Italy - 1983
Director - Bruno Mattei
Vestron Video, 1987, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 29 min.
It hardly seems necessary to elaborate the plot of this film since in broad strokes it is so similar to many others in the genre. In fact this one is so similar to another film in particular, Violence In a Women's Prison, that thinking it might be the same film under an alternate title, I almost didn't bother watching it. In Violence, Laura Gemser is an undercover reporter investigating the claims of, ahem, excessive violence in a women's prison. In this one, she is no longer undercover, but actually imprisoned because she was betrayed by someone. It has pretty much the exact same cast as Violence, and as I came to suspect fairly quickly, is in fact a sequel to the earlier film.
Although on this VHS box the director is listed as Gilbert Roussel, it's obvious from shot one that Bruno Mattei is at the helm again just one year after giving us the stark repugnance of Violence.
There is a distinct difference between the Women In Prison Films of Italy and those of the US (I'll throw in the UK too). In the Italian films the antagonist always ends up being men. Despite the fact that it takes place in a women's prison, and the warden and guards are also women who enjoy subjecting the inmates to various denigrations. In the end, the perpetrators are always men; usually directly, but sometimes merely indirectly, through the physical or psychological coercion of the warden et al.
The Italians focus on male violence against women, as brutal as it can get. It's an attempt to elaborate real life behavior to its logical extreme. It's male violence fantasy, call it hard WIP.
In the US more often than not the focus is what men suspect or wish that women did when they weren't looking. Catfights and lesbianism, sure there's violence, and for the most part the women are still reliant on men, but really it's about women's power struggles within the confines of prison (and society at large). How do they work out their own power heirarchy . It's male sexual fantasy, soft WIP
Put it this way, I have never seen an Italian WIP comedy, and I have never seen an American WIP where the protagonist gets raped by a man.
Mattei is a case in point (though I can think of numerous others) where the focus of the film is really direct physical male violence against women. In the case of Women's Prison Massacre a number of violent male prisoners are transferred to the bleak cavernous womens prison before their execution. A list of their melodramatically brutal prior crimes is elaborated several times at length on screen. And then of course they escape their chains and subject the inmates and the guards to predictably gruesome acts, it is a massacre after all. The whole thing is scored by the cheesy suspenseful synthesizer music (here by Luigo Ceccarelli) which seems to have been required by Italian law in every exploitation film between 1975 and '85. As much as I am a completist and I'm glad I have and can watch these Italian WIP films, I find it difficult to actually enjoy watching them. For that reason I can only tentatively recommend Violence In a Women's Prison and Women's Prison Massacre.
Both films are available on DVD from Mediablasters, but since I found this nice VHS tape on my last trip down to my hometown in New Mexico I thought I'd share more of my thoughts on the genre with you.