Sunday, September 16, 2012

Barbed Wire Dolls (Jess Franco, 1976)

I've seen women tortured, raped, beaten, degraded, belittled, and even killed by deranged prison wardens who profess to be sex-crazed lesbians. But in almost every case, their lesbianism, sex-crazed or otherwise, always seems to come off as being a tad insincere. I mean, I'm just not getting much of a muff-diving vibe from some of these so-called lesbians, no matter how hard they try to dyke it up. Maybe that's problem, they're trying too hard. Well, someone who doesn't have that problem is the warden, or "directress," as she likes to be called, in Barbed Wire Dolls (a.k.a. Frauengefängnis), as she literally oozes sappho from every pore. Combining butch mannerisms with an awkwardly feminine wardrobe, it should come as no surprise that the directress of this unnamed seaside prison is the most convincing authority figure to appear in a women in prison movie. Why? Isn't it obvious? The film is directed by Jess Franco (Diamonds of Kilimanjaro), a cinematic artist who not only knows the proper way to film a distressed naked woman writhing on a bed, but knows a thing or two about to how to create a compelling female villain. Whether it be Pamela Stanford in Lorna The Exorcist, Nadja Gerganoff in Bloody Moon, Eva León in Golden Tample Amazons, or Brigitte Lahaie in Faceless, Jess has an excellent track record when it comes to femme fatales, perverted psychopaths, and heinous henchwomen. And you can add the wonderful Monica Swinn to that impressive list, as she brings an alarming amount of cuntish charm to the role of the evil directress, a woman so dedicated to her malicious craft, that she considers Albert Speer's memoir "Inside the Third Reich" to be light, pre-cunnilingus reading. Or was it light, pre-anilingus reading? You see, I couldn't quite see what dark hole her lips were caressing during a moment of mouth-to-undercarriage tenderness; hence, the lingual confusion.
Anyway, while I could talk about lingual confusion for hours on end (let's just say both areas received a tongue bath on that day and move on), I would much rather be talking about the important role makeshift hold-up stockings play in the Barbed Wire Dolls universe. In fact, as I blathered on about Miss Swinn's prowess as a lesbian, Peggy Markoff's makeshift hold-up stockings were never far from my mind. Okay, as I'm sure some of you are wondering, what the heck are "makeshift hold-up stockings"? Originally, I wanted to play it coy, and not explain in great detail what the difference is between hold-up stockings and makeshift hold-up stockings. But then it dawned on me, I'm dying to tell you what the difference is.
Here's the deal, the hold-up type (stay-up stockings or thigh-highs, as their sometimes called) have a built-in elastic that allows them to stay up without the aide of suspenders. Whereas, the makeshift variety, the kind Ingrid (Peggy Markoff), a mentally unwell inmate who thinks she's Queen Isabella of Spain, wears throughout this movie, are held up by more unorthodox means. Colour me discombobulated, but that sounds like a confused chunk of uncut madness.
Your bewilderment is totally justified, as even I was thrown for a proverbial hosiery loop when they first appeared onscreen. My initial reaction when they made their sheer debut was relief, as the prospect of watching a chicks behind bars flick that featured nothing but unadorned legs for eighty straight minutes was an unappealing one. However, my relief soon turned to puzzlement, as I desperately tried to figure out what it was that Ingrid had attached to the tops of her hold-up stockings. It turns out it was string. Determined to not let a little thing like incarceration ruin the visual presentation of her legs, Ingrid has improvised a unique way to keep her stockings up.
The frayed string used to keep her black stockings up also helped when it came time for me to keep track of the film's two redheads, as Peggy Markoff (Ilsa, The Wicked Warden) shares a cell with another crazed redhead named Rosaria Cortina (Beni Cardoso), a woman we see at the start of the film being deprived food by Nestor (Eric Falk), a sadistic thug/freelance torturer employed by the prison. Wait a minute. You mean to tell me that Barbed Wire Dolls has two crazed redheads? Is that what you're saying? Oh, you better believe that's what I'm saying. To put a different way, out of the four main women in this movie, half of them are crazed redheads. Wow, that's truly amazing.
Getting back to Rosaria, crazed redhead #1 (#1 since she appears onscreen first, not because I liked her more than crazed redhead #2): The exact reason she's chained to the wall and being deprived a just out of reach bowl of food is unclear (as we'll soon find out, it doesn't take much for you to get this kind of treatment), but it does establish the tone of the film early on. If the opening scene is any indication, on top of being beaten while chained to a wall, Rosaria is verbally berated ("Drop dead you stupid whore!"), we should expect a lot of nastiness over the course of the next eighty minutes.
Arriving like clockwork, a new prisoner named Maria de Guerra (Lina Romay) is being escorted through the castle-like structure to the orientation office by the prison's male warden (Roland Weiss) and a female guard, who is dressed in a nondescript green army uniform. If you think Lina Romay looks cute in her peach trousers and matching vest, enjoy the peachy view while you can (her terrific bum looked sublime encased in the colour peach), because she's about to be given a drab blue smock and nothing else to wear.
When Maria meets the directress (Monica Swinn), along with a Dr. Costa (Paul Muller) and a guard named José (Raymond Hardy), for the first time, it would appear that she isn't wearing any pants whatsoever. Well, if you closely, you'll notice she is in fact wearing pants, they just happen to be the world's shortest pair of super-short short shorts. Along with a monocle in her right eye (held in place, no doubt, by sheer will power), slicked back greasy blonde hair, a white dress shirt (cinched a the waist with an imposing belt), and a pair of black knee-high boots, the directress is an imposing figure.
What's strange about the Maria orientation scene, besides Monica Swinn's appearance, is the part where the doctor asks her to sign a document that basically allows them to perform shock therapy on her. The fact they asked her to sign it wasn't the strange part, it was the cavalier nature in which she signed the document. Maybe she thought they said, "sock therapy." Either way, I thought she might have at least protested a little bit. But then again, Maria does spend the first half of the movie in a trance-like state. In other words, she probably didn't hear a thing the doctor or the directress said during her processing.
Holy crap! They don't waste any time do they? Before taking her to her cell, the directress decides that Maria needs a little, you guessed it, shock therapy. Strapped naked to a wire bed frame, Maria is zapped with electricity. Her screams can be heard all the way in the cell that she is soon gonna call home; that is, if they ever stop torturing her. Troubled by her screams, a blonde inmate named Bertha Contrini (Martine Stedil), a murderess with large breasts and Azura Skye-esque cheekbones, is trying her best to block them out. As this is going on, Ingrid can be see admiring her stocking-covered legs on her bed. Thrusting her never-clothed, burnt sienna crotch in a seductive counterclockwise manner while resting her legs against wall of her cell (it's almost as if she views her stockinged stems as an art gallery worthy work of art), Ingrid has decided to take a relaxed attitude towards long-term incarceration.
"I'm a doll. A real doll. Touch me!" ~ Ingrid
Cellblock-based leggy lounging is the activity of the hour, as Rosaria, Ingrid, and even Bertha all recline in a fashion that was exceedingly leg-friendly. Bored with lounging leggily, Ingrid decides to wave her pussy in front of Bertha's face. What is it, five o'clock already? Meaning, I have a strong feeling Ingrid does this a lot. As Ingrid was gyrating, I couldn't help but notice that the frayed bits of string that are supposed to be helping keep her stockings up fall to the floor. I'll admit, I was overwhelmed with sadness when the string on her left stocking vacated her thigh area. But when the other one fell, I cried like a baby who cries a lot. I've been this moved by something that has appeared in a movie since that Union soldier yelled, "Give 'em Hell, 54!" in Glory
Realizing that a film can't be just about do-it-yourself lingerie and heaving burnt sienna crotches, Jess Franco slowly starts to introduce conventional plot elements to the film. Such as: the identity of the writer of a mysterious [intercepted] letter bemoaning the conditions at the prison (the directress and the doctor seem quite concerned) and the sordid reason as to why Maria ended up in this awful place. The latter involves incest and murder, and is told via flashback. No big deal, right? I mean, the use of the flashback narrative device is quite common, even in the heady world of Jess Franco. Yeah, but I bet you have never seen a flashback sequence acted out in slow-motion before. You see, instead of slowing down the film, Lina Romay (who's naked, of course) and Jess Franco (who plays her father) perform the scene at a slower rate. Now, I don't know if it was intentional or not, but the sight of Jess chasing Lina at half speed is hilarious.
The search for the identity of the letter writer is somewhat less comical, as it involves anilingus, stress positions, forced masturbation ("Touch your sex. I will watch. Enjoy it!"), and sadomasicism ("Beat me!"). The anilingus and sadomasicism scenes are both feathers in the acting cap of Monica Swinn, as she gets to channel her feminine side in both. Wearing a frilly, see-through black robe (the kind fourteen year-old boys try on when their mom's not home), Monica uses kindness, as supposed to brutality, to get what she wants. Exploring the softness of Bertha's pert anatomy, Monica hopes to find out who wrote the letter by employing her secret weapon, and that is, properly implemented anilingus.
While Beni Cardoso and Peggy Markoff do an excellent job of filling the film's crazed redhead quota (their nonsensical gibberish is pure gold) and give my favourite performances in the film, you have got to commend Eric Falk's beastly work as the sadistic Nestor, a man so heinous, that even the guards look it him with disgust. Though, to be fair, the main reason for Eric's greatness has a lot to do with the guy who dubbed his dialogue (it's deranged bordering on psychotic), but you can't tell me that his skill with a horse whip wasn't off the charts in terms of unpleasantness.
Containing everything you could ask for in a women in prison film, Barbed Wire Dolls is a rousing success. Seriously, in terms of supplying the audience with sex, violence, sex, and degradation, you can't deny that it delivers the goods. My only problem is that the ending is so damn bleak. And I would have liked to have a seen a scene that explained the reason why Peggy Markoff's character was the only inmate who was allowed to wear stockings. So, yeah, if the ending had been softened a bit, and the backstory surrounding Ingrid's stockings had been fleshed out a little more, I would no problem declaring this putrid pile of cinematic sleaze to be one of the best women in prison films the genre has to offer.

uploaded by BadMonsterFilms


  1. I've really fallen behind with your reviews, but hope to catch up (someday, at the pace you've been going).

  2. Hey, ido. Should I slow down? ;)

  3. Bye the bye, who is the young lady who gets featured in your tumblr link? She doesn't seem to be one of your usual actress favorites.

  4. Funny, people on tumblr always seem to ask about her. And the answer I usually give is: She's from the U.K. Her name is Susannah something. And she's a glamour model. Other than that, I don't know much about her.

  5. I just went through this review again. This film must be a god damn off the wall winner. You spent most of the time analyzing the subtle viewing joys of the artistry displayed by Monica Swinn's "mouth-to-undercarriage tenderness" and improvised hold-up stockings, rather than waxing poetically about Lina Romay's ass. That in and of itself makes this a must watch film.

  6. I don't recall there being that much as far as Lina Romay's ass goes in this film. Ilsa The Wicked Warden, on the other hand, has plenty...of Lina Romay ass.

    I'm currently obsessed with Monica Swinn.