JESS FRANCO MONTH: Women in Cellblock 9 (1977)

Also known as Escape from the Island of Death and Tropical Inferno, this Jess Franco directed and written film has — trigger warning — lots of nudity from its sixteen at the time lead actress Susan Hemingway (Two Female Spies with Flowered PantiesLove Letters of a Portuguese Nun).

She’s Maria, one of four girls in cellblock 9, along with Karine (Karine Gambier, who would graduate t warden by Caged Women), Aida (Aida Gouveia, Sinfonia Erotica) and Barbara (Esther Studer, who would endure Ilsa the Wicked Warden the same year this movie was made), all forced to go through the indignities of a women in prison film — nudity, interrogation, torture and being menaced by Dora Doll, Howard Vernon and I shit you not, a gerbil. If you’re going to be in any cinematic women’s prison, I mean, the most experienced jailer is going to be Franco, who also made Isla the Wicked WardenJustine, The Lovers of Devil’s IslandBarbed Wire DollsWomen Behind BarsLove CampSadomania and 99 Women.

They use their beauty to lure a guard into their embrace and kill him, fleeing into the jungle and leading an entire army of killer after them, as well as a stock footage alligator. This is an exceedingly mean-spirited film, perhaps mitigated by the fact that all of the women are rebels trying to escape the chains of opression and yet finding more of it at every turn. Maybe it’s an allegory. Maybe Franco was just making movies for people who liked to see young women get tortured. Maybe it’s somewhere in the middle.

This one is bleak, like doom-laden scream at the ending bleakness with little to no hope other than a quick sunbathing scene. Much like probably Jess himself, I missed Lina Romay and I’m certain he couldn’t wait to be back in her arms. Or thighs. Both, I guess.

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