• 99 Women (Unrated Director’s Cut)



    Released by: Blue Underground
    Released on: December 13th, 2016.
    Director: Jess Franco
    Cast: Maria Schell, Herbert Lom, Mercedes McCambridge, Luciana Paluzzi, Maria Rohm
    Year: 1969
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    The Movie:

    99 Women is not only Jess Franco's first women in prison film, but it's also one of many collaborations with Harry Alan Towers, the prolific producer who bank roll many of his films from this period in his career. So for that reason, it is of some historical significance for Euro-cult fans and Franco buffs. Having said that, the picture very much sits on the milder side of the genre compared to the films that it would later inspire and compared to the films that Franco himself would later make.

    Maria Rohm (of Franco's Venus In Furs) plays Marie, a woman who is sent off to a remote island prison where she's stripped of her name and her dignity. When she arrives and begins to 'mingle' with the other inmates, she soon learns that the warden, Thelma Diza (played by Mercedes McCambridge of The Exorcist!), is in cahoots with the local governor, a man named Santos (Herbert Lom, best known as Chief Inspector Dreyfus from the Pink Panther films). Diza has been allowing him to have his way with the inmates whenever he sees fit.

    When a local prison system administrator named Leonie Carroll (Maria Schell of The Bloody Judge) shows up in hopes of reforming the system and making improvements to the way that things are done in the prison, Thelma and Santos realize that this may be the end of the good thing they've got going. As the girls get to know each other a little better, in the literal sense and the biblical sense… yowza!… they decide that if they all work together that they can make their escape out of the prison and into the surrounding jungle.

    99 Women is a surprisingly tame and toned down women in prison drama, at least comparatively speaking. It doesn't have the seediness that so many other films in the WIP genre do, and it even handles its story with a hint of sadness. Those looking for the utter nastiness of later era entries in the genre from Franco like Sadomania and Barbed Wire Dolls will likely walk away disappointed. The film has a great cast though. Maria Rohm is gorgeous and pretty competent in the lead role. Likewise, Rosalba Neri simply exudes sex appeal from the very moment she appears on screen and thankfully she's on screen a lot. Herbert Lom is fantastic as the nasty governor, and McCambridge is just as good as the sadistic warden who derives some sick thrills out of degrading the inmates (as all good wardens do in WIP films). Luciana Paluzzi, best known for her role as Fiona Volpe in Thunderball really only has a cameo role in the film, but hey, she's a Bond Girl and you can never have too many of them running around in your movies, even if her appearance in this one is really quite brief.

    Franco's direction is surprisingly subdued here as well. The camera always remains in focus, the angles are pretty standard, and there's a surprising lack of psychedelia and incessant zooming going on. While he doesn't appear in this cut of the film, you will see him in a small role in one of the deleted scenes which appears in the extra features section of the disc. The film moves at a decent enough pace and while it’s not the director’s best entry in the genre, it’s interesting to see him toying with some of the ideas and concepts he’d more dutifully exploit in the decade to come.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    99 Women arrives on Blu-ray from Blue Underground in an its unrated director’s cut sourced from ‘a brand new 4K restoration’ that is unfortunately a mixed bag. Colors look excellent. They’re bright and bold without looking oversaturated, and black levels are really good too. The disc is encoded at a high bit rate and is free of any compression artifacts and the source material has been cleaned up nicely, there’s virtually no print damage here at all (save for the English language opening and closing credits sequences that were sourced from inferior elements). All of these are very good things indeed, which makes it all the more upsetting that there’s been some very heavy and very obvious noise reduction applied to the image. Skin winds up looking waxy and a lot of the detail that you’d expect would be there is smoothed over in what was likely an attempt to eliminate any trace of natural looking film grain! It’s a shame, as this is otherwise a great picture.

    The film receives a pretty clean sounding DTS-HD Mono English language dub. The film's score by Bruno Nicolai sounds nice and lively (the theme song is bound to get stuck in your head if you're not careful) and the dialogue is never difficult to understand for a second. At times things sound a tad on the flat side but overall, for an older low budget film, this mono track sounds surprisingly good with better depth and range than it had on DVD. Optional subtitles are provided in English, French and Spanish.

    As far as the extras go, Blue Underground has included a new featurette entitled Jess, Harry & 99 Women which is an interview with Stephen Thrower, the man who wrote Murderous Passions: The Delirious Cinema Of Jesus Franco. This sixteen minute piece allows Thrower to talk about the origins of the Franco/Towers relationship, where this film falls alongside their other collaborations, the familiarity of certain locations used in the picture, the effectiveness of the cast and a fair bit more.

    Carried over from the previous DVD release is Jess’ Women Jess' Women, an apt title for the eighteen minute interview considering a big part of the focus of the interview, at least the first half of it, are the women who were cast in the film. He also covers some of the censorship issues that the film ran into, as well as the rather odd post production history of it, and how it was marketed once the finish product was turned in for editing.

    Blue Underground also carried over three deleted scenes – a longer version of Maria Rohm's back story flashback, a different version of Rosalba Neri's segment that doesn't contain as much explicit material as the version seen in the film, and the alternate ending used for Spanish theaters. Now, this isn't all of the alternate footage available for this film.

    Rounding out the extras on the Blu-ray disc are the film’s original theatrical trailer, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection. As this is a combo pack release we also get a DVD version of the movie sourced from the same transfer. The package also contains Bruno Nicolai’s original soundtrack on a CD include inside the clear Blu-ray side keepcase. Also inside the case is an insert booklet containing some liner notes from Thrower.

    The Final Word:

    99 Women isn’t Franco’s women in prison masterpiece but it’s a decent, if tamer, entry in the genre. His directing is decidedly low key compared to some of his trippier efforts but the cast is great and the locations and settings very nicely photographed. Blue Underground’s disc is unfortunately waxier than most are going to want, but it does include some new extras and the film’s excellent soundtrack on a bonus CD.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!






























    Comments 5 Comments
    1. John Bernhard's Avatar
      John Bernhard -
      One of my Top 5 disappointments of the year, they really ruined this 4KNo sale, I am still annoyed with BU doing this to EUGENIE last year.VENUS IN FURS will get sand blasted when they release it was well....massive groan.
    1. Stephen's Avatar
      Stephen -
      Quote Originally Posted by John Bernhard View Post
      One of my Top 5 disappointments of the year, they really ruined this 4KNo sale, I am still annoyed with BU doing this to EUGENIE last year. VENUS IN FURS will get sand blasted when they release it was well....massive groan.
      Since I don't have it yet: was JUSTINE better? I guess not...
    1. John Bernhard's Avatar
      John Bernhard -
      That's part of the reason this 99 WOMEN Blu is soooo disappointing.Like EUGENIE, it has been needlessly marred and degraded.But JUSTINE looks amazing, pure eye candy, and no trace of the tampering that affects EUGENIE & WOMEN.So they get it right sometimes...Buy JUSTINE with confidence!
    1. Stephen's Avatar
      Stephen -
      Ah, that's surprising. Very good. Thanks!
    1. Fundi's Avatar
      Fundi -
      wow, these screenshots, look like the people are mannequins, or people in a wax museum. I can't believe how bad this looks, of course I know it's only screenshots, but I am probably not going to buy this as I have the old DVD, I'd wished they did a good job on this new Blu ray, as I wanted to buy it, but wow these screenshots, just damn, they look truly terrible. Does it look this bad in motion as it does in still shots?