99 Women (1969)
By: Julian on April 8, 2010  | 
Blue Underground | All Regions, NTSC | 1.66:1 (16:9 enhanced) | French DD 2.0 | 98 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Jess Franco
Screenplay: Milo G. Cuccia, Carlo Fadda, Javier Péres Grober, Jess Franco
Country: Spain. Italy
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Perplexingly, some people think 99 Women is a good movie.

I'm being facetious, of course – film is relative, and cheap exploitation films are really relative. But what is perplexing to me is that such a terminally dull picture could rate so highly as a work of some importance.

I haven't seen all that many entries into one of exploitation cinema's favourite (and probably one of its most exploitative, and prolific enough to be adorned its own acronym) subgenres, the Women-in-Prison film. 99 Women was an effort to broaden my horizons after sampling some apparently choice cuts and it's dazzlingly bereft of story and intelligence and, worst of all, it's boring. 99 Women is simply not a good exploitation movie, because the exploitation is gimmicky; little more than a hamfisted homage of Ed Cahn's Girls in Prison (a film that actually did possess intelligence, and worked in the context of the ultra-conservative mores of mid-fifties America), just with graphic nudity (to appeal to the ultra liberal mores of late-sixties Europe). And this particular cut contains hardcore sex, if that's of any interest. It shouldn't be, because the only reason those scenes exist is to pander to the French market. These sequences add to the film's already-disjointed flavour: think the griminess (and sheer narrative detachment of) Thriller: A Cruel Picture, but with less convincing body doubles.

The plot isn't worth going into in any sort of depth – a women's prison headed by a sleazy Governor and a female warden with a predilection for S&M is peopled by ninety-nine incarcerates, some of whom decide to stage an escape. It's standard stuff, but the WIP premise is hard to dress up (a joke about Franco opting to dress down is completely predictable and not worth wasting type on).

So when does 99 Women succeed? The answer is, pretty rarely. It is undeniably sleazy throughout (actually, it's possible the first hardcore sex scene inescapably set that tone and in so doing lent Franco's film at least one effective quality), but that's an easy, lazy trick designed to excuse exploitation movies for being easy and lazy. Two things it does have working in its favour though are performances by Thunderball's Bond girl Luciana Pazzi and veteran Austro-Hungarian actor Herbert Lom. These two people are by far the most competent additions to the movie, but the supporting cavalcade of over- and under-actors cancel whatever charms Pazzi and Lom provide.

Jess Franco is capable of making good exploitation movies – watch Jack the Ripper or Ilsa the Wicked Warden if you don't believe me. But 99 Women is not one of them. Certainly make no effort to seek out this release because the addition of sex does not make it an uncut one – in fact, it's a perversion of the director's original intention and I'm sorry this is the first cut of the film I saw (though I think it'd be unlikely to improve on reappraisal). Umbrella's Region 4 disc is the director's cut, and will satisfy the curious. But an even better alternative is avoiding this altogether – it's a real turkey of a film.

Just briefly: I've never thought Liechtenstein, the tiny principality sandwiched between Switzerland and Austria, had any sort of film industry, and I was right. The IMDb says 99 Women was a Liechtenstein/Spain/Italy/West Germany/UK production, and a quick search of "Liechtenstein" reveals a grand total of ten films spawned out of the miniscule country, six of which are Franco's.
99 Women is presented in anamorphic 1.66:1. It's quite a good transfer for a forty year old film, and particularly for an obscure cut such as this. The cinematography is fine, certainly unlike the random zooms and dizzyingly incompetent theatrics that have made some Franco films objects of ridicule. I'm not saying Manuel (Vampyros Lesbos) Merino's camerawork is technically noteworthy, but it's not bad.
One Dolby mono track, in French. The film is scored quite well, and perennial Italo-exploitation muso Bruno Nicolai (Caligula, Salon Kitty) is on the job.
Extra Features
None. It's a real shame, and a bit mystifying, that Blue Underground didn't bring over the features it provided on its director's cut disc – even though I don't like 99 Women, it's nice to see cult films afforded quality releases. I would recommend getting that edition if you really want to subject yourself to this movie – another bonus feature of that disc is nine minutes off the duration.
The Verdict
This was a chore, 98 of the most sluggish minutes classic Grindhouse cinema has to offer. The Vatican's "most dangerous filmmaker alive" is decidedly flaccid here.
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score

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