Barbed Wire Dolls: The Jess Franco Collection [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Full Moon Features
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (9th June 2018).
The Film

After going all of my life without ever having seen a frame of Jess Franco footage, suddenly the flood gates have been opened to my eyes as numerous home video companies have been remastering his voluminous catalog for HD debuts, many of which wind up on my front porch. Now, Franco’s filmography is a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster in that it is intimidatingly large and much of the whole has been formed by piecing together carcasses – which in this example are past pictures Franco has reworked into something new. As depraved and debaucherous as his films may be, there is usually some point of interest or plotting that reminds viewers this is, indeed, an actual feature film.

“Barbed Wire Dolls” (1976) doesn’t really have any of that. The most threadbare plot has been hastily thrown up as a framework upon which Franco hangs sadistic sexual torture, lurid lesbianism, abuse of all variety, rape, and full-on pornography. Fingering a woman isn’t implied or heavily implied – it is shown, up close and personal and as graphic as anything you can watch in the PornHub vintage section. What little cliché plotting there is exists simply to provide some form of forward momentum, so that Franco can languidly hop from one salacious act to the next. I don’t say any of this with satisfaction because women-in-prison films can be remarkably entertaining if done right. Roger Corman and Jack Hill knew what they were doing and they delivered what audiences would want to see. Franco also did that… except the audience in this case resides in a dingy stag theater and has to contend with sticky floors and sweaty palms.

Maria (Lina Romay) is sent to prison for the crime of murdering her father (Jess Franco) after he attempted to rape her - while that might sound justifiable, clearly the court system in… wherever the hell this is feels differently. Maria finds the general population at the prison is filled with sex maniacs, crazies, and plenty of ripe victims for the staff to routinely abuse. The warden (Monica Swinn) is a firm woman whose likes include lesbian torture, BDSM, and being called a slut; dislikes include wearing pants - her official outfit consists of bikini bottoms – sex with men, sympathy, and any semblance of oversight from a governmental body. The entirety of the film plays like an anthology of abuse until arriving at a SHOCKING TWIST before delivering one helluva downer ending.

The only praise I can offer here is at least the score, by longtime Franco collaborator Daniel White and Walter Baumgartner, is exotic and adds a mood sorely needed since the feature itself lacks style and finesse. There isn’t any true acting here, outside of Romay who does a decent job of selling the inner turmoil she feels as a result of murdering her father. Otherwise, the prison is filled with one-note villains and victims, none of whom have anything resembling development or an actual arc. Anyone who has ever watched a women-in-prison film and thought, “you know, they could maybe take things further”, well, this is your movie and it is proof positive that by removing all story elements and cranking the sex and torment up to 11 the end result is a shoddy piece of cinema that just barely deserves to be called an actual film.

Video

The picture comes slightly windowboxed at a ratio of 1.81:1 (there are very thin bars on the sides) and the image is nicer than expected. Mastered in HD 1080p 24/fps using AVC MPEG-4 compression, the entire film has a slight softness to it, though thanks to so much daytime shooting there are many moments when definition is able to resolve crisply to deliver average sharpness. Film grain is heavy, though it does have the effect of lending a fitting vintage look. The color palette skews heavily toward green and beige – the prison is a drab monolith and the surrounding area is all scrub brush and trees – and because of this the few primary hues on display pop against the muted background. Contrast is decent, if not a little washy. Flashbacks have been shot to look gauze-y and are extremely soft around the edges of the frame. Damage and dirt/debris look to be at a minimum.

Audio

The English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack is lossy and a bit abrasive. The delicate balance often achieved by a restored lossless mix is replaced by this anvil of a track. Everything hits hard, but at least that means the dialogue remains understandable and loud against all other elements. On some occasions the track goes thin, giving virtually no weight to anything heard. Nobody is watching this for the subtleties of the audio mix, or for the score, and what is presented here gets the job done and nothing more. There are no subtitles.

Extras

Audio interview runs for 24 minutes and 6 seconds, this is a chat with director Peter Strickland, whose film “Duke of Burgundy” (2013) was inspired by Franco and at one point began life as a remake of one of his films.

A reel of vintage Jess Franco VHS trailers (SD) runs for 6 minutes and 44 seconds.

An original theatrical trailer (SD) runs for 2 minutes and 2 seconds.

Packaging

The single BD-25 comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keep case.

Overall

Recommended only for the most devoted women-in-prison sub-genre fans or those who must acquire every Franco title released on home video, because otherwise this is a poor entry in either category. Full Moon has, at the very least, provided a suitable HD image and a few novel extras.

The Film: D+ Video: B- Audio: C+ Extras: C Overall: C

 


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