well, that at least lends the film a little bit of credence – somehow I think that trespassers and dealers might normally be kept in different prisons, but this is a Jess Franco film – logic and correct judicial procedures be damned! Tara is the prize the Governor gets for his little part in the game, but the Governor is, well, the Governor is impotent y'see, and he can't get his freak on until he sees his wife have a bit of fun with his conquest-to-be first. "You have lovely breasts, firm and ripe; they need to be caressed – now take your pants off!...She's like a flower so young and tender – she awaits your masculinity with hunger, she'll satisfy you completely." I told you the dialogue was up to Franco's usual standard. The Governor's got some real problems in the bedroom, and it doesn't even seem that impotence is the biggest of them, oddly enough.

So it's leso sex at the Governor's house and leso sex behind bars – lots of lithe and lissom young blondes going down south and whistlin' Dixie. The story's not exactly moving ahead at a mile a minute – maybe we could call this character development?

Meanwhile, Olga's husband Michael has turned up to bust her out of prison, and the Governor's wife wants to take Tara for a little ride – to the white slavers. Turns out our initially sympathetic Governer's wife has somewhat of a dark side we don't like. Back at the prison we get that inevitable staple of the WIP film – the cat-fight! Mercedes, one of the prisoners, has provoked one of the black guards, Una, into a fight and it's two girls in short shorts and cowboy boots rolling around on top of each other in the dirt with boobs flying everywhere. They're surrounded by a ring of cheering on-lookers who sound like a hyped-up version of Alvin and the Chipmunks. It does also display one of Franco's short-comings – he's really not so great at staging action scenes. If you've seen 99 Women, you know what I'm talking about – they're often static and lacking the kind of choreography that's needed to increase tension, often feeling like you're watching documentary footage at best – there's too much distance between the action and the viewer, kind of like the shaky P-O-V cam in reverse, where there's too much proximity. A nice balance between the two a la Verhoeven or Peckinpah is all I ask. Enough distance to observe, but not enough to make it a bloodless stodgy affair – hey, two topless women fighting being cheered on by a crowd of topless women should not be dull; I was picking my nails and wondering where my nail clippers were.

Time for punishment – Mercedes is strapped to a chair and has her nipple pierced and then suckled by Magda, and then gets told that she has to fight Una, and that the winner will get pardoned, Magda stating that, "I'm not a racist" - and if Mercedes refuses to fight, she'll get thrown to the crocodiles. Given that they couldn't look any more like rubber if they had "Made by the Rubber-O Company of Rubberonia" stamped on them, this isn't the greatest of threats, but I think I'm forgetting about the old willing suspension of disbelief there. From there we move to a duel at sunrise shot mainly in silhouette, which is remarkably effective. The Governor and Magda have a bet – Una wins, Magda gets 3000 bucks from the Governor, if Mercedes wins, she gets given to the Governor as a prize. The Governor has some mis-givings about this: "Hmm, but I've heard she's a confirmed lesbian." You just can't please some people.

Again, the fight choreography lets things down a little, but given that the ladies were using real weaapons (unlike the "rifles" the guards are carrying – not even replicas, but toys – oh yes), they were possibly a bit worried about getting real wounds – Franco states in the extras that he was more than a bit concerned about this; so concerned that he let them do it...

Mercedes does indeed win the fight, but there's no pardon coming her way – she's given to the Governor, or more to the point, the Governor's wife, who has the family pooch, an alsatian, fuck her while she's tied to a chair, in one of the film's more outre moments. I get the impression that Franco was trying to either shoe-horn this scene into a film, or had simply thought, "How the hell can I further shock an audience? I know! Bestiality!" Sadly enough, watching this is the stimulus the Governor needs to be able to get it up and fuck his old lady so that they can conceive a child. Now there's a story to tell at the kid's 21st...

It's taken this long for Michael and his mate to organise a rope and a grappling hook to scale the wall of what must be the worst defended prison in the history of Europe. As with most male heroes in Franco films, these guys are about as much use as tits on a bull. Prison break? These guys couldn't organise a creche-break. Michael's mate is killed by the guards, and Michael himself is captured, unsurprisingly enough, and brought to Magda... And cue another of the film's more bizarre moments, as Magda prepares to have a bit of fun with Michael whether he likes it or not. She refers to herself as "the Dragon", and the Dragon wants to feast on the young prince (Michael) who's come to save the young princess (Olga) – although he's no idea that his missus has become quite happy with the charms of Sappho, shall we say. Matter of fact, now that I think of it, she's not even mentioned him since she was put in a cell! Boy, from one impotent fella to the next... I just wonder if the fella playing Michael knew he was grinding nekkid up against what used to be a dude. Why am I thinking that probably wasn't mentioned to him?

The beginnings of a break-out are at hand, and there are plenty of scores to be settled by all and sundry, although most obviously by the prisoners against the wardens, and this, as all WIP fans know, is where the pay off for sitting through films that normally have quite variable pacing and low budget production values comes from. It is, however, like all Franco films, a slow burn in terms of building momentum. Michael gets Olga out, but couldn't give a fuck about the other inmates, which is a bit harsh – Olga, however, wants to find out what happened to Tara (gee, I wonder why?) and so they follow the Governor's wife and Mercedes down to the docks – guess who Mercedes is about to be introduced to?

And so below-decks, on the slavers' ship:

Tara to Slaver: "You're just a pig!"

Slaver to Tara: "And you're my little piglet!"

The conversational wit-crackers just keep on firing, huh? Tara's big bid for escape fails, and she's taken to "The Club", presiding over which is Jess Franco in an amazingly camp cameo – apparently his friends were telling him at the time not to do it as everybody would think he was gay, but being Jess Franco, he couldn't give two shits what people thought of him – and yet by the same token, the black guy fucking him up the arse was actually played by Ajita Wilson wearing a fake moustache. Originally the gay-slaver role had been written for Franco-regular Howard Vernon, which I could well believe, but given some serious schedule conflict, Franco played it, camping it up to the hilt. So he didn't want a man pretending to fuck him in the arse, but he was quite happy with a man who became a woman pretending to be a man doing so? Right, I see...

So the Club the girls have been taken to is a hot prospect among the miners in the nearby town, and Tara, poor nipple-torn Tara, is an even hotter prospect, although at least the other girls feel a little bit defensive about her, and try to protect her against further abuse. And thus, the rebellion begins with all the notions of poetic justice that WIP films tend to lend themselves to. I'll leave you to work out what goes on from there, and it's definitely worth your time and effort doing so, especially if you're a WIP fan.

Oh no, the rubber crocodile!

Oh, and if some of the sets look familiar from other Franco films, it's because he was so impressed with them, that he used them again in later flicks (plus, I think some earlier ones – I'm not much of a fan of Franco's post-80s films; I prefer his late 60s and early 70s stuff when he was still working with Harry Alan Towers – but the prison exterior is very familiar for some reason).

Rumour would have it that the script for the film was a bit of a left-over Ilsa/Greta screenplay, but given that Franco has made films out of out-takes from other films (check out Nightmares Come At Night, if you don't believe me), a bit of script revision is nothing out of the ordinary, and if that was indeed the original source for the film, that might explain the excesses it goes to – certainly it's a better film than Ilsa: Tigress of Siberia, but compared against even Ilsa: The Wicked Warden/Greta: The Mad Butcher (depending on which version you see), it's a slightly limper and padded out affair, although without the camp flourishes of Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS or Ilsa: Harem-Keeper of the Oil Shieks. That all said – look at what I've compared it to; it's still strong stuff with some in-your-face imagery that the average human being would find pretty horrible to watch – see what happens when you watch exploitation films? You do get de-sensitised. Well, I'll be damned!
It's a pretty good anamorphic picture, quite sharp and obviously well cleaned up by somebody who wanted Sadomania to look its best. A lot of the interiors are quite dark, but the exteriors look fine. The difference in source material in terms of prints is not all that noticeable in terms of picture quality, but sometimes, surprisingly, subtitles come up from from nowhere and you can see a slight flatness to the colours – you can barely make it out, and without the subtitles, I doubt I would've noticed it myself.
Unfortunately, the film has English dubbing, and that's not a good thing because the experience of dubbing really can jar you out of a film. The sound otherwise is not great, given it's mono, but what can you do? The sound effects veer into the land of the muffled from time-to-time, too, and that disparity in audio is exacerbated by the sharpness of the dub track, which I'll have a guess was only done recently from the crispness of the sound.
Extra Features
Not a great package, but you get a poster and stills gallery, text talent bios (only for Ajita Wilson and Jess Franco) and the English and Spanish theatrical trailers for Sadomania (I'm assuming they mean "English-speaking", as the film was banned outright in the UK). Most importantly, there's an 18 minute interview with Jess Franco about the making of the film – his interviews are always highly entertaining, as Franco always tells it like it is. He never plays the Hollywood game of hedging when it comes to giving an opinion on an actor's performance, or even judging the quality of the end product of the film – he says exactly what he thinks, much to the audience's delight. For a man who is openly and quite highly critical of his own films, he actually rates this one himself – I've seen maybe a third of his prodigious output, but only one other time have I heard Franco be anything more than mildly approving of his own work, and even then, that's usually tempered with a laundry list of what was wrong with the film in question. Here he discusses the shooting of the film, talks for some time about Ajita Wilson, and speaks frankly about his own amorality – I would've thought that was a no-brainer, given some of the things I've seen in his films, not to mention his proclivity for filming the works of the Marquis de Sade in a way that shows an understanding of them, not just a wish to exploit them – although there is that too...
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Look, I still think it could have been 10-15 minutes shorter to really pack the punches it was trying to, but generally speaking Sadomania is a fun piece of sleaze with all the right buttons pushed. It's definitely not a film for everyone and certainly has some pretty damned gnarly moments for the uninitiated, but if you're a fan of the WIP genre, I highly recommend you get yourself a copy, as its delirious excesses will certainly pay off for you, you masturbating pervert. Soft-core sex and violence hi-jinks for one and all, this is one of Jess Franco's last really essential films, before his DTV efforts kicked in and the genius disappeared forever behind the dollar sign and the reputation built on his earlier films.

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