• Barbed Wire Dolls

    Released by: Full Moon Features
    Released on: January 1, 2017
    Director: Jess Franco
    Cast: Lina Romay, Monica Swinn, Martine Stedil, Paul Muller, Eric Falk
    Year: 1976
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    The Movie:

    Nudity, sex, violence, moral and physical degradation, and a righteous comeuppance for the villains (including the requisite predatory lesbian warden) to top it all off. Clearly, you’re watching a women-in-prison exploitation flick from the 1970’s, but once it’s over you’re left feeling incredibly depressed and in immediate need of a shower. Congratulations, you just watched a Jess Franco WIP movie. Do you need a hug?

    I honestly believe that if there is such a place as Hell, then surely the inhabitants of its lower level must be forced to watch Franco’s excessively overloaded filmography 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with no breaks or alternate viewing offerings. This isn’t meant to be an insult to the man’s memory, for I’m quite positive that he designed most of his directorial efforts to feel like depraved, demoralizing experiences on par with being a female contestant on The Apprentice. A typical Franco joint produced for the grindhouses and drive-in theaters of the world was not an exercise in salacious titillation; the potential for eroticism in one of his sex scenes was eliminated until all you could feel from watching them was shame and perversion. The locations were often cold, bleak, and gray as the skies over Scotland, the characters positively inhuman and savage, and the violence remorseless.

    Which brings us to 1976’s Barbed Wire Dolls, the perfect example of primo Franco in the post-Vietnam years before the home video market emerged to challenge the fleapit theaters for eternal possession of exploitation cinema’s soul. The director’s muse and future wife Lina Romay stars as Maria, the latest convict to be shipped off to an island prison operated by the cruel doctor Carlos Costa (Paul Muller) and the aforementioned sadistic lesbian warden Wardress (Monica Swinn). In between overseeing the torture of select inmates at the hands of the hulking brute Nestor (Eric Falk), both Costa and the Wardress like to intimately acquaint themselves with their helpless prisoners. During her downtime, Wardress enjoys the writings of Albert Speer while wearing a monocle. Yep, can’t have a good WIP flick without at least one character who enjoys Nazi cosplaying.

    There isn’t much story to be dissected in Barbed Wire Dolls, as is often the case with women-in-prison exploitation movies. They’re merely checklists of the most horrifying things that can be done to human beings on celluloid without any authentic harm being done, and I’m sure certain cast and crew members still came away with emotional and physical scars regardless. Here Franco subjects us to all manners of torture, the most frequent instrument of pain used against Maria and her fellow inmates being electrified bedsprings. One poor lady is chained to a wall and forced to act like a dog whilst enduring Nestor’s barbaric taunts all for the possibility that she might be fed. The sex scenes (including simulated analingus) are mostly of the softcore territory, but the incessant masturbation and extreme close-ups of female genitalia often has them bordering on hardcore. Such is the Jess Franco house style.

    After spending more than an hour of the 81-minute running time within the unnamed prison, Maria and her companions mount a not-too-daring escape attempt which involves subduing two or three personnel and then running outside into the jungle, where more violence, rape, and a downbeat twist ending await them. As always, Romay makes a fetching lead, but it’s Swinn who takes top acting honors as a vile warden who could give Dyanne Thorne’s Nazi bombshell Ilsa a run for her deutsche marks. The rest of the cast do what they can with one-dimensional parts, and Franco puts in his customary cameo appearance in a flashback sequence as Maria’s lecherous father, whose murder at her hands (a longtime coming, it appears) is the crime for which she is condemned to a living hell under the fiendish stewardship of Dr. Costa and the Wardress.


    Full Moon’s Blu-ray release of Barbed Wire Dolls appears to have ported over the same excellent 1080p high-definition master from Ascot Elite’s 2014 German edition. The drab grey prison surroundings and lush green foliage of the jungle look the best, the latter coming through very vibrant and lifelike through the HD upgrade. The grain structure is minimal and consistent, print damage is non-existent, and facial details and texture in the sets and scenery gain a pleasing increase in sharpness. Only the occasional softness in the cinematography (done by Franco under a pseudonym) could be considered a flaw, but as it is inherent to the source I won’t complain.

    The Ascot Blu sported a trio of audio options in English, German, and French (the first two in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound), but Full Moon has eschewed all three for their own English Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Overall, the soundtrack sounds great and is mixed very well, and there isn’t a trace of distortion or volume level imbalance. No subtitles have been provided.

    Compared with the Ascot Elite Blu-ray, which featured interviews with Franco, Romay, and Dietrich, Full Moon’s supplements suffers. The best of the limited lot is an audio conversation with Chris Alexander and filmmaker Peter Strickland (24 minutes), who credits the films of Franco as an inspiration on his acclaimed 2014 erotic drama The Duke of Burgundy. Lastly, we have the original German theatrical trailer (2 minutes) and a reel of vintage VHS previews (7 minutes) for Franco features released in the U.S. by Full Moon honcho Charles Band’s Wizard Video during the 1980’s: Oasis of the Living Dead, Demoniac, A Virgin Among the Living Dead, The Screaming Dead, Erotikill, and The Invisible Dead. A preview for Full Moon’s Amazon channel plays before the main menu loads.

    The Final Word:

    Barbed Wire Dolls is quintessential Jess Franco, an icily corrupt descent into depravity and madness that satisfies the demands of exploitation fans to a certain extent but leaves them with feelings they didn’t expect to encounter from watching a sleazy women-in-prison yarn. Terrific picture and sound quality and a few decent supplements help make this Blu-ray release from Full Moon worth a purchase for diehard Franco-philes and B-movie lovers who might be feeling a little adventurous.

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