I had my second look at Jess Franco's "99 Woman" last night, out of sheer curiosity I'd purchased Blue Underground's French x-rated version of the film. In a way, I'm glad I did -- all of Franco's wonderful actresses including Maria Rohm , Maria Schell, and Rosabla Neri have been dubbed into French, which amps up the alluring quality of these European starlets. The downside is that the film is continually interrupted at inexplicable intervals with hard-core pornography. The first time I watched this it came off as more of an amusing curio, but the second time around it was actually slightly annoying. The pornographic inserts are not sexy or erotic, they're instead abysmally perfunctory. These inserts have absolutely nothing to do with the characters in the film, nor are the actual actress used - nor is it even edited in a way to make it appear as though the actresses/characters have been used. I'd heard that Jess Franco was unaware that these pornographic clips had been inserted into 99 Women. Er, pardon the pun. However, the use of the zoom lens (especially in the first lesbian hardcore insert) just screams Franco's style. Well, maybe he shot it, but it wasn't intended for 99 Women. At any rate, by the end of the evening, I'd sort of wished I had purchased the director's cut of this flick.
As for the film itself (minus the inserts) it's actually a really well-constructed, nicely shot piece of exploitation mayhem. The entire women-in-prison theme (99 of these women, as is stated in one of the opening scenes) is exploited here with confidence and gusto, which makes the film totally work on a sheer-entertainment level. So much so, I was reminded of some of the best of the sub-genre, namely, the Corman-produced Pam Grier/Sid Haig WIP flicks of the early seventies. Of course, that being said, this Jess Franco/Harry Alan Towers production had actually come out in 1969, beating Corman out by a couple of years. While Roger Corman may have perfected this sub-genre, it was Towers and Franco that really got it going (you can also see it in Franco's almost-as-entertaining Barbed Wire Dolls). Had Franco continued directing films in this exploitation sub-genre, I seriously think these films could have become minor classics. As it were, Franco wound up becoming more known for his infamous Ilsa series, the Nazi Women-in-Prison sub-sub-genre of exploitation filmmaking.For what it is, 99 Women has all the right WIP ingredients in all the right places -- the synopsis on the back of the DVD box is simply: ...an island prison where abused yet luscious young lovelies surrender to their own depraved desires.Pretty much says it all.-V.